The tuning fork election

Well, jafapete took off for Waiheke and it seems he’s not coming back. AndrewE has suggested that he drowned himself in a pail of ale after realising that Helen has no principles. Not quite. More on that later. This post’s for Andrew.

Last night’s Robert Chapman Lecture “Polls versus Expectations – Howard’s End in Australia and are there lessons for New Zealand?” was interesting, mostly because it is always good to stand back and contemplate recent history for patterns you might have missed. In this we were assisted by Australian election commentator Antony Green.

The crux of his analysis is to be found in the tuning fork graph that he used (courtesy wikipedia) which shows polling results since the last election:

Green noted that in the 2004 and 2005 elections in Australia and NZ, the polls had been very volatile, and that when that is the case it is easier for an incumbent government with waning popularity to turn things around during the election campaign. He didn’t state the converse so explicitly, but I shall.

Like the PM and many others, I can count Bob Chapman amongst my mentors. Many have commented on Bob’s grasp of the finer detail, but it was his capacity to distill this vast knowledge into easily understood wisdom that I valued most. (“The best ideas are the big, simple ideas”, he said once.) Bob always maintained that if the opinion polls clearly had one party ahead of the other for a year or more before an election campaign, then the party that had enjoyed the lead would win. This has always proved to be the case.

So the message from the graph above is clear, even if it’s not in tune with my sentiments.

There were some valiant attempts to avoid the message last night. “What about all the people who didn’t have landline phones, worked evening shifts, etc?” Green patiently explained that pollsters weighted their data to compensate for these known biases as best they could. After all, they have a lot to lose if they get it wrong. “What about the extra 100,000 unenrolled voters ferried to the polls in South Auckland?” asked another, seemingly oblivious to the tuning fork graph in front of her, or maybe not able to convert the percentages into numbers.

However, as Green noted, in an MMP context National’s higher vote need not necessarily lead to their taking government. It is also quite possible, for example, that National holds office as a true minority government, with the Maori Party sitting on the cross-benches vetoing anti-Maori or anti-low paid legislation, but not bringing the government down.

As I look at the tuning fork, that second-best scenario is some consolation.

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6 Responses to “The tuning fork election”

  1. Craig Neilson Says:

    I was there too, and asked the question about the Maori party’s possible role. If I were a minor party, I might be considering what arrangement with National might be acceptable.

  2. AndrewE Says:

    We’ve missed you JP. You may be a party hack but you are an honest one. 🙂

  3. macdoctor01 Says:

    Welcome back, JP. I’ve been having “lefty withdrawal” since you left. The only other sensible lefty is Idiot Savant and he doesn’t allow comments.
    Another week without you and I might have joined the VRWC… 🙂

  4. macdoctor01 Says:

    BTW. The “scatter” on those graphs beautifully illustrates why discussing a single poll is a pointless waste of time. Matthew Hooton did an excellent post on this on Saturday. You might want to check out DPFs Curiablog running poll aggregate as well.

  5. StephenR Says:

    Fascinating graph, though not surprising. I was also there – sitting behind the ‘ordinary bloke’ who trashed pretty much every party during his question, esp the Greens. I actually thought he was Chris Trotter (the build, the old cardigan) before he launched into his tirade, really glad I didn’t splutter too loudly when he launched, could’ve been embarrassing.

    Funny that Green made the same mistake Crosby Textor made according to some Nat MP who’s name i’ve forgotten – talking about ‘the Nationals’! ‘Ruthernomics’ too, but perhaps he was being clever.

    Stephen, I think that it was the questioner who was amazingly embarrassing. On the whole Green did very well for an Australian when he talked about NZ, and was fairly enteraining on Aussie politics as one would expect, but could have said everything that he had to say in ten minutes.

  6. StephenR Says:

    I think the question he (eventually) asked was a good one though, can’t remember what it was though! Yeah Green did well. Might I also say it didn’t really seem worthy of an annual lecture – it was just ‘polls say this, indicate that’. Could’ve just been a newspaper article on page A17.

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