Changing landscape of political polling in NZ

Thursday 10 May 2012, 3:18PM
By Whole Nine Yards PR

A shift towards more online polling and more homes using mobiles only instead of landline telephones could impact on the way future political polls are conducted, according to the Association of Market Research Organisations (AMRO).

AMRO yesterday hosted a forum on political polling in New Zealand to assess the way forward.  Guidelines for better political poll reporting by the media and commentators and were also discussed.

Leading market research specialist – Murray Campbell – who has been involved in polling for every general election in New Zealand since 1989, said polls have an important influence on how people vote, particularly under MMP.

“With the ever increasing speed in which opinion now spreads online, more emphasis needs to be placed on accuracy and the reporting of results by informed media and academics.

“New Zealand polls are, in general, very accurate predictors of election day results. However, it is important given the influence a poll can have on public opinion that those who are reporting results are aware of what constitutes an accurate poll, and what information should be conveyed to the public.”

In its analysis of the polling companies that reported during the 2011 election, AMRO reported that none were 100% accurate with their predictions.  However, results from most of the companies were within the margin of error of the actual result.

AMRO also noted an increase in online polling which it said was not yet truly representative of wider public opinion, as not all groups of people are accessing the internet or part of an online panel

Other challenges highlighted included the shift away from landline to mobile only homes which presents a future challenge for polling, given that current anti-spam laws apply to mobile communications.

University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Political Science, Rob Salmond, also spoke at the AMRO forum.  He said his own local and global review of polling trends support the need to focus on the impact of mobile technology and on the impact of declining voter turnout.

“Rates of non-voting in New Zealand have nearly doubled over the last thirty years. It is important that New Zealand pollsters, like their colleagues overseas, take account of the likelihood that a person will actually show up and vote when turning their poll responses into simulated election results."

When it comes to the accuracy of polls, Murray said this is affected by a number of factors including sample size, however, this is not the sole driver of polling accuracy

“The precision of the sampling process is of greater importance in achieving an accurate poll.”

What factors make an accurate poll and the guidelines for reporting polls were highlighted at the forum, including differentiating between formal and informal polls.

AMRO and the Market Research Society of New Zealand (MRS) are tasked with ensuring that political polls are conducted to international best standards. Plans are currently underway to make it easier for media, academia, political parties and other interested groups to access historical and recent poll results, from one central website hosted by AMRO and the MRS.