Farrar’s honeymoon poll bounce scam

A very detailed analysis by   of how claims of a failure to benefit from a ‘poll bounce’ after the after the election was bad for Labour amounts to a dishonest scam by David Farrar in collaboration with Bill English. And how much of the media and blogosphere got sucked in by the meme put out by Farrar (not me though that didn’t rate a mention).

It’s a long post that has some interesting information about polls both recent and historical, making both reasonable and  questionable points.

Sub-Zero Politics: Farrar’s Honeymoon Scam

Introduction

Over recent weeks, National Party agent provocateur David Farrar has managed to profoundly shape mainstream media analysis of the Post-Election Mood.

In two highly influential Kiwiblog posts, Farrar set out to aggressively heighten expectations of the new Ardern Labour Government’s impending Poll performance (What sort of poll boost should the new Government get? November 6, 2017 – published some 2 weeks before the very first poll was released) and then subsequently went out of his way to ignore the first two Post-Election polls,  instead waiting 5 weeks for the third poll to emerge, before declaring that Labour had conspicuously failed to live up to expectations (No real bounce for Labour in first Colmar Brunton poll December 10, 2017).

  1. Incoming governments traditionally enjoy a huge Honeymoon surge of post-Election support.
  2. This massive Post-Election Poll Bounce comes largely or entirely at the expense of the Opposition Bloc and in particular the Major Opposition Party.
  3. Such a Poll Bounce failed to materialise in the immediate aftermath of the formation of  the 2017 Labour-NZ First-Green Government .
  4. This failure is unprecedented in Modern Political History
  5. The reasons for this alleged failure are two-fold: (a) In 2017, “there was no clear vote for change as happened in 1999 and 2008” and (b) Labour “have had a pretty shambolic start to Government” (Dec 10 post).
  6. None of this augurs well for the survival /  longevity / future electoral prospects of the Ardern Govt.

Media UpTake

As so often over recent years, Farrar’s carefully-contrived narrative quickly gained wide currency among MSM Notables. Despite the central involvement of both Farrar and segments of the Fourth Estate in the murky 2014 Dirty Politics scandal, journalists still seem more than happy to take his claims at face value and to widely disseminate them throughout the media.

I didn’t take much notice of the honeymoon non-bounce theory because every post-election period is quite different, and the 2017 pre-election and post-election certainly was, and it takes time for Governments to settle in and for enough poll results to be done to give an idea of trends. I think it will be several months before polls give us a good picture of party support trends.

Swordfish claims (without evidence) that the ‘scam’ was a Farrar/National Party plot:

Obviously, Farrar had closely co-ordinated this whole strategic campaign with Bill English’s Office.

That isn’t obvious. English could simply have picked up on what Farrar had posted and the media had reported. Swordfish could have used the same reasoning to claim that ‘Farrar had closely co-ordinated this whole strategic campaign with journalists and bloggers’.

I’ll skip the detail and go to the start of a lengthy conclusion.

Conclusion

Prominent National Party operative David Farrar has very successfully managed to sell the MSM a bogus honeymoon meme. This, in turn, has generated a whole series of negative headlines for the Ardern Coalition … reinforcing, in the process, some of National’s key attack lines around the alleged fragility and illegitimacy of the new Government.

It’d probably be going a little too far, I think, to suggest that a Machiavellian Farrar brought to bear all the innumerable dark arts of messaging, comms, social psychology and public relations when devising his various rhetorical strategies. That would be crediting his two Kiwiblog posts with a degree of sophistication that they don’t, quite frankly, possess. But in his own relatively crude way, he was able to successfully weave a dodgy little tale of woe for the Govt using his trademark blend of fact and fiction, as always playing on the ambiguity that lies between.

The nub of Farrar’s Honeymoon Scam is this: Both explicitly (Nov 6) and implicitly (Dec 10), Farrar left visiting journalists with the distinct impression that the two previous incoming governments – 1999 Clark Labour and 2008 Key National – had enjoyed massive double figure spikes of support in the very first post-Election Poll. At a bare minimum, journalists went away from Kiwiblog with the impression that these honeymoon surges emerged in the immediate wake of these elections – that is, the first few weeks.

Yet, as we’ve seen, Farrar’s claims were essentially fraudulent.

I don’t have the time or inclination to carefully check Swordfish’s claims against Farrar’s – it’s only polls, and the Government is setting off into the political year as if the polls didn’t matter anyway.

But here are more detailed poll trends of each oh the post election periods being analysed, in easier to follow pictures – the starting point for each chart is the election result.

Post-1999 election polling:

Not many polls and not much sign of a bounce there.

Post-2008 election polling:

No immediate bounce, it wasn’t until a number of polls in 2009 before the trend of poll support for national became obvious.

Post-2017 election polling:

Too few polls and too soon to tell, in very different circumstances.

Take from this what you like, but remember that they are only polls. They are of interest but can be easily over-analysed and are often misleadingly reported by media and by bloggers and by parties.

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26 Comments

  1. lurcher1948

     /  February 13, 2018

    Farrar the master of spin

    Reply
  2. Trevors_elbow

     /  February 13, 2018

    …Journalists left with the impression……so what? Journalists are supposed to fact check and shift the wheat from the chaff.

    All “swordfish” seems to highlight is that NZ journos are lazy repeaters. Quelle Surprise!

    Nice attempt at painting the opposition as practioners of the dark political arts… when the Left are just as deep in the dark arts themselves

    Reply
    • Mefrostate

       /  February 13, 2018

      Well it certainly puts paid to the idea that NZ has a “lefty media”, considering Farrar’s spin was so eagerly amplified. It’s more accurate that we have a media where quality journalism is hugely struggling under ad-driven business models and this leaves more room for money to influence what gets printed, as churnalists will happily repackage click-friendly PR statements issued by any old group.

      And your what-about-the-Left is probably a valid point, but shouldn’t be used to distract from the bad behaviour by Farrar here. It should damage his reputation, and he proves an unreliable voice for political insights.

      Reply
      • PDB

         /  February 13, 2018

        Mefro: “Well it certainly puts paid to the idea that NZ has a “lefty media”, considering Farrar’s spin was so eagerly amplified.”

        Which is nonsense of course – the reason Farrar was trusted was not because he was right-wing but because he is well known as an expert on polling in New Zealand.

        I’d like to see Farrar answer this claim by ‘swordfish’ as obviously some effort has been made to sift through the data. However Farrar in all his posts relating to this only mentions the Colmar poll and obviously distrusts Roy Morgan (with good reason). Not sure why swordfish even mentions UMR as they don’t do public political polling.

        Reply
        • Mefrostate

           /  February 13, 2018

          My point was that Farrar was amplified because churnalists will churn anything click-worthy. They’re clearly willing to do this with narratives convenient for both the right and the left. This seems to contradict the idea that we have a lefty media.

          I agree that Farrar wasn’t trusted because he’s right wing, but because he’s known as an expert. But this post exposes him as not trustworthy as an expert, but rather a spin-master with political motivations behind his framing of poll results.

          I’d also like to hear his response, as my opinion of him is diminished in the mean-time.

          Reply
      • High Flying Duck

         /  February 13, 2018

        Farrah was talking about the Colmar Brunton results in his post. It is hard to pin them down, but CB had National at 46% in the final poll in to the 2008 election and their first poll after had them at 57%, so Farrah is correct.
        I have no reason to believe he was incorrect about the 1999 results – the 39% he quotes for the pre-election poll is correct.
        I’m not sure where the above un-cited graphs come from, but Swordfish is twisting in the wind on this one.

        Reply
        • Mefrostate

           /  February 13, 2018

          Swordfish anticipates the Colmar Brunton defense:

          Instead, Farrar’s particular sleight-of-hand was to mislead journalists by conveying the clear impression that he was citing the very first post-election poll – regardless of polling company (ie “the next poll had them at 50%” (1999)/ “the next poll had them at 56%” (2008)) whereas, behind the scenes, what he ultimately decided to do was employ figures specifically from the first Colmar Brunton polls … and that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

          These Colmar Bruntons did indeed record significant double figure surges for the Clark and Key Governments but – and here’s the crucial point – they were conducted not weeks but in fact a matter of months after the 1999 and 2008 Elections. (The post-2008 Colmar Brunton that Farrar cherry-picks, for example, was the seventh !!! post-Election poll to emerge and was released more than three and a half months after the election). They cannot even remotely be compared to polling carried out in the immediate aftermath of Winston’s late October 2017 announcement of a change of government.

          One might add, incidentally, that – quite apart from these spikes occurring far later than Farrar led journalists to believe – the 2000 and 2009 Colmar Bruntons that he relies on almost certainly possessed an historic bias toward National and the Right. Back during the Clark Labour Government, for instance, Rob Salmond and Keith Rankin presented persuasive evidence that the CB fairly consistently overstated support for National and the political Right by somewhere around 5%.

          Even if Farrar’s has some methodological reason to consider only CB polls, he should have made this clear in both posts. At best it’s an accidental oversight, and at worst a malicious cherry-pick. Regardless, it seeded a narrative that completely falls apart in the high quality analysis presented by Swordfish here.

          Reply
          • High Flying Duck

             /  February 13, 2018

            How clear did it need to be? It was in the headline:

            “No real bounce for Labour in first Colmar Brunton poll”

            Which part of that is misleading about where the data is from?

            He also only uses ONCB poll quotes in the rest of the post:

            “Well at 46% I’d say thrilled is a good description. In 2008 Labour left office on 34% and the next ONCB poll had them down 6% on 28%. To leave office on 44% and be at 46% in the next poll is great.”

            (re the Greens): “Their final ONCB poll before the election was 8% and this poll (which now has 50% mobile phones) has them at 7%”

            CB were historically the only respected and consistent polling company which I assume is why he would have used it – he has also posited it is the most accurate polling over time.

            And the “historical bias” point is a complete red herring – was there no bias before the election and a bias after to create the 11 point jump in 2008?

            Where was the bias in 1999 when Labour jumped from 39 to 50%?

            The current poll he was referring to was several months after the election, and 2 months after the announcement of the Government so I have no issue with that either.

            Reply
            • Mefrostate

               /  February 13, 2018

              “How clear did it need to be? It was in the headline: “No real bounce for Labour in first Colmar Brunton poll”. Which part of that is misleading about where the data is from?

              You’re referring to Farrar’s second post, which continued a narrative seeded in the first post (about a “typical 11% boost”), which made no effort to highlight that it was based only on CB polls.

              “CB were historically the only respected and consistent polling company which I assume is why he would have used it – he has also posited it is the most accurate polling over time.”

              Even if Farrar’s has some methodological reason to consider only CB polls, he should have made this clear in both posts. At best it’s an accidental oversight, and at worst a malicious cherry-pick. Regardless, it seeded a narrative that completely falls apart in the high quality analysis presented by Swordfish here.

              As a “polling wizard”, Farrar also should be well aware of the need to consider a range of polls. This is probably the logic behind him hosting a “polling average” permanently on his sidebar. But apparently he’ll focus
              on just one company’s poll if it’s useful for storytelling.

              “And the “historical bias” point is a complete red herring – was there no bias before the election and a bias after to create the 11 point jump in 2008?”

              Farrar calculates the 11 point jump as relative to the election results, not the pre-election polls, so CB’s historic bias is certainly a significant chunk of the 11 point “jump”. See here for more info on the historic bias of each polling house, and you can clearly see CB overestimating National by several points around 2008.

              “Where was the bias in 1999 when Labour jumped from 39 to 50%”?

              Possibly non-existent at that stage? Swordfish doesn’t discuss the biases at that time.

              “The current poll he was referring to was several months after the election, and 2 months after the announcement of the Government so I have no issue with that either.

              Sure, but now our goalposts have shifted to a cherry-picked polling company over a cherry-picked time-frame, to construct a narrative which completely falls apart when the wider context is considered.

              And it’s exactly that kind of devious misinformation that we should condemn, because it undermines our ability to engage in political discourse.

            • High Flying Duck

               /  February 13, 2018

              We’ll agree to disagree – although I think a point could be made about the small pond we live in and the lack of resources for journalists, as there is no way a functioning media should have that may people relying on one Farrar blog post to underpin articles.

              Farrar calculates the 11% jump in both 2008 and 1999 as from the last Colmar Brunton poll prior to the election vs the first one after it, so if there is bias it should be in both polls and should not affect the gap (I presume).

            • Mefrostate

               /  February 13, 2018

              “although I think a point could be made about the small pond we live in and the lack of resources for journalists, as there is no way a functioning media should have that may people relying on one Farrar blog post to underpin articles.”

              On this we agree, although I’d go further to suggest that this incident provides further evidence (over and above DP) that journos should be skeptical of anything Farrar says and treat it with a large grain of salt & fact-checking.

              “Farrar calculates the 11% jump in both 2008 and 1999 as from the last Colmar Brunton poll prior to the election vs the first one after it”

              No he doesn’t, they’re both calculated by the election result compared to the first CB poll after the election. Therefore the 2008 bias causes the bump to be overstated. It’s unclear whether that same bias existed back in 1999 polls.

            • High Flying Duck

               /  February 13, 2018

              Sorry Mefro – I had misread the polling I had looked at previously – you are correct about the polling and therefore about the potential effect of bias.

            • Mefrostate

               /  February 13, 2018

              You have my respect for acknowledging the mistake, it was an easy one to make since Farrar wasn’t entirely clear. I’ll endeavor to own my mistakes too (if I ever make any ;-)).

      • High Flying Duck

         /  February 13, 2018

        Swordfish’s “detailed analysis” seems to comprise taking completely different data and then bagging Farrah.
        He also borrows from the Nicky Hagar playbook of then automatically assuming dirty politics and co-ordination with National.
        I’m not sure why PG saw fit to post it as it is pretty amateur hour stuff.

        Reply
        • Mefrostate

           /  February 13, 2018

          Firstly it is a detailed analysis, so you can drop the air quotes.

          Comprise taking completely different data” is a strange way to describe exploring all the relevant data, rather than Farrar’s unexplained cherry-pick.

          bagging Farrah” is mostly accurate though, the post certainly does bag Farrar with an R.

          “He also borrows from the Nicky Hagar playbook of then automatically assuming dirty politics and co-ordination with National.”

          I’ll grant that “Obviously, Farrar had closely co-ordinated this whole strategic campaign with Bill English’s Office” is too strong an allegation given the evidence. But Farrar’s involvement in Dirty Politics is quite relevant context.

          Reply
          • High Flying Duck

             /  February 13, 2018

            The Manhire column which Swordfish posits as part of the feedback loop contains the answer to his “why this poll?” question in the headline:

            “The first big poll for ages is due. What would be a good result for Labour?”

            That says all it needs to about anything prior. The three prior polls Swordfish quoted were Roy Morgan, who have huge volatility and do not seem to be taken seriously – especially by Farrar – plus the Labour pollsters UMR and the National pollster Curia, neither of which were publicly released from what I can gather.

            Swordfish then delves into history, while Farrar is very specific about the poll jump applying only to the last two governments.

            He gives the details for 1999 and 2008 and then says:

            “So both recent changes of Government has seen an 11% bump for the winning party. This is because people like to give a new Government a fair go.”

            As I said, Farrar was quite specific in his comments. Swordfish seems to deliberately downplay the confirmation of WHICH poll, and the “historical” trend both of which are carefully articulated in the Farrar post.

            As far as I can see the whole post comprises straw man arguments knocked together into a “dirty politics” conspiracy.

            Reply
            • Mefrostate

               /  February 13, 2018

              “That says all it needs to about anything prior. The three prior polls Swordfish quoted were Roy Morgan, who have huge volatility and do not seem to be taken seriously – especially by Farrar – plus the Labour pollsters UMR and the National pollster Curia, neither of which were publicly released from what I can gather.

              Again, that might have been Farrar’s logic, but he should have explained that approach in his first post. Worth noting although that Roy Morgan were found to be the most accurate in the post I linked above. Also I’m not sure why Farrar would disregard Curia’s results, which he presumably trusts and has access since it’s his company.

              “Swordfish then delves into history, while Farrar is very specific about the poll jump applying only to the last two governments.

              True, except that he amplified these two data points into being “form” in the first post, suggests that it means Labour “should” expect an 11% jump this time too, and describes it as a “normal bump” in a tweet and the second post. He makes no effort to correct anyone in the media when they describe his posited honeymoon bump as “typical”, “traditional” or “expected”.

              And, as we’ve already seen, the 11% jump requires some significant cherry-picking and bias-ignoring in order to justify it.

              “As far as I can see the whole post comprises straw man arguments knocked together into a “dirty politics” conspiracy.”

              Absolutely ridiculous. The vast bulk of the post contains a great deal of data-backed dismantling of Farrar’s arguments, along with a brief strawman that I’ve already conceded is too strong, but sits within the relevant context of Farrar’s role in Dirty Politics.

            • PDB

               /  February 13, 2018

              “but sits within the relevant context of Farrar’s role in Dirty Politics.”

              What role was that? Hager proved nothing regarding Farrar except provide common knowledge that he is a right-wing blogger who is a member of the National party that does internal polling for National.

              Farrar defends himself well here: https://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2014/08/the_hager_book-2.html

            • Mefrostate

               /  February 13, 2018

              Basically what you said, Farrar is a right-wing blogger who is a member of the National party, friends with many National politicians, and therefore has a bunch of reasons to write posts that favour National’s interest over the national interest.

              Combine that with his willingness to mislead readers, and he starts to look like a pretty untrustworthy voice.

              To be clear, I’m not accusing Farrar of writing paid posts. There’s no evidence of that.

              The flip-side is Pete George, whose politics are probably to the right of mine, but who has never appeared to be writing with any kind of hidden agenda, and rather out of pure genuine interest in fostering discussion that will get us closer to the truth.

  3. Ray

     /  February 13, 2018

    Somebody hiding behind a nom de plume makes various claims that they can’t believe are true!

    Reply
  4. Gezza

     /  February 13, 2018

    Jacinda’s well up in the preferred PM race but Nats are ahead of Labour & all other parties in support, NZFirst & Greens are diving. Not really a lot of poll results to work with yet. Compared to the US our polls are pathetically few & infrequent.

    Reply
    • High Flying Duck

       /  February 13, 2018

      The parties have ongoing internal polls so they always have their finger on where they stand.
      Public polls are for trainspotters only really – they do not achieve anything.

      Reply
  5. duperez

     /  February 13, 2018

    They are only polls and David Farrar’s only a political propagandist.

    Still it’s interesting to see written that an analysis of claims amounts to “a dishonest scam by David Farrar in collaboration with Bill English.”

    Nothing special, no big deal, nothing out of the ordinary.

    Reply
  1. Farrar’s honeymoon poll bounce scam — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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