Hard News by Russell Brown


Poll Day 2: Queasy

I noted yesterday that it's incumbent on media organisations who commission political polls to construct news angles around them. It also doesn't hurt to a few extra bangs for your buck, which both One News and 3 News did last night, with follow-up stories based on subsidiary questions in their respective polls.

TVNZ, it turns, out, had asked respondents whether Justice minister Judith Collins should remain a Cabinet minister in light of "the Oravida conflict of interest allegations" (I presume that was roughly the wording of the question -- it's not published as far as I can see). Thirty nine per cent said "No", 37% said "Yes" and 24% didn't know. Probably the most interesting part of the response was that only 55% of National voters affirmed that she should stay.

Michael Parkin's story quoted Labour's Grant Robertson and the Prime Minister, and he reported that Collins herself, while declining to appear on camera, said she wanted to "get on and do the job". He concluded by noting that any damage sustained by Collins was not reflecting on her party's poll standing.

3 News, on the other hand, focused on Labour leader David Cunliffe and asked a very different kind of question (again, I'm having to infer this from the report because the actual wording is unpublished), in respect of his use of a trust to channel donations for his party leadership campaign: "Were David Cunliffe's actions worthy of a Prime Minister?"

What does that even mean? That people think he's not fit to be Prime Minister? That it was an unworthy action of someone who aspired to be Prime Minister one day? It's actually a hard question for even a Cunliffe supporter to answer "yes" to. As a bit of emotional framing it works well, as a research question it's bullshit.

Notably, a similar question was not put to the actual Prime Minister, John Key. Well, One News focused only on Judith Collins, didn't it? But this was a bit different.

Patrick Gower's story not only put no questions to the Prime Minister, it was a particularly inappropriate example of 3 News' journalists' lazy habit of of using John Key as a freelance political commentator. Inappropriate because the secondary angle of the story was the same poll's question as to whether John Key and David Cunliffe respectively were "more honest than the average politician."

Cunliffe lost out badly on that question, and Key got to be both the victor and the race commentator.

But I would like to know a few things (I asked some of these of Patrick Gower via Twitter last night but haven't had a reply yet):

- What were the actual words in which the Cunliffe question was put to respondents?

- Were respondents reminded of the Cunliffe trust story, and in what words? Or were they, alternatively, questioned on their actual knowledge of the story?

- Were the words "secret trust" used in the question? (It's notable that 3 News stands alone -- or perhaps alongside Kiwiblog -- in its consistent use of the phrase "secret trust" around this story. The Herald, Radio NZ, NBR and others have generally referred simply to "a trust"-- which is actually correct. The trust itself was was not a secret; the issue was that it enabled anonymous donations.)

- Was the "worthy" question about Cunliffe asked before or after the general honesty question about both Cunliffe and Key? (I really hope it was asked after, because asked before it really starts to look like push-polling.) Was it asked before any other questions about Cunliffe? 

It may be that Gower has a zinger about John Key for us tonight. If so, I hope it's better and more fairly framed than last night's story was. I respect the right of Gower and his colleagues to be robust, even provocative in their work. It's important that they can be and if I'm watching TV at 6pm it's usually them. But last night's effort left me feeling a bt queasy.

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