Council 'exit polls' may skew Saturday's results

Tuesday 5 October 2010, 1:13PM
By Federated Farmers of New Zealand

The publication of council ‘exit polls’ in Auckland and Christchurch before the 2010 local elections close, may distort results and has Federated Farmers calling for reform.

“Is Federated Farmers the only organisation troubled by ‘exit polls’ that are so categorical about the outcome, when voting is still underway and doesn’t close until midday Saturday?” asks Don Nicolson, Federated Farmers President.

“According to a Phoenix Research poll in Auckland, Len Brown has more or less ‘won’ Auckland over John Banks, while a UMR poll in Christchurch, has Bob Parker a dead-cert for Christchurch over Jim Anderton.

“There will be hell to pay on Sunday if the pollsters have gotten it wrong and there’s a chance they have.

“In 2007, voter turnout nationally was just 44 percent, but the average for Mayoral contests in the Auckland region as a whole was 38 percent, while in Christchurch City, it was just 42 percent.

“There’s a huge margin for error because pollsters have to trust the word of those who respond. Even if voting surges to 50 percent, then half of all eligible voters will not have voted by the close of polling. How can pollsters have the confidence they are correct?

“The bigger question you have to ask is this, why are our local elections treated differently from a general election? I think it’s time to look at reforming the time period voters have to return their papers in.

“The Electoral Act, for example, prohibits the publication or broadcast of election related material after 6pm on the day before a general election up until booths close. It includes a complete ban on Election Day opinion polling for the simple reason it could influence voters.

“So releasing what to all intents and purposes are ‘exit polls’, could skew local council voting because it may lead to people choosing not to vote on the basis their favoured candidate is either in pole position or an also-ran.

“Federated Farmers wishes to raise with the Minister of Local Government possible measures, such as truncating the three-week local voting period and applying a General Election day like ban over that shorter period.

“We are concerned the current local election voting window is open to such manipulation and I think the publication of ‘exit polls’ in Auckland and Christchurch, confirms my fear,” Mr Nicolson concluded.