Polling and better democracy

The previous post on the future of Political polling in New Zealand  raises an issue about the use of private polling by the major parties and how that influences what they do.

There are two other polling companies I’m aware of, Curia and UMR. The problem with them is they do ‘internal polling’ for National and Labour respectively so their polls aren’t made public.

This is modern democracy in action but it isn’t good for the people. The major parties are said to be guided significantly by polls, but the public is kept in the dark.

I think that one of the ways we could improve the democratic process in New Zealand would be to have public polling done on issues of interest, especially on contentious bills in Parliament.

If these were done during the committee stage and both Parliament and the public were informed of approximate public opinion then the parties and MPs could make their decisions knowing what we the people thought.

Submissions are an important part of the democratic process but despite the attempts by some parties and pressure groups to try and depict them as a measure of public opinion they are not, the numbers of submissions are far too easily stacked and often are.

Referendums are an essential component of a democracy but because of their cost and the time and logistics involved are only useful for important issues like constitutional matters and things like flag and anthem changes.

The major parties base many of their decisions in part at least on polling.

The public should know what opinions our MPs support, and which opinions they ignore or choose to override.

In our form of representative democracy we rely on our political parties (which usually block vote) and our MPs to make responsible legislative decisions on our behalf.

But it is just as important that the public is listened to – and is seen to be listened to.

I think that one of the most effective ways to do this is via public polling on issues and on legislation of public interest.

Ideally this should be funded by the State but done independently of the parties and MPs.

It’s unlikely the major parties would readily agree to funding this as they tend to see knowledge as power, and they seem to think they have more power when they keep knowledge secret from the people.

So this would probably have to begin as a People’s initiative.

Are there enough interested people who are not associated with parties to get this off the ground?

Some parties may agree that it would enhance our democracy and may recognise it could reverse the sliding engagement in politics – if people feel their opinions matter in decision making processes they are more likely to feel engaged and get more engaged.

But the best way to enhance democracy for the people is to have enough people demanding better.

Politicians try too much to operate in secret, and they too easily get isolated from public opinion outside their bubbles.

It is up to the people to fight for better for themselves. For ourselves.

I think that establishing our own polling and injecting our opinions into the parliamentary process would make a real difference.

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  1. If we’re going to commission public polls, let’s make them as robust as possible.

    A high quality national door-to-door survey, targeting an 80% respond rate, would take a couple of months to carry out, but the results would be very defensible.

    At least people wouldn’t be able to discredit it with the whole ‘only landlines’ line.

    • Hi Andrew.

      I think it could depend on level of importance of the issue and the public need for engagement. Some things may be dealt with adequately by an indicative phone poll, while more more contentious issues would be better served by door-to-door surveys. And some would justify a referendum.

      So I think a tiered system of opinion measuring could work:
      * nothing (for the many mundane bills)
      * phone poll
      * door-to-door survey
      * referendum

    • And a side benefit is that it would make polling a more viable business so more pollsters may be able to keep going, which addresses your post.

      • Brown

         /  2nd April 2016

        Its not going to happen because most people are socially conservative (even today) and the progressive agenda requires they be effectively ignored. The issues dear to progressive hearts like gay marriage, climate change, how whitey is to blame for everything, how the rich are to blame for everything, how Christianity is to blame for everything, that Islam is so superior to everything and sexualising school kids would never get across the line if ordinary people had an influencing say. Democracy in 2016 is a sham and dares not allow us to have a real say.

        • So it’s our responsibility to make it not a sham. If we do nothing it won’t change.

          • “Brown’s Democracy” is effectively the tyranny of the majority. Political science (if that’s the right term?) – as opposed to political party ideology – the old Left vs Right dichotomy that keeps it all going – has moved way beyond that and some considerable time ago. I thought that’s what MMP was partly about, more comprehensive representation of society’s multi-facets?

            It would appear “ordinary people” already have “an influencing say” through Party political polling? Through small sample privately run polls by polling companies that (arguably) may even be politically aligned?

            I favour widespread digital polling to make it easy for large samples to register feedback to politicians and parliament. Create a portal of some kind whereby people can only register an opinion or Yes/No one time per issue, or that sorts their multiple responses into one ‘file’ (or something … come in Ben?).

            Effectively, get internet voting underway. The problem with it becoming digital referenda and being binding is that same ‘tyranny of the majority’.

            We can work this out if we also reform our democratic system. If we move towards a conciliatory & consensual model rather than an adversarial and majority rule model.

            These two – democracy reform and easy access polling/voting – will ‘click’ together quite nicely one day IMHO (and we’ll look back and think, “thank god we’ve emerged from those dark ages”)

          • Iceberg

             /  2nd April 2016

            Most polls get hijacked by political or media activists anyway. Doesn’t that just leave you back in square one?

            • Scientific polls don’t get hijacked. If they are conducted properly and reported on accurately they can be reasonably accurate and certainly cost effective ways of gauging public opinion.

            • Iceberg

               /  2nd April 2016

              I don’t mean the process gets hijacked. The results do.

            • Iceberg – hence the need for true democratic reform. It may take a generation or more, like proper reform of the justice system will.

              Its our out-dated system of majority rule that creates this Party political, herd instinct miasma, at least to some extent. Independent people of the future in a much more open, multi-faceted, tolerant society will want more ‘independence’ of political representation, as well as more consensus. My view anyhow.

            • Iceberg

               /  2nd April 2016

              PZ, in your world there would be enough unicorns for everyone. But in the real world of more population and scarce resources the existing system does a better job of allocation than any other. The tribal battles at the extremes are an important part of the process of finding the middle ground.

              The system isn’t outdated, it’s still in it’s 90 day trial period compared to human history.

  2. Pantsdownbrown

     /  2nd April 2016

    PG: “I think that one of the ways we could improve the democratic process in New Zealand would be to have public polling done on issues of interest, especially on contentious bills in Parliament”.

    Normally agree with you PG but your idea is nuts – imagine the complaining about the bias of the polling, the bias of the people doing the polling, the pressure from groups with an interest in the outcome etc. All it would end up as is one big shit-fight.

    You vote every three years for the make-up of our parliament, MMP (supposedly) represents the Nationwide vote so checks and balances are in place with smaller parties needed to pass larger bits of legislation etc. If Political parties are basing decision making on internal polling anyway (as you suggest) then isn’t the general public indirectly already getting a say?

    The other problem with polls on specific issues is the average person on the street is in no position to make truly informed decisions as they do not have/understand all the facts (financial, how it effects trade, long term strategy/problems etc) & generally fall back on emotional decisions, what’s ‘best for them personally’ or political party lines regardless of what is best for the country.

    • I think that not exploring ways of improving our democratic process and engagement because of a possible risk of a shit fight is quite wrong.

      There are people who deliberately create shit fights to try to smash down improvements or smash down perceived threats to their power. Rolling over to this sort of pervasive behaviour is not in my nature.

    • @ PDB – “The other problem with polls on specific issues is the average person on the street is in no position to make truly informed decisions as they do not have/understand all the facts …”

      If you believe this then you don’t believe in democracy at all.
      If you can do it, they can do it … they have exactly the same right to do it as you do.

      I agree about the private polling though. It needs to be a ‘government’ portal … I dunno … independent like the Ombudsman’s Office or something, part of the Electoral Commission?
      Theoretically you could have a poll of every eligible voter or even every citizen capable of using a device …? It could be internet, phone, cellphone, social media interconnected, e.g, like banking …

      MMP is a modified form of majority rule. If we can do the above polling/voting we can sure as hell improve upon MMP as well.

    • Clemgeopin

       /  2nd April 2016

      “The other problem with polls on specific issues is the average person on the street is in no position to make truly informed decisions’

      No wonder they end up stupidly voting for Key, Nats, ACT and other right wing capitalists that smile, wave and fool away the people right, left and centre!

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  2nd April 2016

    The Statistics department wastes a lot of money on the census and other comprehensive surveys that would be far better spent on polling rather than a nation-wide survey. Much of what is covered is either fuzzily defined or certainly does not require an exact measurement every five or ten years when an accuracy of a percent or two from a far cheaper and more timely poll would suffice.

    So that is the obvious agency to commission and report and record polls.

  4. Pantsdownbrown

     /  2nd April 2016

    PZ: “The other problem with polls on specific issues is the average person on the street is in no position to make truly informed decisions as they do not have/understand all the facts …If you believe this then you don’t believe in democracy at all”

    That’s total rubbish. A world class heart surgeon is specifically hired by a hospital and needs to replace a guys heart – before he does so we do a city-wide poll which decides that is unnecessary and therefore to you that is ‘democracy’?

    The TPPA is a classic example of the average person in the street having no idea what they are talking about, even the one’s actively protesting against it (“saving our sovereignty”).

    Who is going to know what’s best for the NZ economy – Bill English or the dildo thrower?

    • Your impossible to talk to Pantsdown, honestly. Did I say anything like that a poll should replace decisions made by the Minister of Finance? Your transumptive “heart surgeon” comparison is utterly meaningless.

      I’m talking about using polls as major, important information and feedback systems. To undertake a survey you are either already informed or you can get informed by the survey itself. Presently those motivated enough to do so follow politics and email their MPs or Ministers or the PM. If there was a portal and access was much easier, there’d be better, more immediate, higher poll numbers, more statistical and possibly commentary-style feedback to the representatives of the people, be they the incumbent government or not.

      There are huge educational possibilities in a government feedback portal, which, as Alan says, might best be run by StatisticsNZ.

      Imagine, for instance, if the population en masse had intervened in the Flag Consideration. If they’d said “No way, that panel is biased and not expert enough. Here’s some suggestions” … and similarly for each of the FCP’s failings.

      The mechanism isn’t there at present. It’s staring us in the face and we’re not using it. The real contribution people get to make is piffling Pigeon Post by comparison to what it could be. It’s like we live in the digital age and still use the Pony Express to govern ourselves …

      This is not to mention how the government is constituted in the first place. A really open system of public feedback – a much more real and tangible democratic pyramid operating from the bottom up – might pretty soon make our bearpit Parliament look very silly indeed (if it doesn’t already?). Truly pan-democratic (panocratic?) participation implies consensual and conciliatory decision making rather than adversarial and majority rule IMHO.

      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  2nd April 2016

        PZ: “To undertake a survey you are either already informed or you can get informed by the survey itself. Presently those motivated enough to do so follow politics and email their MPs or Ministers or the PM”.

        That’s where your argument falls down PZ – hate to break it to you (you better sit down and booster the bubble you sit within – deep breaths now……) but people in general don’t give two hoots about politics and have no desire to become ‘informed’.

        How many people have really read the entire TPPA document and fully understand it? A nationwide poll on the TPPA would therefore be totally meaningless as a result but I’ll tell you who does understand the TPPA though and that is the professional NZ negotiators who helped put the deal together and were there every step of the discussion & debate surrounding it.

        I’d have large belief in the opinions on the TPPA from our negotiators on the ground and zero belief from a nationwide TPPA poll result of the mainly uninformed or disinterested.

        • How very transumptive and selective of you PDB. Those with even some concerns about TPPA or who oppose it are thick-as-pigshit “rent-a-crowd” fools and Kelsey follower minions with bad, socialist Leftie ulterior motives, while the negotiators and supporters are highly intelligent, utterly rational superior beings with perfectly clear, clean agendas … acting on behalf of the National Party and the broader neoliberal, so-called global, so-called free-trade, capitalist ideology … (just rarkin’ you up, sorry) …

          Aside from that, we weren’t even (really) talking about polls necessarily having any binding ruling, only influence, which they already appear to have using private agencies and tiny numbers of respondents?

          I think any introduction of decision-by-referendum in NZ has to be handled very carefully indeed so as to avoid (simple and simpleton) tyranny of the majority, perhaps especially in a biculturally founded multicultural nation?

          I still think the wider potential of polling is vast and may be largely unexplored yet. Polls and statistics which we could already easily obtain using web technology can tell us vast amounts about society’s trends, moods, aspirations … et al ad infinitum

          I’m wasting my energy … signing off shortly for the weekend … Bye … Have a good one yourself …

          • Pantsdownbrown

             /  2nd April 2016

            Enjoy your weekend PZ.

            “There are lies, damned lies and statistics” – Mark Twain

            • That covers it PDB. You stay safe in that trench you’ve dug for yourself, it’s pretty deep … (I am NOT saying you are the only combatant either. There’s plenty of entrenched ‘soldiers’ on both sides of the stupid Left vs Right battlefield)

              One day this useless, ridiculous, fabricated, largely illusiory war will be over and we’ll be able to come out and meet in No-Man’s Land … I wonder what it will look like …?

              A Labour politician might say to a National politician about some issue or policy, “Look, we’re practically the bloody same on this. Let’s get together, iron out the differences and enact the thing … it’s what the vast majority of people want … we just need to make this and this allowances for this and this minority …” (or something, please don’t take me literally, I’m just rambling is all)

              My departure was slightly delayed … closing now … See Ya!

        • Clemgeopin

           /  2nd April 2016

          How many of the negotiators were there representing the opposition parties and their views and checks and balances considering the deal involved a great number of countries and lasting consequences/commitment for the country?

          • Pantsdownbrown

             /  2nd April 2016

            They were representing NEW ZEALAND Clem – not the National party. Many of them were the same people that put together the Chinese trade deal under labour including the same lead negotiator. You need to take the blinkers off…….

  5. I disagree here. While any argument for transparency is laudable – secrecy, manipulation and worse will always be part of power broking and the wider political machine. One doesn’t need to be too astute to see our politicians ducking, diving or soaring on issues according to their pollsters recommendations. It’s incumbent on us as a society – the press, blogs and operatives to keep the lid lifted, keep asking the important questions and keep the bastards honest.

    • @ Traveller – polling, by which I mean nation-wide, voter population (or citizen) public portal polling and feedback, gives the people another tool along with your “press, blogs and operatives” by which to force politicians to stop doing that, to act more directly on their behalf … or whatever. To some degree we don’t know what may result?

      Indeed, the press, blogs and operatives can show the people how to make best use of the new polling tool. And it, along with our education system, can ‘learn’ people how to think independently of the herd or make informed decisions about which herd or interest group or whatever they join … I can’t see the downside … unless we carry on as we are …

      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  2nd April 2016

        ” I can’t see the downside …”

        Um……more meaningless polls maybe?

        • More meaningless “opportunity” for people to get informed and involved, eh Pantsdown? … We wouldn’t want that ….

          • Pantsdownbrown

             /  2nd April 2016

            See above reply to you PZ – most people in this country don’t want to get ‘informed’ or ‘involved’………after a couple of polls even more people wouldn’t be bothered as poll-itis sets in.

            • God if we stop trying because of our assumptions about other people we’ll truly be f&*ked PDB …

              I’m talking about let’s say the next Constitution discussion and some sort of portal is in place. Given decent advertising for it – which the last one (CAP) lacked in my opinion – we might see 50,000 submissions instead of 5,000 … that’s all I mean …

              I’m not expecting everyone to be online every day doing polls …

              Only fools like you and I do that sort of thing on blogsites like this 🙂

            • Brown

               /  2nd April 2016

              We get involved but get ignored if we are not part of the in crowd so its disheartening but I think that most people are simply ignorant and can’t be bothered as long as the lights go on when you flick a switch. Govts treat citizens serfs nowadays and that pisses me off.

              The concept reminds me of modern corporate life with endless meetings that achieve nothing except justify a level of management that is consistently mediocre. There’s always been a lot of dumbfuckery about but never has it paid so well.

            • @ Brown – I think your pessimism has maybe got the better of you today? TPPA went through, got signed off, is going through the motions of “ratification” and will become law. What’s the problem …?

              NZ took an extra 750 refugees was it? Or 250 atop our usual quota or something? This is hardly opening the floodgates is it? The country looks pretty conservative to me.

              Do you mean because same-sex marriage got legalised or something you are subjugated by the “in crowd”? Is it abortion? Or Treaty Settlements?

              Not endless meetings, just strategically placed polls on behalf of the populace at regular intervals maybe … who knows how it might actually work? …

              Crikey, if corporate management is consistently mediocre we’re in trouble … the neoliberal “corporatisation of all life-forms” model must be failing? Does this mean we can return to ‘Glide Time’?

  6. Brown

     /  2nd April 2016

    ”Crikey, if corporate management is consistently mediocre we’re in trouble”

    We are PZ. Don’t be fooled by the power being on.

  7. I’d definitely support any more towards direct democracy that was shown to be adequately secure. I think the best way to achieve this is to in the early stages have an independent online polling company carrying out this role. If it gets big enough, the mainstream political process will start paying attention to the results.


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