The Inaugural Political Polling Forum

May 7th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

On Wednesday evening, an inaugural meeting of the New Zealand Political Forum will be held at Parliament. This is an initiative of the Association of Market Research Organisations(). I’ve been a bit involved with bringing this together. I believe that polls have a very significant impact on our democracy and elections. They can act as a performance monitor on the Government and political parties. They help voters to decide if they think a vote will be wasted. They help voters decide whether to tactically vote. They even influence if people vote at all (as Electoral Commission research has shown). So there is a strong public interest in having public polls conducted to high professional and ethical standards, and also in having them reported in a useful way. The forum should be of interest to market research professionals, politicians, , political scientists and others who are are politically interested. The forum starts at 6 pm on Wednesday, and there are effectively three parts to it.

  1. A presentation by Assistant Professor Rob Salmond on the 2011 elections and the pollsters, but also on some current issues and global trends in polling such as diminishing landlines, Internet panel polls and the like. Rob also has some really good ideas for the media on how they can report polls in a more meaningful way.
  2. A presentation by Murray Campbell of Baseline Research on the value of having a NZ Polling Code. I’ll comment on this in more detail below.
  3. A panel Q+A with representatives of most of the major NZ political pollsters. Your chance to ask the experts.

If you are interested in attending, then let me know by end of Monday and I will see if I can get you added to the RSVP list. Technically it has closed for catering purposes but we should be able to get handle a few more people coming, if you have an interest in this area. The idea of some sort of NZ Polling Code is one I support, and it is one I hope can be formulated by both the market research and the media industries. Of course one could have the market researchers just write one unilaterally, but then it would probably be of less practical value. I hope that some of the media who attend, will show an interest in helping progress such a code. When I and others refer to a code, that doesn’t mean it necessarily has any regulatory standing, such as with the Press Council or the BSA. I prefer to see it as perhaps a “best practice statement”. The idea is that it will actually make it easier for media to report polls in a useful way.

Now the industry (AMRO and MRSNZ) do not yet have a formal stance of having a code, let alone started to discuss what might be the substance of any such code, and it isn’t the intention to try and do this on Wednesday. This is just about the start of a process. But I thought I might share some personal views on what might be some issues worth considering at the appropriate time.

  1. Any report of a poll should include the number of responses, the dates surveyed and the level of undecideds as essential elements of the poll.
  2. Reports from market researchers should clearly indicate the exact questions asked, and the order the questions were asked in.
  3. Media organisation should place a copy of the full reports on their websites, after initial publication or broadcast.
  4. The term “poll” should be used only to refer to random non self-selecting exercises, and the term “survey” for other exercises such as text in responses, or web surveys.
  5. An archive of previous poll results should be publicly maintained (maybe by AMRO?)

Now again these are just my views, and just my initial views. Others will have different views. The purpose of the inaugural forum isn’t to get into a big debate on any of the above, but to see if there is agreement that it would be in the public interest to have a code, and who wants to be involved.

Worth noting that while there is no specific code for political polling, members of MRSNZ and AMRO follow the international code of ethics developed by ESOMAR (the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research).

We have a good range of people coming along on Wednesday, including MPs, press gallery, pollsters, Stats NZ, academics etc. It is in the State Banquet Hall, so if you are in Parliament you can just drop in. There’s even some food and drink before it starts. I’ll blog afterwards how it goes. As I said, I think it is a very worthwhile initiative.

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3 Responses to “The Inaugural Political Polling Forum”

  1. Pete George (23,680 comments) says:

    2. Reports from market researchers should clearly indicate the exact questions asked.

    I agree, currently remarkably some major polls don’t do that. Thery should also detail if options for answers are given (apparently some do that with incomplete lists).

    3. Media organisation should place a copy of the full reports on their websites, after initial publication or broadcast.

    If they do that now they don’t make them easy to find.

    Media presenting some polls give the impression they want their spin protected and don’t want people to know important details.

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  2. YesWeDid (1,050 comments) says:

    DPF, I think your 4 points are excellent suggestions.

    I’d also like to see more around the ‘margin of error’, my understanding of the often quoted margin of error is a theoretical figure based on subsampling a population and does not take into account sampling bias due to the method used to conduct the poll.

    [DPF: Yes it is a margin of error for a pure sample only, and excludes other errors that may be there such as an unrepresentative sample.

    Also important to note is that the margin of error quoted is a maximum one for a score of 50%. It reduces as lower levels and at around 1% the margin of error is around 0.4%.]

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  3. Alan Wilkinson (1,886 comments) says:

    Yes, the usual journalistic ignorant nonsense about “below the margin of error” always annoys me. A primer on statistics for morons should go out with every news release.

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