The Helensville poll

September 4th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Conservatives hired First to poll Helensville voters on the issue of gay marriage and gay adoption.

About 89 per cent said their MP should consult their electorate over conscience votes and vote the way voters wanted them to, it found.

While the majority did sat y they want their MP to vote as they say (no surprise), there are a few things to note about the poll. If you look at the small print on the pamphlet, it is actually a poll of both Helensville and Rodney electorates.

The full poll results are online on the Conservative Party website. It was done by Research First.

I blogged last year my criticisms of the poll done by Research First for the Conservatives in Rodney. It purported to show Craig ahead of the National candidate and had serious flaws such as mixing results from an unprompted question with a prompted question. It is a matter of record that Craig lost the seat by over 12,000 votes.

I’m pleased to say that this poll is, in my opinion, much sounder than last year’s Rodney one. In fact in some areas it is more transparent than almost any other poll report. There are also some areas you can be critical, and I’ll get into those also, but first I’ll highlight the really good stuff that Research First have done with this poll.

  1. The full report has been made available online.
  2. They disclose their call-back policy – a laudable six times.
  3. They disclose their response rate, and detail the reasons for non-response. This is an A+ level of transparency. I don’t think I have seen another NZ poll report that does this.
  4. They disclose their demographic breakdown, and what variables they weighted on.
  5. They include the full questionnaire as an appendix to the report.
  6. The question order appears to be sound, with the question on marriage vs civil unions at the beginning of the poll
So full credit to Research First for their report. In some ways, it is a model of transparency.
It is only by being so transparent, can one have full scrutiny of results of a poll. Now with that in mind, I am going to comment on a few areas, where I would have done things differently. But bear in mind that almost all polling reports will have areas where you can argue about question wording and the like. This would not be unique to Research First. I do think the Rodney poll last year was a long way short of best practice, but this poll is a huge improvement, and in some areas excellent.
But I would make the following points, in interpreting the poll.
  • The poll is of both Helensville and Rodney residents, but does not disclose the actual number of respondents in each electorate. The 355 responses have a margin of error of 5.2% but if half came from each electorate the margin of error for each is 7.5%. As it was used for a pamphlet targeting Helensville, it would be nice to have the numbers for that electorate only, and even the results for each of the two electorates if they are statistically significant.
  • The question asking if they agree or disagree “Environment, upbringing, life experiences and personal relationships all influence personal choice when it comes to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” is not a particularly helpful one as it mixes in sex and sexual orientation. Of course upbringing, life experiences and relationships influence your personal choices when it comes to sex. But for most people it does not influence their sexual orientation. It is best to avoid questions that list several things, with the possibility they agree with some and disagree with some. I don’t think the results to that question can be interpreted to mean anything. I personally could not answer agree or disagree to that question as it is both.
  • The question “It is ideal that adopted children be raised by a mum and a dad (ie a heterosexual couple) rather than two mums or two dads (ie a homosexual couple)” is a perfectly valid question. However I would note that this does not mean someone agreeing is against same sex couples being able to adopt. I would agree with that statement as an ideal, yet I also think same sex couples should be able to adopt if it is in the best interests of the child. So nothing wrong with that question, but be careful that it is not interpreted beyond what it said.
  • The statement “Are you aware that the proposed change will enable gay couples to adopt children as a couple under the Adoption Act 1955?” makes an assertion that is not necessarily the case. It is unclear whether the changes to the Marriage Act will enable a married same sex couple to adopt. One part of the Adoption Act refers to merely spouses, while another refers to “husband and wife”. There is a diversity of opinion on what the impact will be, and I suspect a Judge would eventually decide. So it would have been better to say “may” rather than “will”.
  • The pamphlet claims 89% agree that your local MP should consult their electorate and vote the way you want them to. This is wrong. The findings are 69% say they should consult and vote as the electorate says. 20% say they should consult and make up their own mind. Note that this error is not anything to do with Research First, but instead the .
  • I’d also make the general point that while people were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements, respondents were never asked a direct question on the Wall bill such as “Do you think your MP should vote for or against Louisa Wall’s bill which would allow same sex couples to marry”. This is not a criticism. There is no obligation to ask questions that you may not like the results of. I’m just pointing out that agreement with an assertion over civil unions and marriage is not the same thing as a more specific question on the bill.
  • This is debatable, but you could make a case for using the term “same sex marriage bill” rather than the “gay marriage” bill. Likewise the statement “If the definition of marriage is changed, as proposed by the bill, it will enable gays to adopt children as a couple under the Adoption Act 1955″ is less than ideal, talking about “gays” rather than “same sex couples” or even “gay and lesbian couples”.

None of the above are show-stoppers. As I said, I’m pleased with the level of transparency, which allows a critique to be done. Alison McCulloch did a critique of polls done by Curia earlier this year.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention one other issue which occurred to me. Respondents were told up-front that the poll was on gay marriage, and this led to around 100 people saying they didn’t want to take part. This may have impacted the results a bit also, as it is more likely those with strong views on the issue will want to take part. Ideally, in my opinion, you want to tell respondents generally what the poll is about (such as saying “on a current political issue) but need to be careful not to be too specific as it may then become a bit self-selecting.

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20 Responses to “The Helensville poll”

  1. Redbaiter (8,929 comments) says:

    This is all pissant stuff and this constant smear campaign against Conservatives needs to stop.

    Its intent is to preserve the dominance of the Progressive faction within National, and restrict the political dialog from shifting into areas Progressives are uncomfortable with.

    In this respect, it is a direct assault on freedom of political expression, and therefore a campaign that should give rise to some shame especially as the blogosphere has so far stood firm on this issue and acted as a bulwark against the leftist bias of the mainstream media.

    Give Colin Craig a fair go.

    Even a smidgen of the help you have given the Maori Party would be appreciated.

    [DPF: I've praised Colin Craig when he has done well (even if I disagree with him). Just as I praised Winston this morning.

    My critique of the poll is I think very fair and balanced. I point ut that in many ways it is excellent, but there are some issues around what the questions and results mean]

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  2. Redbaiter (8,929 comments) says:

    BTW, Whale Oil is now censoring my comments on his blog, where I have been likewise defending Colin Craig and the Conservative party from what I perceive as unfair attacks.

    Funny how those who profess to run these free speech outlets turn to water when their own frailties are exposed.

    Even funnier- my comments most often attracted a large amount of likes from Whale’s readers, so he is actually censoring views that his followers like to read.

    How fucked up is that?

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  3. Pete George (23,568 comments) says:

    This is all pissant stuff and this constant smear campaign against Conservatives needs to stop.

    If they want to be in politics they have to be able to deal with criticism. ‘Needs to stop’ sounds a bit gay.

    Give Colin Craig a fair go.

    He’s getting a much better go via the media than most aspiring politicians.

    And it’s a two way street, for Craig to earn a fair go he has to operate fairly too. It’s ironic that his chief blog cheerleader is asking for a fair go without ‘smearing’ for his favourite politician when that’s just about all he tries to do.

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  4. KevinH (1,227 comments) says:

    “Environment, upbringing, life experiences and personal relationships all influence personal choice when it comes to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity”

    A question such as that illustrates a complete ignorance of sexuality and a complete lack of understanding of how gay people feel.
    The poll is utter nonsense, thankfully the voting public recognise a clown when thet see one.

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  5. boredboy (250 comments) says:

    He is not doing himself any good py presenting rubbishy disproved research and then publishing biased in-house polls. I am surprised he gets as much coverage as he does.

    Then again, as they say: if it bleeds, it leads.

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  6. iMP (2,385 comments) says:

    A great post DPF. Could we have some similar scrutiny and critique of any of the much lauded “NZ supports same-sex marriage” polls that have been endlessly quoted. I would enjoy your analysis there too.

    [DPF: Happy to, if you point one my way.]

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  7. Chuck Bird (4,890 comments) says:

    All political polls can pick questions to influence results. Legislation should not be made by opinion polls.

    Just like they say about polls before elections there is only one true poll.

    The opposition most in favour Wall’s bill to be derided by a binding referendum show the dishonesty of Wall and many of her supporters.

    I am appalled at the hypocrisy of many on the left who oppose a poll on this issue that was in no party’s manifesto but are abusing the CIR legislation that was clearly in National’s manifesto.

    DPF – do you oppose a poll on Wall’s bill if it gets to a fainal reading?

    [DPF: If people want a CIR on it, I have no problems with it. However I would not delay the bill for it. If the referendum is against same sex marriage, then an MP can put up a bill to repeal it]

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  8. Cato (1,095 comments) says:

    Honest question for DPF – do you favour stranger adoption by same sex couples? Are you able to give a direct answer, rather than a “stranger adoption doesn’t really happen anymore” – type answer. Do you favour it in theory?

    [DPF: Favour is the wrong word. I do not think the fact a couple is same sex should be a legislative barrier to stranger adoption. But *if* all other things are equal I think it is better for a child to have a mother and father. However a well educated high earning same sex couple would be preferable (for example) to a couple with just one working parent on a minimum wage job]

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  9. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    more likely those with strong views on the issue will want to take part

    So it most likely under sampled people opposed to same sex marriage.

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  10. Redbaiter (8,929 comments) says:

    “Could we have some similar scrutiny and critique of any of the much lauded “NZ supports same-sex marriage” polls that have been endlessly quoted. I would enjoy your analysis there too.”

    Heh heh….

    Not at all likely.

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  11. boredboy (250 comments) says:

    “more likely those with strong views on the issue will want to take part

    So it most likely under sampled people opposed to same sex marriage.”

    And an even smaller-to-non-existant sample of the only people whose lives this bill will directly effect.

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  12. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    It seems to me that the conservatives have done a much better job at finding out the mood of the electorate than ANY other party or barrow pushing group.

    I get more and more impressed with the openess and integrity of this party every time they come up in the media.

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  13. Chuck Bird (4,890 comments) says:

    “[DPF: If people want a CIR on it, I have no problems with it. However I would not delay the bill for it. If the referendum is against same sex marriage, then an MP can put up a bill to repeal it]”

    An MP can also move after the second that before the bill becomes law that it must pass a second hurdle of a referendum. If the supporters are correct they will not only have the legislation they want but be able to claim public support. You cannot legislate for people to accept a lifestyle.

    Homosexuals have managed to survive for a long time with homosexual marriage. Surely a delay of maybe a year will not be the end of the world to them.

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  14. Chuck Bird (4,890 comments) says:

    “Homosexuals have managed to survive for a long time with homosexual marriage.”

    Should read

    Homosexuals have managed to survive for a long time without homosexual marriage.

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  15. boredboy (250 comments) says:

    “An MP can also move after the second that before the bill becomes law that it must pass a second hurdle of a referendum.”

    I understand Winston First was planning on abstaining from the first reading with a view to inserting a referendum clause. I guess they realised there was no hope for it and are now simply voting against the bill.

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  16. eszett (2,410 comments) says:

    Funny how those who profess to run these free speech outlets turn to water when their own frailties are exposed.

    You mean like your truey-bluey blog, the bastion of free speech, where you are free to say anything that master baiter agrees with.

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  17. eszett (2,410 comments) says:

    The opposition most in favour Wall’s bill to be derided by a binding referendum show the dishonesty of Wall and many of her supporters.

    I am appalled at the hypocrisy of many on the left who oppose a poll on this issue that was in no party’s manifesto but are abusing the CIR legislation that was clearly in National’s manifesto.

    The hypocrisy is all yours, Chucky.

    Firstly you want a binding referendum attached to the bill and not a CIR. You are free to start a CIR at any time if you think it’s such an important issue.

    And secondly you cannot claim a referendum is needed for a bill you dislike, but not for a bill you like.

    The party’s manifesto is nothing but a red herring that you keep launching. How does something being on a party’s manifesto suddenly gain some special legitimacy?

    Prime example is charter schools which was on ACT manifesto and they got 1% of the vote. How come that is okay legislation without the need of a referendum, yet Wall’s bill needs one. Why are you not calling for a referendum on charter schools?

    The marriage equality bill merely extends the rights to a small part of our population and affects no one else, how on earth does this warrant a referendum?

    The asset sales affects far more New Zealanders, you cannot cry hypocrisy on one side while demanding a referendum on the other.

    And it is far more hypocritical to say that just because charter school legislation are legitimate because it was on the party manifesto of an obscure minor party which only managed to get 1% of the nationalwide vote and is only in parliament by disingenuously gaming the system with the help of national party.

    Referenda are just bad tools in a democracy, they are too easily highjacked by demagogues. There are very few cases where a referendum is appropriate (e.g. changing or affirming the voting system).

    Neither asset sales nor marriage equality qualifies in any way for a referendum.

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  18. Pete George (23,568 comments) says:

    eszett – I’ve come to the same conclusion as you on referenda – they sound fine in theory but simply aren’t a good democratic process in practice.

    I debated with a Green in the weekend who was adamant they were helping ‘the public’ have their say with the asset referendum but had a string of reasons why the smacking referendum was irrelevant.

    I have come to the conclusion that the best target for getting better public input is before or at the committee stage, where more could be done to debate outside parliament and reasonably accurately guage public opinion. But the ultimate decision needs to be up to the representatives of the house.

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  19. eszett (2,410 comments) says:

    I debated with a Green in the weekend who was adamant they were helping ‘the public’ have their say with the asset referendum but had a string of reasons why the smacking referendum was irrelevant.

    I can imagine that. As much as it pains me, I have to agree with Chuck that here is a huge amount of hypocrisy on their side as well.

    But it just goes to show that the whole cry for referenda is immensely hypocritical regardless which side and topic. People only want a referenda on things they disagree with, but don’t have the arguments on their side.

    Labour and Greens should better concentrate on the arguments in parliament and in public for or against asset sales.

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  20. lcmortensen (38 comments) says:

    “Environment, upbringing, life experiences and personal relationships all influence personal choice when it comes to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity”

    That’s one loaded statement… it implies sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are all a personal choice. And last time I checked, sex was primarily determined by the presence or absence of a Y chromosome!

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