Reconciling the polls

Darien Fenton at Red Alert blogs:

A UMR survey released today by the CTU shows that 80 per cent of New Zealanders oppose the Government’s planned changes to dismissal law.  Previous polls had asked the question about whether respondents supported a 90 day trial and unsurprisingly, the majority said yes – because after all these were already allowed under previous law.

But Darien is wrong in claiming the UMR poll shows 80% are opposed. The question that was asked is:

“Do you think that all employees should have the right to appeal if they think they have been unfairly dismissed, even if their dismissal was during the first 90 days of their employment?

Now that question is open to a very wide interpretation. An appeal can mean anything from asking your boss to reconsider, to appealing to your boss’ boss to “appealing” to the ERA.  The question is so wide, that it of relatively little value (in my opinion) in judging whether or not people support or oppose the Govt’s law change.

Note this is not a criticism of UMR.  This is a criticism of how Labour and the CTU have portrayed the results.

As a comparison, let us look at the poll done by Colmar Brunton for One News. It asked:

Currently employment law allows a business to take on a new worker and then if it does not work out dismiss that worker within 90 days without the worker being able to take a personal grievance claim. Currently the scheme only applies to companies with fewer than twenty employees but now the government plans to extend the 90 day trial period to cover all companies and so all new workers could be subject to the scheme. Some people believe this places workers in a vulnerable position but the government claims it creates jobs because businesses will be more willing to take on a new worker.

Do you think the 90 day trial law should be extended to cover all companies every time someone starts a new job?

Now this is a far better question (for judging if someone agrees with the Government’s proposed law change) as it tells people what the current law is, tells them what the proposed change is, and summarises arguments for and against.

Colmar Brunton found 60% in favour of extending the 90 day law to all companies.

This is a good example of the importance of poll questions. And again it isn’t that one question is necessarily “good” and one is “bad”.  It is about whether one can fairly interpret the poll result as reflecting what the public think of a proposed law change.

It is quite clear that the UMR result can not be used as representing public opinion on the Government’s law change. All it can be used for is representing whether people think there should be some sort of generic appeal from dismissal decisions – no details on who the appeal should be to – which is crucial. And an appeal is not the same as the right to take a personal grievance and get compensation etc.

One has to wonder why the CTU did not ask the same question as One News? The answer is obvious.

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