The NZ First poll jump fallacy

Does NZ First always get substantially more votes in an election than they poll? No, there have been a number of variations over the last few elections.

This sort of claim at The Standard is common:

NZF always get 5% additional votes at the Election cf to the polls so they are probably tracking at 16-17% which would appear to be about right at this stage ?

I’ve often seen journalists claim that NZ First get more votes than they poll. Sometimes selective poll results are used to try to justify the claims.

But the fact is that NZ First polling results and trends compared to election results has varied markedly over the last few elections. And there have been varying factors involved.

In 2008 the trend remained quite flat for NZ First – election result 4.07%:,_2008

In the months leading up to the 2008 election NZ First were embroiled in controversy over donations to the party. While Serious Fraud Office and Police investigated. Peters stood down from his ministerial roles (he was found not guilty of illegal wrongdoing).

In 2011 NZ First were all over the place, election result 6.59%,_2011

Always the political opportunist Peters benefited from the controversy over the ‘tea tapes’ involving John Banks and John Key late in the campaign.

In 2014 there was a bit of a late upswing – election result 8.66%:,_2014

This wasn’t a huge rise. In March 2014 NZ First had poll results up to 7% and through the year they often got 6.0-6.5%.

In August to December 2012 NZ First had poll results from 1.8% to 7%, often getting 5-6.5% (8 times in that range).

Every election differs, especially for smaller parties who can hardly be seen during the term and then get some attention during the campaign.

Some pundits have suggested that this election has similarities to 2005, except with major party roles reversed. National under Don Brash’s leadership had recovered from an abysmal 2002 low and went very close to beating Labour under Helen Clark.

A lot of late campaign focus then was on the two largest parties, and while NZ First ended up calling the coalition shots and ending up in government (remember the ‘baubles of power’) they lost ground late in the campaign.

In 2005 there was a late drop – election result 5.7%:,_2005

In June and August NZ First had been getting up to 10-11%.

Peters may find an issue that resonates over the next five weeks and NZ First may get more votes than they have been polling. But they could just as easily stay flat, and a controversy could see them slide like the Greens just have.

Many different things could happen.

Labour are currently resurgent and could suck support away from NZ First.

Voters could fear a Labour+NZ First+Green coalition and rally behind National.

TOP may have a late surge of ‘stuff the others’ vote at the expense of NZ First.

Age and the rigours of having to campaign in an electorate and nationally may catch up on Peters – there are signs of strain showing. He could have a health scare.

Shane Jones may do or say something stupid (he’s been quiet lately) and scare voters off NZ First.

Nicky Hager could launch another book.

Cameron Slater may score a vital hit against National (he’s been trying hard enough, largely in vain).

Jacinda Ardern could be found wanting in election debates and voters may desert Labour, some to NZ First.

Election campaigns inevitably throw up surprises, and that can mean opportunities for smaller parties like NZ First – and can also deprive them of oxygen.

One thing is certain – a significant number of voters make late decisions about how they vote, and this means there can be significant shifts in support – as there have been over the last month.

Making presumptions based on selected past poll trends is futile.

Challenges for National

Despite the crisis faced by Labour, National still have challenges of their own heading into the election campaign.

Few expect them to do as well as last election when they just got a slim majority with 47.04%, trimmed to a whisker when they lost the Northland by-election.

Three recent polls:

  • UMR (Labour’s internal poll): 42%
  • Colmar Brunton: 47%
  • Newshub/Reid Research: 45.1%

I think the UMR poll is a bit older and tends to favour Labour rather than National, but these polls suggest that National have a challenge avoiding having to negotiate with Winston Peters based on all of these results.

BUT anything could happen now as a result of Labour’s torpidity followed by turmoil.

This could throw everything wide open if voters desert Labour and switch to the Greens or NZ First. Or voters may prefer the safety of an uninspiring but well known National plus a few small support parties again.

National still have the advantage of having a good relationship with several small parties still, while the Labour-Green Memorandum of Understanding was effectively thrown out the window by Metiria Turei and now Andrew Little seems to have smashed any window of opportunity for Labour.

So National has been helped by the turmoil on the left, but they have to do more to help themselves. Arrogance and complacency are probably their biggest challenges to overcome, but they could do with a much stronger approach from Bill English as well.

If they cruise then NZ First and the Greens make pick up the bulk of the votes thrown up in the air by Labour.

A difficult day for Labour

It will be a difficult day for Labour today with rumours of an imminent  leadership change all over the place.

On Sunday a very grim looking Andrew Little responding to a grim Colmar Brunton poll result that had Labour on a this century low (for CB) of 24%, saying he had offered to stand down, precipitated a flurry of speculation and anguish.

The hopes of those who tried to play it down with ‘just one poll’ were dashed when it emerged that prior to the CB result Labour had received an internal poll result of 23% from UMR.

So that was a double poll whammy tripled by Little’s response. On RNZ yesterday morning he said he was remaining as leader seemingly because no one else was willing to take over, and this set off a storm through Monday.

And this was topped off by a Newshub/Reid Research poll that had Labour on 24.1%.

This morning Little’s office has advised media he won’t be fronting up for any interviews, with a Labour caucus meeting scheduled.

Whatever happens, whether Little stays or goes, this is a monumental mess for Labour.

It will take several weeks for polls to show us what effect this will have all had on support for Labour but the outlook has to be grim.

We may find out what flavour of grim today.

UPDATE: Little has stepped down.

Clinton still unpopular

One of the reasons Hillary Clinton failed in last year’s presidential election was her relatively high unpopularity. While it doesn’t matter now she is political history, she is just as unpopular (her excuses for losing won’t have helped).

People tend to not like losers, especially sore losers.

The Democrats aren’t doing much better.

Fox News:  Is the Democrats’ brand ‘worse than Trump’? Some party officials admit it is

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, made some candid comments that caught my eye yesterday.

“The fact that we have spent so much time talking about Russia has been a distraction from what should be the clear contrast between Democrats and the Trump agenda, which is on economics.”

Bingo. Running mainly against Donald Trump didn’t work for the Dems in 2016, and it’s not working now.

Ohio Democratic congressman Tim Ryan told the New York Times that his party is “toxic” in large swaths of the country: “Our brand is worse than Trump. We can’t just run against Trump.”

They are diverting from their own substantial problems by trying to blame everything on Trump.

One of the stupid things about this approach is that they don’t need to show how bad Trump can be, he keeps doing that himself. His stupidity over the Comey non-tapes is evidence of that – seeTrump “did not make…any such recordings”.

Trump’s unpopularity is similar to Clinton’s. From FiveThirtyEight:


That is historically low approval for a president in their first six months in office. Trump has managed to get there through his own efforts, he doesn’t need the Democrats to discredit him.

That both Clinton and Trump are so disliked is an indictment on the state of US politics.


Trump approval largely unmoved

Donald Trump claimed that his trip to the Middle East and Europe, which included a G7 meeting in Italy, was very successful, but it highlighted a divide that seems to be growing between the US and Europe.

Last week Trump also announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. This was a largely symbolic move but it was widely criticised.

Both the overseas trip and the climate change withdrawal indicated that the US under Trump’s leadership was focussing more on it’s own interests and less on world leadership.

However Trump’s poll approval ratings are so far largely unmoved. Rasmussen, which tends to favour Trump more than others has shifted for him a little, but is still on 54% disapproval to 46% approval.

The RCP average has more or less flat lined since dropping in mid May at around 40% approval to 54% disapproval.


His approval ratings improved a little when Trump launched a missile attack in Syria and talked and acted tough militarily in the US spat with North Korea but he has lost those gains over the last month.

Trump continues to try to communicate to supporters via Twitter but that seems to have little impact on how people judge his performance.



Election predictions

Polls are generally snapshots of opinion in the past, but they are often used to try to predict future election results. This can be interesting but accuracy is obviously not guaranteed.

An interesting approach here to New Zealand general election forecasts

This page provides experimental probabilistic predictions for the 2017 New Zealand General Election. It draws on multiple opinion polls, but goes a step beyond a straightforward poll aggregator in that the estimated voting intention from successive polls is used to forecast the chances of each party to actually win seats on election day, taking into account uncertainty. Polling results are also adjusted to take into account different polling firms’ past performance in predicting different parties’ results.

Every election can have it’s own unique pattern of lead-up polling so past trends won’t always predict future trends correctly, but this is as good as predictions can get.

It has some flaws but I expect some of these to be dealt with.

Oddly that doesn’t include a National coalition with NZ First.

What I like about this site is that it shows ranges of probabilities, showing that there is always margin for ‘error’ or inaccuracy.

This shows that a range of outcomes are possible for all parties. I presume it will be refined as we get closer to the election – it will be interesting to compare these predictions with later ones.

The poll results and trends show how volatile the polls have been for Labour, Greens and NZ First.

Perhaps ominously for National their results have been tightening in a downward trend since John Key stepped down, but it’s too soon for poll responses to the budget.

For the term to 2014 National had been trending down but that turned around, but well in advance of the election. They will be hoping for a late upswing this year but there is no sign of that yet.

NZ First have had late and significant upswings for previous elections after dipping mid term, but this term their poll support has held up. It’s difficult to predict whether this pattern will repeat this year or not.

Peters on Q & A

Winston Peters is being given plenty of media oxygen this week. Following an interview on The National yesterday he was also interviewed by Corin Dann on NZ Q&A this morning – although a slip of the tongue or two referred to it being a debate, probably how Peters sees his one on one encounters with journalists.

It was a typical mix of fair points with dog whistle rhetoric, bluster and straight out bull.

On immigration he addresses common concerns over the numbers coming here and the pressure in infrastructure and housing, but he just blusters when asked to explain how exactly he would achieve much lower numbers.

One thing on which he is totally away with the fairies on is polls. He slammed TVNZ for their polls, but when pushed on this he made some ridiculous assertions.

Dann conceded that NZ First has typically campaigned well and improved on polls by election time, but pointed out that polls were snapshots.

Peters didn’t buy this, and seemed to think that polls now should somehow guess what is going to happen on election day. He sounds convinced he is hard done by on this, if so that’s based on ignorance of how polls work.

When I can get transcript I’ll add it to this post.

NZ First are unusually higher in polls than usual mid term and many think they will improve on that in the election, especially with Labour’s ongoing missteps, but it is far from a given.

It’s possible that NZ First election support simply didn’t drop off after the 2014 election and may not rise much higher, or they may have grown their support base and could do much better this time. Or not.

Polls and Peters

Media have been making a big thing about Winston Peters after poll results come out for years. A lot of nonsense has been spouted, and there’s been very poor analysis in the rush to promote the headline maker.

Peters seems to have had more proclamations of ‘king maker’ than Queen Elizabeth 2 has had curtseys.

Tracy Watkins at Stuff: Poll numbers and record immigration election-year music to Peters’ ears

The heavy breathing would have gone up the Richter scale with two figures out this week.

The first was a Roy Morgan poll putting Peters at 10.5 per cent support.

A caution here. Both Labour and National will tell you they don’t put too much stock in the Morgan poll, as its numbers can move around a lot. But over time it is a useful indicator of trends. And Peters is definitely trending.

Not really. NZ First has been fluctuating up and down in polls.

His numbers are particularly significant because Peters has a history of finishing strongly  As the Morgan poll notes, in 2011 NZ First averaged 3.5 per cent for much of the election year before winning 6.59 per cent of the vote.

In 2015 Peters averaged 5 per cent support and got 8.66 per cent on election night (the final round of polls had him at about 8 per cent).

She means 2014.

His rise appears to be starting early this year.

I think that’s nonsense on two counts.

The terms ending in 2011 and 2014 were quite different to this term. In those terms NZ First support dropped significantly between elections and rose significantly late in the election campaigns.

This term NZ First hasn’t dropped the same, in large part due to the publicity and success of Peters’ by-election win just a few months into the term.

And NZ First polled higher in Roy Morgan polls last year, eased back, and has bounced back. That is not a trend.

On top of that the political situation is quite different this term, with the National led government in it’s third term, and with John Key resigning. And Labour is onto their fourth leader post-Clark, and Labour and Greens are presenting as a combined option.

Here are NZ First poll results (Roy Morgan) for 2016 and to April in 2017:


Since peaking at 12.5 a year ago the trend seems to be very flat with fluctuations barely outside the margin of error.

And Colmar Brunton is similar so far this year for NZ First:

  • February 2017 – 11%
  • March 2017 – 8%

Reid Research:

  • March 2017 – 7.6%

About al that can be taken from this is that:

  • NZ First support has stayed higher this term than in the previous two terms,
  • Their support is fluctuating up and down, not trending,
  • The political situation this election is quite different to the last two elections.

With about five months to go until the election it’s impossible to predict what NZ First support will do in the polls, and how it will end up in the election.

I think NZ First is unlikely to end up with less support than in the 2014 election (8.66%, up from 6.59% in 2011), unless something unexpected happens like Peters gets sick.

But it is pure speculation trying to predict how much higher they may go.

Shane Jones is expected to be announced as a candidate next month – that could help their chances, or it might not. Jones’ popularity, especially outside Labour, is untested. He lost to Pita Sharples in the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate in 2011.

And Jones isn’t all that popular in NZ First: Never Shane: NZ First members oppose political return of Shane Jones

Shane Jones’ rumoured political comeback with NZ First has faced a setback, with party members setting up a “Never Shane” group to protest his potential candidacy.

Jones’ return to politics as an NZ First candidate has been tipped for some time, with suggestions he may announce his plans at his annual Waitangi barbecue on February 4.

However, a Facebook page described as “a network of NZ First members and supporters opposed to Shane Jones” has been set up ahead of a potential announcement.

Some NZ First MPS, deputy Ron Mark in particular, may be uneasy about Jones being promoted too.

A lot may depend on how well received this year’s budget is, and how well Bill English does in the election campaign, as that will determine whether National sheds votes or not (they are currently looking shakier than previously in polls).

But it’s not a given that National voters will switch to NZ First.

A lot could also depend on whether Andrew Little and Labour strike a chord with voters or not.

NZ First support could be anywhere between 10-15% (higher would be unusual but not impossible).

But it’s far too soon to get any good idea of where they might end up.

A key factor could be whether the voters are comfortable with NZ First holding the balance of power or not. They have avoided that in the last three elections.


Trump, Putin, prostitutes and polls

I’m not sure that Putin accusing others of being “worse than prostitutes” in a defence of Donald Trump is a great idea.

NZ Herald: Vladimir Putin: People who spread fake allegations about Donald Trump are ‘worse than prostitutes’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the outgoing US administration of trying to undermine President-elect Donald Trump by spreading fake allegations.

Putin described a dossier on Trump as part of efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to “undermine the legitimacy of the president-elect” despite his “convincing” victory.

Here Putin has made allegations that are not substantiated.

Putin and Trump seem to be increasingly speaking the same sort of language.

Asked about the bombshell dossier which details Trump’s alleged sexual activities at a Moscow hotel, Putin dismissed it as “fake” and charged that people who ordered it are “worse than prostitutes.”

Republican opponents of Trump ordered the dossier, and it was later taken over by Democrats.

Putin also claimed that some now want to “stage a Maidan in Washington,” in reference to the alleged US role in organising protests in the main square of the Ukrainian capital, which chased the nation’s Russia-friendly president from power in 2014.

More unsubstantiated claims (as far as I’m aware).

Meanwhile another poll shows that Trump will start his presidency with awful approval ratings.

Trump will take office this week with an approval rating of 40 per cent, sharply lower than any incoming US president in recent history, a new poll shows.

The CNN/ORC poll showed Trump lagging more than 20 points behind the ratings of his three most recent predecessors and 44 points below that of President Barack Obama as he prepared to enter the Oval Office in 2009, CNN said.

In comparison, Obama had an 84 per cent approval rating ahead of his inauguration, Bill Clinton scored 67 per cent approval in late December 1992 and 61 per cent approved of George W. Bush’s transition in poll figures from January 2001, CNN said.

Trump brushes this off.

More unsubstantiated claims. Trump claimed the election itself was rigged until it turned around after James Comey’s intervention, which of course he didn’t claim was rigging.

There may be some great plan to revolutionise international relations with unprecedented co-operation between the Us and Russia – Russia has asked the US to attend at Syrian peace talks. And it may work, to an extent at least.

Can Trump pull a rabbit out of a ushanka?

What will the polls do?

Now Bill English has taken over from John Key as Prime Minister there will be a lot of interest in what the polls do.

Internal party pollsters may be busy but the public are unlikely to get much of an indication this year.

Roy Morgan may do a December poll but their polling is usually over two weeks so would span the transition from Key resigning to English taking over. At best it may give us a rough indication.

I think it will be the end of March before we get a good idea of whether the polls show any support shifts or not, by then we will have several Roy Morgan polls plus possibly Colmar Brunton and Reid Research polls for comparison.

Poll possibilities:

  • National hold or rise – I wouldn’t rule this out but it’s feasible, Labour, Greens and NZ First haven’t changed apart from their hope levels.
  • National drop a bit, but from currently high forties to mid forties which is still within recent fluctuations – I think this is most likely short term while the public ponders.
  • National drop to the low end of their recent range in the low forties – quite possible but unless English stuffs something up badly I think less likely.
  • National support crashes and Labour leaps – a lefty dream rather than likely reality.

Andrew at Grumpollie has looked at what might happen with ‘preferred Prime Minister’ based on past Colmar Brunton trends in WHY WE SHOULDN’T GET EXCITED ABOUT THE NEXT PREFERRED PM RESULT:

The next Colmar Brunton preferred Prime Minister result will generate a lot of interest – probably a few cheers from the opposition and kind folks at The Standard, and fairly cautious or defensive responses from some National Party supporters.

Here are my predictions:

  1. Bill English’s result will be lower than John Key’s current result of 36%.
  2. Andrew Little and/or Winston Peters’ results will increase, but probably not substantially (which one does or doesn’t increase could be interesting!)
  3. John Key will still feature strongly in the results for this question.
  4. Support will increase for Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges.

He also suggests what reactions will be and why people need to ‘calm the farm’ – I hope media will remain calm but doubt they will resist trying to make a sensation out of rough indicators.

There are also some interesting trend charts from Colmar.

The only certainty is that polls will continue to fluctuate – plus too much will be read into them by media and pundits with vested interests.