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.

On John Key: “it’s an issue of trustworthiness”

Bryce Edwards got to the core of John Key’s poor handling of the Ian Fletcher appointment on Firstline yesterday – reported in John Key: The honeymoon ‘is over’.

During an interview on RadioLIVE on Friday he let his frustrations rip, calling journalists “knuckleheads” over the reporting of the issue.

Dr Edwards says the Prime Minister’s outburst was a “crazy thing to say”.

“The media have been doing their job, and for him just to lash out at them I think just shows how rattled he is. It might immediately not be a big deal, and some people will respond favourably to him being strong about the media.

“But over time, I think this will damage him because he needs to keep the confidence of the media, and finally that honeymoon I think is over now – with the media and the public, to some extent – because it’s an issue of trustworthiness.

“People do trust him to be a straight-talker and to tell the truth, and people are a lot less clear that that’s what’s happened in this situation.”

One of Key’s biggest strengths has been that, especially for a politician, he has been widely seen as a straight talker.

Some have seen his fudging on this issue as justified disdain at the campaign of attack on him, it was to an extent an issue manufactured to try and trip him up.

But others will have lost some faith. A forked tongue is a forked tongue, no matter how justified some disgruntlement may be.

It’s how the politician handles things, and he’s handled it appallingly, and the consensus seems to be that he’s lied in Parliament and he’s lied to the media – at least, he hasn’t told the truth.

“The public don’t like that. The public don’t like their Prime Minister to be a liar.”

Key could not have been expected to tell the whole truth as soon as the issue was raised, but to avoid a bad look he has to avoid miffieness at political traps – he seemed to have learned something when he later said he would refuse to answer questions without being sure of his facts in the future.

But he has a fine line to walk on this, because his growing disconnect with the real world could become an increasing problem as his time in the power bubble takes it’s toll on his ordinary person touch.

Colin James also raises his respected eyebrows in today’s ODT column:

A single transgression isn’t a hanging offence. Key did not bring the democratic house down by phoning breakfast-companion Fletcher and inviting him to apply to be GCSB boss. Every cabinet transgresses once or twice.

But the price of purity is eternal vigilance. That is why, to Key’s progressive irritation and eventual irascibility, the media followed up Grant Robertson’s initial revelation by way of a question in Parliament and then probed Key’s evolving explanations and bit-by-bit ownings-up. The “knuckleheads”, as he called journalists on Friday (echoing his over-the-top “slippery slope” allegations over the John Banks “tea party” recording in the 2011 campaign), were doing their democratic job.

Key can arguably be forgiven his initial incomplete (and thereby misleading) response to Robertson because it was a trap question, tacked on to another about the GCSB and an example of the game-playing that has degraded question time. But he tacked on to his initial offhand response a gratuitous insult about Robertson’s intelligence, which diverted Parliament into points of order that ended in Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Chris Hipkins being thrown out.

And, come the following Tuesday when he knew he would be questioned at the post-cabinet press conference, he could have been expected to have got the story straight. Not so. It went downhill from there as the knuckleheads sensed and documented another “brain fade”.

Again, a memory lapse is not a hanging offence. Even the famously retentive Clark had one from time to time. The issue is not a faultless memory but whether (a) memory lapses happen more often than one would expect of a Prime Minister on top of the job or (b) a memory lapse is convenient, that is, amounts to obfuscation.

Trust is hard earned, especially for a politician. And if some of that trust is lost it’s even hard to regain.

Key’s handling of the Fletcher appointment is a hiccup rather than a chunder, but if he doesn’t straighten up his public persona the bile will build in the guts of the nation.