Posts Tagged ‘Len Brown’

Poll dancing

datePosted on 20:51, November 10th, 2011 by Lew

Chris Trotter suggests that frequent and heavily-publicised polls favour the right and result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, depressing support for the left. Bomber Bradbury has made similar arguments in the past.

There are two parts to this: first, the question of whether polls are inaccurate vis-a-vis the actual views of the electorate, and if so whether they do in fact favour the right; and second, whether this, on its own, has a substantive impact on actual real-world support.

Lyndon Hood FTW

I am aware of no robust research on this topic in the NZ context (which isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist; although if it did I’d expect the many proponents of this line of argument to be citing it all day long.) So to kick off, let me concede that if there was a significant ideological bias to the polls it certainly could have an impact on voter behaviour. But I suspect any impact would be more complicated than the simple “low showing for a party causes low turnout and/or low support” reading of the “spiral of silence” model Chris cites (which is nevertheless a useful model). For one thing, it’s not clear that the impact is very strong in case of a secret ballot; also, the argument doesn’t take into account New Zealanders’ oft-cited peeriness about single-party majority governments in the wake of Muldoon, Lange and Bolger which could have a moderating effect, and it doesn’t take into consideration the usual “narrowing” that occurs in the latter stages of an election campaign as wavering voters begin to make up their minds. So I doubt the size of this effect on Labour’s polling at least; any shift should not be large, and certainly not sufficient to change the election outcome. However where NZ First is concerned it’s different — a percentage point or two makes all the difference in the world there, and whether NZ First returns to parliament or not rests on the collective spirit of Winston’s faithful. Assuming they still make up fiveish per cent of the voting population they must not waver, and must cast their votes together regardless of what they are told about the polls. If they fail to do so NZ First is out, and all those votes are wasted, and that is certainly an outcome that could result from widespread reporting of polls that show NZ First under the threshold (and one that could change the election outcome).

Note, however, that all that is contingent on those polls showing NZ First to be under the threshold actually being wrong. I’m not persuaded of this, and I’m also dubious about the contention that polls favour the right. As Bomber is fond of pointing out, the polls run in the leadup to the Auckland Supercity election favoured John Banks, while in the election Len Brown won handsomely. That’s important to remember, but it’s only one data point so I’m hesitant to draw meaningful conclusions from it, and if it’s evidence of anything, it’s against the simple reading of the “Spiral of Silence” thesis, according to which Brown’s demoralised supporters should have stayed home.

There is also some evidence out of the US to suggest that landline-only polls favour the Republican party over the Democrats (when compared to polling samples that include cellphones). It’s not clear is that this trend is also in effect in New Zealand. Based on no data, I think it has some influence, but our situation here differs in important ways; most notably, we have more than two parties so variance of this sort is more dilute and less zero-sum. And the likely effect would be ambivalent — if landline-only polls tend to exclude the young and the poor and tech-savvy urban liberals, they should overstate support for NZ First, not understate it.

The matter of bias isn’t readily testable because, as an Australian poll analyst put it recently when looking at bias between pollsters in that market, “we just don’t have elections every week to determine the true state of public opinion“.* There is also evidence to suggest that people’s voting behaviour differs in important ways from how they answer opinion polls. So we need to rely on other forms of measurement; proxies being measured against proxies. There are focus-groups, vox pop interviews and 75c text-polls and coffee-bean polls, and the Horizon poll with its radically different weighting system, but I see no firm grounds to believe any of these would be any more reliable than the major phone poll companies. One very strong point in favour of the usual sort of phone-based opinion polling is that it has remained more or less methodologically consistent for a very long time. This gives us extremely large, continuous datasets that we can plot against real-world events including policy releases, major speeches, current events and elections. In this regard they are much like audience/circulation ratings in the media. The utility of these well-established systems isn’t that they have no flaws — they certainly do, and much of the criticism is valid — it’s that they have a reasonably well-known set of flaws that are consistent over time, and we can use the historical record to make inferences about the present day (too few people, I think, are actually doing this, but that’s a different matter). By contrast other systems — Horizon, in particular — are less well-known, and serious questions need to be asked about the quality of their results. They’re worth watching, but they are not as yet a substitute for what we already have.

Returning to the argument. So if the polls systematically favour the right, and if they do so in such a way as doesn’t also favour NZ First’s older, wealthier and more conservative demographic, and if the extent of that bias is significant enough to have a significant zero-sum election night impact despite all the confounding variables of voter behaviour, then Chris might be right.

But that’s a lot of ifs, and a claim as bold as “polling companies and the media steal elections from the left” demands extremely robust evidence to be given credence. I’m open to the argument, but what we have here isn’t evidence, much less the robust kind; it’s supposition, and what’s more it’s supposition derived from partisan loyalty. The argument is unfalsifiable — if the election does deliver a substantial defeat to Labour and NZ First they will take that as proof-positive that they were right all along and the voters were robbed; if it doesn’t no doubt they will cheer those who battled valiantly and overcame the oppressive regime imposed by the forces of evil. In this regard the argument is nearly indistinguishable from that made in 2008 by the Free Speech Coalition who, despite their howls about Stalinist restrictions on political marketing, managed to help their political representatives to a handy win.

My view of Chris and Bomber’s general line of argument is that it’s more of the usual excuse-making and blame-shifting that I see from lefties who can’t bear that their tribe is staring down the barrel of a(nother) heavy defeat. It’s an attempt to make the evil media cabal responsible for poor performance, and to minimise the effect of weak leadership, institutional incompetence, lacklustre campaign and — in Peters’ case — public self-immolation during the last term. It’s a myth; something to keep the faithful warm at night, in the absence of actual victory. Myths certainly have a kernel of essential truth, but they should not be mistaken for evidence. Moreover, as regards Chris’ concerns about the election accurately reflecting voters’ wishes; these would have more credibility if his own history of respecting the solemn integrity of electoral politics was itself less one-eyed. He thunders:

hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders will not only be perfectly entitled to say “bugger the pollsters”, but they will also be entirely justified in asserting that the election has been stolen from them

This would ring less hollow if, following the 2005 election, he had not so cravenly excused the Labour party’s own admitted breach of electoral law as being “acceptable corruption” inasmuch as it served the greater ideological purpose of preventing National from being elected. Given that history, his complaints about polling and media conduct look like nothing more than an appeal to ideological tribalism with a bright red smear of electoral integrity lipstick on.

And yet, he has a strong point: if NZ First’s share of the party vote on November 26 comes in fractionally below the 5% threshold, democracy will have been poorly served in 2011, as it was in 2008. My personal views of that party aside, as a matter of natural justice anyone commanding a twentieth of the vote should be entitled to roughly a twentieth of the representation in Parliament. But however unsexy it might be, the solution to this isn’t injustice to attack the pollsters or the media. The argument isn’t supported by the evidence; even if it was nobody’s going to change on Chris and Bomber’s say-so, and we all saw what happened to the Clark government’s regulatory overreach. The pragmatic response here is to work towards reducing or removing the electoral threshold so as to ensure that natural justice is served and variance is less likely to simply exclude a party from representation, and to turn back to the process of returning political rigour to the political left by building competence, vision and leadership so it can succeed despite the obstacles before it. Less myth, more reality.

L

* Pollytics’ analysis plots polling companies against each other, measuring each pollster’s bias from the other polling companies. David Winter has had a go at doing something similar for the NZ context, though he has much less data to work with. While interesting, it’s important to reiterate that none of this addresses the concerns about poll accuracy vis-a-vis the electorate.)

Local Government Elections 2010

datePosted on 18:47, October 9th, 2010 by Lew

Just bullet points from me:

  • Len Brown by 60,000 votes over John Banks for Supercity Mayor. How about all those people who said his so-called outburst would be the death of him? Len Brown knows who his people are; he knows how to speak to them, and now he speaks for them. I can’t take any credit for the prediction, but this looks to me like the tale of differing personal narratives.
  • But the biggest surprise isn’t Brown’s win: it’s Annette Main narrowly beating Michael Laws’ sock-puppet and long-term deputy Dot McKinnon for the Whanganui mayoralty. McKinnon apparently didn’t stand for council, so she’s gone. Main is an utterly different politician from Laws and his lot; this represents a genuine change of direction. Laws will remain as a councillor, and his being forced to submit to the leadership of a woman he can’t control will be worth the price of admission on its own.
  • It pays to vote. Some results tweeted by Philip Lyth make this clear: election contests decided by 23, five and just three votes in Upper Hutt and Carterton. More crucially, for the Wellington mayoralty, Celia Wade-Brown is just 40 votes behind incumbent Kerry Prendergast, with about 900 specials still to count. Damn, that’s a lot of policy difference resting on very little. Stephen Judd tweets the following: “I’m totally serious: if Celia WB needs to lawyer up for a recount etc, I’ll donate.” I’ll bet he’s not alone, and if it’s this close after the specials are counted it’ll be a worthy cause.
  • On the other hand, Eric Crampton makes a reasonable case about why he doesn’t vote. It’s as good an argument as I’ve seen, but I still don’t really buy it.
  • Jim Anderton: I’ve got a lot of time for you, but honestly, you were well beaten by Bob Parker and there’s no use complaining about the earthquake and your inability to campaign. It’s churlish. Shut up, step down gracefully, and be remembered for your many good deeds rather than for being an inveterate whinger. Even Banksie is putting you to shame.
  • People, hope springing eternal, will be keen to call this a ‘swing to the left’ and similar; especially given wins by Brown and people like Main and Duynhoven, and Celia Wade-Brown’s strong performance. I don’t think there’s sufficient evidence to support such an argument at present; at the very least, translating local body election results into central political partisan loyalty is something of a fool’s errand.
  • Christine Prentice got predictably thrashed by Tim Shadbolt in Invercargill. But rumours I’ve heard from down that way suggest the point wasn’t ever to win, but that the candidacy was a profile-raising exercise to enable Prentice to mount a credible campaign to replace sitting National MP for Invercargill Eric Roy when he retires. I’m not sure how much credence to give these rumours; given Roy’s 7,000-ish margin and the milk boom Southland is currently enjoying they could probably stand a dairy cow with a blue rosette and win.
  • Andrew Williams failed to even win a ward seat in the North Shore, which is a testament to his powers of self-delusion in standing for the Supercity Mayor. More frightening, though, is the fact that Cameron Slater, who entered the race late as a joke (probably conceived during a boozy lunch with DPF and Cactus Kate) got more than a thousand votes.Yikes. Watch out for him in 2013.
  • Phil Quin remarked that local body politics is a de-facto retirement scheme for former (Labour) MPs: Harry Duynhoven has won in New Plymouth; Martin Gallagher in Hamilton; Paul Swain in Upper Hutt, and George Hawkins in South Auckland are among those he mentions. Duynhoven’s beaten rival for the mayoralty, Pauline Lockett, complained on Radio New Zealand that he had ‘name recognition’ on his side. I expect that has an awful lot to do with it.
  • Daljit Singh didn’t get elected to the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board. Thank goodness for that.

That’s all I’ve got. All in all, a pretty big day capping a pretty fierce election.

L

Personal narrativium

datePosted on 07:58, July 16th, 2010 by Lew

From the NZ Herald, Why I should be the mayor:

Len Brown:

Every day I wake up and, for one thing, I’m thankful I do wake up. But secondly, I have the greatest job in the world and it’s a job that enables me to make a difference, to really change people’s lives, to deliver change, new direction and positive growth in the community. I can sort of perform little miracles around our place. When the change occurred I wondered whether I could shift this position to the community that has raised me since I was 7. I have very quickly found that passion. It has been an extraordinary journey thus far and the opportunity to deliver something by the way of step change and extraordinary redirection of Auckland and taking up of its potential, a marrying of our business dynamic with our community aroha and love is something I believe is an extraordinary opportunity, and I would like to take that opportunity.

John Banks:

At age 18, I decided that I would balance the family ledger by joining the police. The Auckland police told me in no uncertain terms that I was a lowlife son of two shitbags and there was no place for me in the New Zealand police. Twenty-five years later, I became the Minister of Police. I’m doing this to balance the family ledger.

So it’s “boundless enthusiasm for community miracles” squaring off against “individual crusade for redemption, nothing to do with Auckland” in the Supercity mayoral battle. If that’s all there was to it, Banksie would be a lost cause.

L

Brown still on the horse

datePosted on 09:59, June 22nd, 2010 by Lew

Bless the Herald, burying the most important point of an article about the Auckland supercity mayoralty race at the very bottom:

Mr Brown also spoke of leadership and the need to deliver a resounding majority for the mayor so he or she could sit there with the mandate with the support of the community. [sic]
Judging from the mood of the meeting [in Point Chevalier], he won a resounding victory last night.

It seems remarkable to me that Brown could beat John Banks “resoundingly” in gentrified Pt Chev, of which (as I recall) Banks is himself a long-time resident. But then, I don’t know Auckland very well, and perhaps I’m misreading it. Is there something I’m missing or is this actually a biggish deal?

It apparently counterindicates DPF’s and Hamish Collins of No Minister’s reasoning that Len Brown is toast because Kerre Woodham reckons he’s a nutter and she is some sort of bellwether for this “Grey Lynn liberal” demographic. Because her status as a talkback host and columnist who recently came out in favour of three strikes didn’t disqualify her from that already.

Disclosure: According to 8 Tribes questionnaire, bogus pop-sociology though it might be, I’m very squarely a member of the Grey Lynn tribe myself. I’m sure you’re all shocked, just shocked.

L

Len Brown shows how it’s done

datePosted on 09:23, June 16th, 2010 by Lew

I don’t know much about Manukau mayor and Auckland Supercity mayoral candidate Len Brown, but this I do know: the guy has fire in his belly, and is prepared to stand and be judged by the authorities and his constituents.

This speech (audio, or edited video here if you can get it to work) is old-fashioned public-sphere politics — both rhetorical and substantive — done properly. He admits misusing his council credit card, calls in the highest authority in the land to investigate it, and says let the cards fall as they may.

This is an object lesson on accountability and due process for Chris Carter. Two senior progressive politicians, both fighting for their political lives over the same issue, and two radically different approaches. Where Carter has recoiled from public scrutiny and repeately refused to take any responsibility for his wrongdoing, Brown has done the opposite, calling for the highest standard of oversight and demonstrating that he will accept its outcome. He has both appealed to the values and culture of liberal democracy in asking that assessments be made on the substance of the allegations against him, and appealed to liberal democracy’s civic institutions to provide the best possible basis for that judgement.

Win or lose the election, Brown has acted with integrity and demonstrated his commitment to democracy, and as far as that goes, he’s already beaten Carter hands-down. But even in terms of electoral advantage, he has played a huge liability into a potential — depending on what the A-G’s investigation shows up — advantage. While such heartfelt contrition is a poor substitute for not having done wrong in the first place, the electorate likes a candidate who is prepared to stand up and be counted like this, and moreover, it tends to like a candidate whose commitment to the job is as strong as Brown’s clearly is. So this mayoral race just got interesting.

L