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.

CV’s ideal Labour

Colonial Viper has been under fire at The Standard lately because he is prepared to challenge the Labour status quo, and  establishment Labour activists don’t like their boat being rocked. CV has had his author rights removed and there have been a number of calls to shut him up at The Standard altogether.

CV is a past Labour candidate (2011 in Clutha/Southland), and as a party member has clashed with Clare Curran in Dunedin South.

His disillusionment with the current version of Labour is obvious.

Last night he summarised his ideals:

I’ll support Labour 100% and Andrew Little 100% if he:

1) States that it is time to turn NZ away from free market neoliberalism and apologises for the role the 4th Labour Government played in wrecking the country.

2) Says that there will be a total clear out of the no-hopers out of caucus, Labour Parliamentary staff and consultants who have led Labour to electoral losses over and over and over again.

3) Commits to transitioning the nation to a livable UBI and/or living minimum wage within Labour’s first term in government.

Give me a call when it happens.

It is actually common to see those ideals expressed by current and ex Labour supporters, although not usually together like this.

This is a similar sort of leaning to Jeremy Corbyn’s UK Labour, and to Bernie Sanders’ preferred style for US Democrats.

I see one big problem with this in New Zealand. If Andrew Little and Labour took this path they would only be representing a part of Labour, and that would struggle to be a half of the party.

The CV type Labourites want to ditch their centre and focus to the left. Another comment at The Standard yesterday, swordfish on ex Labour member Nick Leggett’s possible move to National:

Yep, absolutely a Blairite. Along with his good chum, Phil Quin, Leggett’s a core member of the extra-Parliamentary wing of the old ABC brigade, very close to Shearer, Goff and Shane Jones, has written for the on-line presence of the lavishly-funded Blairite ginger group, Progress, and so on. Utterly opposed to anything resembling true Social Democracy.

Some in Labour have been happy to see Jones, Goff and Leggett  leave the party, and want Shearer out too. They try to drive away any suggestion of centrism from their discussions.

But it’s more complicated than this. Colonial Viper has been labelled a Right Wing Nut Job because he has been challenging the Labour establishment.

Some in Labour seem to want to paper over the cracks, or chasms, and pretend they are a united major party.

Andrew Little seems to be caught in no person’s land. He has managed to dampen down public dissent in the Labour caucus, but not at The Standard – Little supporter Te Reo Putake was recently banned from The Standard in what looks like an uncivil war.

Little’s uncertainty and lack of confidence is hurting Labour, but so is the fractious bickering amongst the troops.

Can Labour continue as a single party? If they do and ditch their centre they are likely to continue to shrink.

More on the Morgan poll

Apparently continued silence by Martyn Bradbury on the latest Roy Morgan poll which came out a week after he posted BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: UMR SECRET POLL – National 41% Labour/Greens 45%

Since the Memorandum of Understanding, the First Past the Post mainstream media have had to start reporting the results as MMP ones. This perception change now allows Opposition voters to see they can win.

National is in trouble…

Once these private internal polls start becoming reflected in the TVNZ and TV3 Polls, National will start to implode with a power struggle.

The Roy Morgan poll has National on 53%, Labour on 25.5% and Greens on 11.5%. No word on what Bombers perception of this is.

One perception at The Daily Blog though, from Cleangreen. On the UMR ‘secret poll’:

Yes joy rings out finally National are on their way out hooray.

But in a comment yesterday on the Open Mic thread Cleengreen said:

Latest Roy Morgan and any other political poster companies we think we should trust! – well don’t – read below.

The Politicians are all under orders from the Bilderberg Group and are simply minion’s that carry out orders for the global elite and that is why you see a clear hard nosed similarity over every issue now, and the media is the same parrot for these cabals also as the pollsters are to!!!!

Does anyone understand how flimsy and vulnerable and easily rigged results of Pollster’s polling data can occur where the companies cannot verify their results or edit them to see if they are changed?

Poll result good, pollster good. Poll result bad, pollsters bad.

There was a lot of talk about the 10% bounce back for National (but interestingly no one seemed to bat an eyelid at Labour dropping 2.5 to 25.5%).

Chris Keall has posted Roy Morgan manager defends *that* poll at NBR:

The chattering class was quick to scoff when at the new Roy Morgan poll which showed a 10% jump for National (864 eligible voters were surveyed by phone).

There was eye-rolling from the left and the right, and I can see why: there were no political bombshells during the survey period (June 17 to early July) to warrant such a shift.

In a press release, executive chairman Gary Morgan pegged the Nats’ bounce on John Key’s announcement of a $1 billion housing infrastructure fund.

I’m not so sure.

Keall “asked Mr Morgan if he was confident of the poll result” and the RM poll manager responded:

We are very confident these results reflect a shift in voting intention in New Zealand towards the incumbent.

That is very likely to be correct. The questions are by how much, and why.

Andrew Little has had nearly two years to cut through and even before this poll, had really made little headway.

The New Zealand economy is booming at present with Kiwis returning to the country after years of outflows across the Tasman.

Also, specifically with this poll we conducted some additional research during this period which indicates that Housing Affordability/ House prices/ Shortage of Houses/ Homeless etc. has increased significantly as an issue in New Zealand this year.

The announcement of the $1 billion housing infrastructure fund is perfectly timed to take advantage of this sentiment. There are a large number of Kiwis out there who believe they will see the benefit of this $1 billion infrastructure fund personally.

It could be that housing has been a significant factor – perhaps a lack of confidence in Labour’s policies, or a desire by many voters to retain the capital value increases.

There was also a discussion at Dim-Post: Roy Morgan wild guessing game

No doubt Labour will start leaking that their secret polls show them getting a major bump after their conference. If you added all the bumps they’ve claimed from their private polls they’d be on about 500% by now.

Danyl has been quite cynical about Labour lately.

My guess about the swing – if there was a swing – is that the news recently has been dominated by horror, fear and uncertainty. Terror attacks, racial violence in the US, Brexit, and so voters are looking for political stability and supporting National. If they are.

Swordfish, a regular poll commenter at The Standard, joins the discussion. Another pseudonym I’m not familiar with, Pollster,  joined in.

It has nothing like the spikes the Roy Morgan does, and when it does it’ll be an occasional 2-3% shift, not a 5-10% (or in this case 16%) swing as the Roy Morgan has. What the UMR has shown since the election has been a pretty static political environment. The Roy Morgan suggests that from month hundreds of thousands of people are swinging wildly from Labour and the Greens to National and back again. It’s why no one in the business takes them seriously.

As the UMR polls aren’t published their claims can’t be verified, although Swordfish says:

Last 4 UMRs had Labour on 28-33%. Over the same period, the Public Polls put the Party in the range of 26-31%. Not an enormous divergence.

That’s a 5% range from UMR, the same as for ‘public polls’.

The last four RM polls for Labour were 25.5, 28, 29,5, 26 which happens to be a smaller range of 4%.

Pollster also said:

As for Labour staffers briefing internal polls, that’s not something I’m aware of, but I wouldn’t assume that’s why the UMR poll occasional finds its way into the public arena.

Frequently it’s Hooton who claims to have had a leak of Labour’s secret internal polling, when actually he just gets the UMR Omni from one of his clients as I do. I can also confirm he often makes up the figures, because he is a shameless liar.

Hooton bit back:

I think I have mentioned specific quantitative numbers from UMR polling data twice in the media. UMR polling is what “Labour’s secret internal polling” is – or, has been historically. It is also sold to corporates as you indicate.

Unless you think UMR does one quantitative study each month for its corporate clients and then another one for Labour. Perhaps it does. I don’t see that point in that though. Whenever I have mentioned polling of any kind the numbers have been correct.

Pull your head in with your lying accusations, whoever you are, anonymous guy on the internet.

Anonymous people on the Internet who appear to have a vested interest, and who promote polls only when their cherries are ripe, but never publicly publish any poll details, and make lying accusations about people with different political leanings, barely deserve to be taken with a grain of salt.

UMR polls

More has been posted (at The Standard) on the UMR poll that Martyn Bradbury went crazy over – see “BREAKING EXCLUSIVE SECRET POLL” – by Swordfish, who is a fairly reliable source and who analyses polls far more sensibly than Bomber.

Note however that we still don’t have any actual details published of UMR polls, we are only given a few raw numbers.

Swordfish:

The UMRs tend, on average, to be slightly better for Labour and the Greens and slightly worse for National compared to the main Public Polls.

I’d take issue with Bomber’s assertion that: “The latest UMR internal Polling has shown a massive drop in support for Key.” (by “Key”, of course, Bomber means National).

It was typical Bomber bull and bluster.

In reality, the Nats slumped earlier this year (in the UMRs, in National’s Internal (Curia) Poll and, to some extent, in the Roy Morgans) – particularly in the wake of the Flag Referendumand the Panama Papers controversy – and since then it’s simply experienced a slow decline:

UMR
April 2016
Nat 43%
Lab 30%

June 2016
Nat 42%
Lab 28%
Green 16%
NZF 10%

July 2016
Nat 41%
Lab 33%
Green 12%
NZF 10%

So the latest UMR poll shows a the barest of declines for National (that could be a fraction of a percent and well within the presumed margin of errror) and a more significant shift of support from Greens to Labour Greens down 5, Labour up 4).

We’re in a similar situation to mid-2015 when a couple of the Roy Morgans and 3 UMRsplaced combined Lab+Green support a little ahead of the Nats.
(although – unlike the last few UMRs – the recent RMs still record a mild Nat lead over Lab+Green).

Then a swing back to National and the Right in the later months of 2015 / early 2016 – and now a swing back towards the Left (and, of course, NZF).

So these poll swings and round abouts are not unusual. Neither is Bomber’s frantic ranting.

Going by these numbers National should be getting a bit concerned but they shouldn’t need opposition polls to tell them that, it’s been obvious they have been having problems.

The next Roy Morgan poll which may be out next week will give us a better idea of how much weight can be put on the UMR poll results.

Put to the Swordfish

Swordfish seems to think he is good at numbers but regardless of if being an obvious tongue in cheek dig he is quite misleading in this comment at The Standard:

I was about to say: It’s amazing how many Dunedinites are on this site.

But, come to think of it, Dunedin is still the most Left-leaning City in the Country* (Wellington’s the only other centre where the Left continue to beat the Right Bloc) … so maybe not all that surprising after all.

* Indeed, it’s been argued that Pete George is the only Dunedinite to have Party-Voted National at the last Election. Isn’t that right, Pete ?

It’s true that both Dunedin electorates currently have Labour MPs and have historically mostly had Labour MPs.

For a start, going by numerous comments at The Standard bitterly complaining about neo-liberalism and National-Lite/Labour-Lite having Labour MPs doesn’t mean electorates are left-leaning.

But Swordfish is ignoring the actual numbers in Dunedin. Take the Dunedin North (the electorate I live in) party vote election results from 2014:

  • National 11,147
  • Labour 11,302
  • Greens 8,035
  • NZ First 2,364
  • Conservative 956
  • Internet Mana 603
  • Legalise Cannabis 172 (go Abe!)
  • Maori Party 124
  • ACT Party 111
  • United Future 86
  • Ban 1080 60
  • Civilian 27
  • Independent Coalition 7
  • Focus 1

Over 70% of the votes went to centre-ish parties. Ok, a few National and Labour voters may lean outside the centre a bit, but there were more votes for National than for any other party.

And it’s worth looking at trend for National:

  • 2002: 4,481 (16.19%)
  • 2005: 8,217 (25.14%)
  • 2008: 9,692 (29.35%)
  • 2011: 9,707 (32.89%)
  • 2014: 11,302 (32.26%)

Sure the Labour+Green vote is significantly higher but that is influenced markedly by Metiria Turei standing for Greens. She is arguably still better known than Michael Woodhouse and certainly has had a higher profile than David Clark. If she retired it would be interesting to see how the party voting went.

Swordfish also didn’t mention that this century I have voted for four different parties in Dunedin North, including Greens and Labour.

Te Reo Putake was taking a dig at Colonial Viper but lets look at his comment “Curran is too popular” in relation to the Dunedin South results in 2014.

Curran won the electorate by 3,858 votes from a National candidate with very little public profile.

That’s not a large margin compared to say Phil Goff with over twice as big a margin and David Shearer with three times the margin (but TRP may not think they are very left leaning).

But the critical party vote in Dunedin South in 2014:

  • National 15,003
  • Labour 12,518
  • Greens 4,626
  • NZ First 3,429
  • Conservative 1,104
  • Internet Mana 307
  • Legalise Cannabis 171  (they are based in Dunedin South)
  • ACT Party 125
  • Maori Party 95
  • Ban 1080 77
  • United Future 63
  • Civilian 18
  • Focus 7
  • Independent Coalition 5

That doesn’t look hugely left-leaning to me.

And TRP, before and while Curran has stood for Labour in Dunedin South their party vote:

  • 2005: 20,348 (57.13%
  • 2008: 17,408 (46.73%)
  • 2011: 12,326 (34.97%)
  • 2014: 12,518 (33.13%)

If I was a Labour supporter I’d be alarmed by that.

Dunedin South includes the South Dunedin area, one of the most socially deprived areas in New Zealand.

Despite that Dunedin doesn’t doesn’t look to be a hugely left leaning city, and is trending away from Labour.

And I’m sure a few Standardistas would also argue about how left leaning David Clark and Clare Curran actually are. They are hardly working class heroes.

Both are more typical of the modern Labour Party and their careerist MPs – they both worked for Labour MP offices in Wellington before being awarded their safe Labour electorates, which are getting less Labour vote as the century rolls on.

The Dunedin electorates are leaning less and less Labour’s way.

Did the polls get Brexit wrong?

Swordfish does a lot of poll analysis at The Standard. Here he claims that Brexit was “Another Epic Fail for UK Pollsters”:

Another Epic Fail for UK Pollsters, Gov’nr. Especially the Phone-based polls.

Here are the final polls released immediately before (and, in two cases, during) the vote:

Populus (On-Line) Remain by 10 points
Com Res (Phone) Remain by 8 points
ORB (Phone) Remain by 8 points
BMG (Phone) Remain by 7.6 points
Ipsos Mori (Phone) Remain by 4 points
YouGov (On-Line) Remain by 2 points
Survation (Phone) Remain by 1 point

Opinium (On-Line) Leave by 1.3 points
TNS (On-Line) Leave by 2.4 points

Populus and Ipsos-Mori were the last two polls to be released.

I think that this highlights an epic fail on polls – looking at them and trying to use them as a prediction of an election or referendum result.

Polls have known statistical margins of error, typically plus or minus 3-4% with 95% confidence. This means that there is a one in twenty chance the poll will be more then 3-4% wrong AT THAT POINT IN TIME.

That last point is important. Polls are not a prediction of something in the future. They are an attempt to gauge opinion of voters prior to when the poll is published.

Swordfish states that two polls were released during the voting period, but the polling would have to have been done prior to the voting period, typically over several days.

Polls typically asked “if an election was held today how would you vote?”. No polls – or at least none of the above polls – attempt to measure how people have actually voted. Exit polls try to measure actual voting but none of the above are exit polls.

Apart from and related to the margin of error polls also have a proportion of ‘undecided’ and no response. These may be people who end up voting but didn’t know which way they would vote at the time of the poll or didn’t want to say how they would vote.

Also, it is well known that there can be significant voter shifts in the last few days leading up to an election or referendum. A significant number of people don’t decide how they will actually vote until voting day. Some don’t decide until they actually vote.

Polls don’t measure and can’t measure swing voting before the event.

It’s a common mistake to look at polls as a prediction of future voting. They are not guessing something that has not yet happened.

Polls are a measure of voting intent measured in the past with known margins of error, with known statistical confidence levels. Variations between poll results show they can’t all be  accurate measures of voter intent of the whole population.

There is also a critical unknown – last minute shifts in voter decision making.

It’s a common mistake for media and pundits to try to compare polls with actual elections and referendums.

A population of a thousand days or weeks before an election  is often going to give a different result to a population of 40 million people on referendum day.

I would be alarmed if pollsters tried to manipulate their polling methods and results in order to try and be the closest to the actual election result.

Polls don’t predict the future. Neither should they try.

Honesty, competence, internal polling

Swordfish frequently posts on poll related matters at The Standard and elsewhere. They seem to have detailed knowledge of internal Labour polls and also imply knowledge of internal National polls.

First, comments on honesty and competence.

Certainly the detailed breakdowns of leadership polls over the last few years suggest that Key’s/National’s popularity has revolved not so much around public perceptions of honesty as around perceptions of basic competence.

The New Zealand Election Study of 2011 found that Valence issues – especially perceptions of Leadership Ability and Economic Competence – played the most important role in vote choice for those not already firmly aligned.

And furthermore, despite the assumptions of some on the Left that Key’s image had remained entirely untarnished up until the Dirty Politics scandal erupted, his Honesty ratings had, in fact, been slowly but steadily eroding for quite some time – at the time of the September 2014 General Election, they were down more than 20 percentage points on 2009.

And yet the Nats still managed to win in 2014 and they’ve remained relatively high in the polls.

Why ? Largely, because a crucial segment of swing-voters were holding their noses and pragmatically placing perceived competence above concerns about dishonesty. (I’m putting aside the fact that the collapse of Colin Craig’s Conservatives has also played a part in keeping the Nats ratings at a respectable level and partially disguised a broad Nat-to-Oppo swing over the last 12 months).

But…

…it’s just possible that the Panama Papers affair may be hitting both Key and the Nats in the polls as we speak. As Pat (comment below) implies, we’ll need to see what happens over the next few polls – but arguably we already have some evidence.

First, I know of 3 Polls that have been carried out since the Panama Story broke: 1 Public Poll (Roy Morgan) and 2 Internal Party Polls (Curia for the Nats / UMR for Labour).

Both Roy Morgan and the UMR have National down on 42% – its lowest rating in any poll since the last Election (with the Govt Bloc also on its lowest rating and the Oppo Bloc on a 54% high in the Roy Morgan).

The Nats are down 5.5 points on the February Roy Morgan

Swordfish’s Roy Morgan numbers for National aren’t accurate. They are:

  • February 1-14, 2016: 48.5%
  • February 29 – March 13, 2016: 46%
  • April 4-17, 2016: 42.5%

This may foreshadow a slide for National, but their previous low of 43% in June 29 – July 12 2015 was followed by a bounce back to 50.5%.

… and down a very similar 5 points on the previous 2 Internal National Party Curia polls (conducted before the story broke).

Interesting knowledge of National’s internal polls. I don’t know how widely those results are circulated.

Second, a mid-April UMR found strong concern (even among erstwhile National voters) about New Zealand’s reputation as a tax haven, about the way the Government had handled the fallout, and about the inadequacy of the proposed Shewan review.

Time will tell whether tax and trust issues will persist or whether they will fizzle out due to a lack of substance.

And third, as I mentioned in earlier comments in April, the latest UMR puts Key on his lowest ever Favourability rating of just + 2 (compared to + 16 in the final quarter of 2015, + 27 in 2014, and + 58 during his first year in power).

That looks significant but it would be interesting to compare with Curia results on favourability ratings. I know Farrar rates favourability as an important factor.

Swordfish either doesn’t have those details from Curia or chooses to not mention them.

So, too early to tell for sure, but there are at least some initial hints of a slump in Tory support. Even if they have taken a hit, though, past experience does suggest that it could be temporary. We won’t know until we know.

Yes, too early to tell if National is suffering lasting poll damage.

Not too early to tell which side of politics Swordfish is inclined towards, and it’s not ‘Tory’ (which is not a very New Zealand term).