The release of the Len Brown poll on Thursday raised some eyebrows, not least because the sample size was only 248 Aucklanders. Of those 248 Aucklanders, only 22.7% said they would vote for Mr Brown in the 2016 elections, while 57.7% said nay.
The issues with the poll were many and varied:
1. Sample size: With only 248 respondents, that’s one hell of a margin of error. The Herald didn’t report the margin of error, but the standard margin of error for that sort of sample size would be just over 6%.
2. Possible issues with weighting: Of those surveyed, 85% said they’d voted in the Auckland Council election, which is interesting, as voter turnout was only 36%. Further, only 37% of those who said they voted, said they voted for Len Brown. That’s despite him getting 47.8% on election day.
Now I don’t believe that responses regarding whether people previously voted or who they previously voted for are really worth much more than a grain of salt. People lie, even when it’s to an anonymous pollster on the phone. We know that voting is a Good Thing, so we don’t like to admit we were slack and never quite got round to posting the damn ballot paper. Likewise, we don’t like admitting we voted for the guy who’s obviously not the flavour of the month. No one likes admitting they voted for someone who now seems to be a bit of a loser.
Nonetheless, the weighting discrepancies in the Len Brown poll seem to be simply too large to just write off as being the result inaccurate provision of data by the respondents.
3. Len Brown v The Imaginary Candidate : It doesn’t often mean much when people are asked to choose between a real person and a generic opposition. In America, for instance, poll results tended to change dramatically in the run-up to the last Presidential election, when the line of questioning went from comparing President Obama to a generic un-named Republican opponent, to comparing Obama to each of the specific likely Republican candidates. Faced with a Republican candidate who was real and flawed – no longer imaginary and perfect – Obama’s stats tended to rocket up.
It’s all very well to ask, “Would you vote for Mr Brown in 2016?” However, those results may change dramatically once the other candidates are known. After all, if either of Mr Palino or Mr Banks threw their names in again as the centre-right candidate, Mr Brown might just scrape back in…
(For the record, I’m not a Len Brown supporter, and I think he should have resigned.)
The Len Brown poll was of course a part of the larger Herald-Digipoll which had delivered such doom and gloom to Labour supporters everywhere. Thus, over at the Standard, they seized upon the notion that the poll was a rogue – if the Auckland figures were so badly skewed, the poll could be safely discounted.
That’s all very well, and it’s undoubtedly nice to be able to sweep the worst poll of the year under the carpet, but Mickey Savage (the author of the Standard post) keeps banging away with the statement, “David Cunliffe has been quoted as saying that Labour’s internal polling is in the mid 30s”. Repetition does not necessarily create truth.
The thing about individual polls which the Standard is quite right about is that they can be wrong. That’s why they have margins of error. Every so often, one comes along that is just plain out-of-whack with everything else. Individual polls bounce up and down. They have statistical noise.
Which is why people should focus on the bigger picture – if we bundle up all of the polls that are coming out, and we create rolling averages and trend lines, what does it show? Polls of Polls, such as are done at Rob Salmond’s Polity, David Farrar’s Curiablog and here, try and minimise the rogue polls and statistical noise.
And that’s where things still don’t look rosy for the Labour party. Regardless of whether the Herald-Digipoll is swept under the carpet, the average poll data this year has not showed Labour looking even close to being in the mid-30s. Of the 10 major polls released thus far this year, 5 have had Labour under 32%. Only once have they hit 34%, and not once have they crossed that mark. Rob Salmond’s Poll of Polls has them on 32.6% (last updated 24 February 2014), David Farrar has them on 32.7% (last updated 15 February 2014), while I’ve currently got them on 31.7% (last updated yesterday).
Individual polls come and go. But when the polls of polls all put your party at between 31.7% and 32.7%, it’s probably time to worry.