Poor poll reporting by Duncan Garner and Newshub

Political polls are often poorly covered by journalists and media. They make far too much of individual results as if it is big news. They try to make their own polls big news – but there are very few polls done now.

So Duncan Garner tried to make something out of very little – and worse, it was with what he was fed from a non-published internal party poll, with no details published and no historical poll context. This wasn’t journalism, it was taking a cheap shot.

Newshub: New polling data shows another fall for National – Garner

There’s more bad news for National with new polling data showing public support continues to fall.

The AM Show host Duncan Garner says he was given access to the Government’s internal polling data this week, which shows Labour at 46 percent and National at 37 percent.

This is a fall of six percent compared to the last 1NEWS Colmar Brunton poll, released two weeks ago, which showed National on 43 percent and Labour on 45 percent.

Presumably this is from Labour and their polling company, UMR. Comparing a single result from Colmar with a single result from UMR is pretty much meaningless from a practical polling point of view, especially when no details of ther UMR poll are made public.

It wouldn’t surprise me if National support has slipped after a torrid couple of weeks, but the biggest point of interest in this will be whether they can recover, and if so by how much. It will take months before we can see that – and then we are likely to get few polls to judge it on. I think it will take another two Colmar polls to get a reasonable idea, and that could take six months.

If accurate, it’s bad news for National leader Simon Bridges, who has said he would bring his party back ahead of Labour within weeks.

So Newshub is not even claiming the result is accurate.

What details did Garner have and give? The poll segment is not even the primary focus of the interview the story came from. It mostly dealt with the Karel Sroubek issue (and Garner was quite critical of Lees-Galloway) – and this issue is unlikely to be reflected even in private polls yet.

The poll came up 6 minutes into an 8 minute interview with Judith Collins and Labour’s Michael Woods. This is the information Garner gave.

Garner: Now I have heard, and I got this information on, um, earlier in the week, the internal polling of the Government has Labour at 46, which is very high, um compared to where you have been in recent years, so well done, and National 37, Judith, your eyebrow goes up…

Collins: Well I (hard to hear) about the Government, I’ve been um on leave most of this week, so no, say the Government doesn’t share it’s polling with me.

Garner: Mmm, well I’m sharing it with you, because they shared it with me. Thirty seven though for National, that’s not good is it?

Collins: Well I don’t know what the polling is…

Garner: I’m telling you what it is…

Collins: …well yeah it’s two years before the next elections though, I know that we’ve had, gone through some pretty difficult times in the last few weeks or months, and um I’m sure that we’re very focused on doing our job, which is better than Iain Lees-Galloway.

Garner: You said, and we’ve dealt with that, that’ll be dealt with over the weekend, you said we’ve been through some difficult times over the last few weeks, and months.

Collins: And months.

Garner: Now the and months bit would indicate you guys, National, knew a lot more for a longer time than we, of course didn’t we…

Collins: No no, I think it if you stretch it out it’s obviously been going on for a little while, and ah we’ve also had leaks going on this year, and now strangely enough the leaks have absolutely stopped, so I think we’ve sorted that one out, so now that’s Winston Peters problem, because he’s taken him in.

There’s a suggestion here that Garner has been sitting on this poll leak since “earlier in the week” – not newsworthy enough to report on until trying to ambush Collins with it. With no details.

Garner has only come up with two poll numbers given to him by someone in Government. No indication of:

  • When the poll was taken
  • Sample size
  • Margin of error
  • Other party results
  • Number undecided
  • Method of polling

All of that can be important in trying to analyse a poll result.

And perhaps more importantly, because internal party polls are only ever leaked when it suits the party leaking numbers, there is no way of knowing what trrends and movements may be happening.

I have seen claims that Labour’s UMR polling tends to favour Labour versus National, but without published historic data there is no way of knowing this.

It makes a big difference as to how much National has dropped. Going from 39 or 40 to 37 is not very significant, margin of error stuff. If they dropped from 45 to 37 it would be more significant – but that still depends on previous polls as well. Have the results been trending down? Have they been volatile through the year.

Without knowing any of the details that are required to come close to properly analysing a poll this news report from Garner and Newshub is poor journalism – actually, it’s not journalism, it’s acting on behalf of one party to try to embarrass another.

It appears to be an attempt to create news out of  far too little information.

This is worse than usual but unfortunately it is a symptom of generally appalling media coverage of polls.

Al it does is feed those either ignorant of polling or intent on uninformed attacks. Like this at The Standard: Latest poll results – National in freefall

More bad news for National.

Their support is in free fall according to the latest UMR poll, the details of which have been leaked to Duncan Garner at the AM show.

Garner made no claim of anything like ‘free-fall’, and the scant details doesn’t support that claim. Presland should know better, he probably does but pushed partisan bullshit.

Comments reveal:

I heard these numbers at conference chatter.

Newshub saying “Garner says he was given access to the Government’s internal polling data this week” implies a new poll, but it seems that Garner was ‘given access to’ poll data this week related to a poll taken prior to this week. It could have been taken when National was getting hammered over the Jami-Lee Ross issue. What happens from now is of more interest than the initial reaction in the past.

Wikipedia also include the Labour/UMR poll in Opinion polling for the next New Zealand general election but qualify it with:

UMR and Curia polls

These polls are typically unpublished and are used internally for Labour (UMR) and National (Curia). Although these polls are sometimes leaked or partially leaked, their details are not publicly available for viewing and scrutinising. Because not all of their polls are made public, it is likely that those which are released are cherry-picked and therefore may not truly indicate ongoing trends.

Curiously the only Curia or UMR poll included is the UMR one currently being circulated (and repeated by Garner) – and the date of 9 November can’t be accurate for, that’s yesterday when Garner mentioned it.

Leave a comment


  1. robertguyton

     /  10th November 2018

    Heading for the floor!

    • Unless you have months of poll data from UMR to back that up that is an ignorant comment. One poll number means very little on it’s own, and obviously says nothing about any trend.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  10th November 2018

      Jacinda firing on all cylinders, Robert? Keep pumping the gas.

  2. robertguyton

     /  10th November 2018

    Maureen Pugh will be feeling very anxious.

  3. Reply
  4. Trevors_elbow

     /  10th November 2018

    UMR polls that showed labour doing better than public polls when Little wasxleader… those highly ‘credible’ polls?

    …. just more Labour propaganda. What a surprise its leaked when Labour are in te spot light hugging dud czechs

  5. PDB

     /  10th November 2018

    Sounds like this one specific ‘poll’ was being shopped around at the Labour conference with no MSM touching it until Garner mentioned it.

    Andrew Little made public Labour’s UMR polling when all of the public polls were showing Labour going backwards quick smart well into the 20%’s & National sitting pretty in the high 40%’s.

    Stuff – Sept 2016: Labour has defended leader Andrew Little’s comments that a recent poll isn’t “credible” by releasing its own polling data. The UMR poll between August 31 and September 5 surveyed 750 people and had National at 40 per cent, Labour at 31 per cent, Greens on 14 per cent and NZ First on 11 per cent.”

    The UMR nonsense was well summed-up in this amazing piece of fiction & an embarrassment to any such company even pretending to be accurate;

    “The UMR poll doesn’t survey for preferred Prime Minister – it instead asks whether people have a favourable or unfavourable view of the two leaders. In that area Prime Minister John Key was 46 per cent unfavourable vs 52 per cent favourable, which was up 1 per cent.
    Little was 33 per cent unfavourable vs 49 per cent favourable – up 8 per cent.”

  6. duperez

     /  10th November 2018

    Yesterday I posted, “When the public polls come out they can be believed. Putting out some rumoured % is just that.”

    Building a story on rumours is bullshit and lowest common denominator journalism.

    The motive of Garner might be to create days worth of content. Ironically Curia gets mentioned here. David Farrar tries to do the same with stories, set the narrative and control it but he is an acknowledged propagandist not an agent of a major media company.

    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  11th November 2018

      And Stephen Mills is a down the line neutral????… You.Are.Having.A.Laugh!!!

      UMR are Labour’s creature when it comes to political polling and Mills every time he speaks backs that up……

      • duperez

         /  11th November 2018

        Stephen Mills can do what he likes as can Farrar. The comment is about Garner acting in the same way as them. The life mission of those pollsters isn’t limited to polling. They are propagandists.
        A journalist building a story on rumours is bullshit and lowest common denominator journalism. Mills and Farrar doing that is to be expected.


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