Saturday, 9 August 2014

Education Debate Update: Latest One News Colmar-Brunton clashes with Herald-DigiPoll

One News Colmar-Brunton have just released results from a poll that directly compares the education policies of the two major parties. And its results contrast dramatically with those recorded in the recent Herald-DigiPoll (discussed in my previous post), the only other survey to take an explicitly comparative approach.

The One News Colmar-Brunton asked respondents: 'Which policy do you prefer ?
(1) Making Class Sizes smaller by funding more teachers or (2) Leadership programmes in which high-performing Principals and teachers mentor other schools ?'

The Result:

Smaller Classes 61%

Leadership Programmes 36%

Don't know 3%

The One News Colmar-Brunton figures are, in fact, almost precisely the polar opposite of the Herald-DigiPoll's findings: 61 Smaller Classes / 36 Leadership Programmes (One News) VS 35 Cut Class Sizes / 61 Improve Teaching Standards (Herald-DigiPoll).

Arguably, it's the different wording of the respective questions in these two polls (more specifically, the particular options that respondents had to choose between) that largely accounts for their dramatically different results. As I pointed out in my previous post, a number of commentators in the local blogosphere have put forward quite compelling critiques of the Herald-DigiPoll's rendition of Labour's and National's putative education policies, suggesting an inaccurate and  highly-reductive framing of the debate. Specifically, the criticism was that by setting up a head-to-head contest between
(1) Class size reduction and (2) Improving teaching standards, the Herald-DigiPoll was erroneously comparing the method on Labour's part with the desired goal on National's.
If you were going to ask respondents about Labour's method for achieving better teaching and educational outcomes then you should do precisely the same for National by asking about their method - namely financially rewarding high-performing Principals and teachers and using them to mentor in other schools. That, of course, is precisely what One News Colmar-Brunton have done and they're to be congratulated for getting it spot-on.

Click on Read more for further analysis


In keeping with their general policy, One News Colmar-Brunton haven't released any detailed breakdowns. But the One News item did suggest a "clear split" with more women and those on the political Left (defined as Labour and Green voters in the item's accompanying graphic) "going for small classes", while predominantly men and those on the political Right (defined as National in the graphic) "went for teacher leadership."

This demographic split obviously dovetails with the broad social divide highlighted in the June UMR poll (discussed in my previous post). But, given the decisive win for Labour's policy of smaller class sizes in this latest poll, it would seem that, at the very least, a sizeable minority of men chose the smaller class option together with more than a few intending National voters. (The wording of the One News report is a little ambiguous, here. It's not entirely clear whether they're suggesting (i) The majority of men chose the Leadership Programme policy or (ii) Of those who chose National's Leadership policy, the majority were men. Two entirely different things).

What is clear, however, is that the 61% choosing Labour's education policy is far higher than not only Labour's but also the entire Left Bloc's support-level in the latest Colmar-Brunton political poll (which this question on education was almost certainly part of). And, equally, the 36% choosing National's policy is significantly lower than political support for both National and, even more so, the Right Bloc as a whole (that's true even taking into account the clear disparity in the size of the Don't Knows between the respective Party Support and Education Policy sections of the poll). Once again, as with the UMR, these findings highlight at least Labour's potential to make inroads into National's support-base.


Overall, you'd have to say that - of these two polls - the One News Colmar-Brunton provides the more acute insight into how New Zealanders genuinely feel about the two main parties' respective education policies.  What's more, it's a pure insight because Colmar-Brunton deliberately excluded mention of the two parties in its poll question.** And the result was quite clearly a victory for Labour's platform.

I have to confess, though, that I do have a slight concern that this very reluctance by Colmar-Brunton to attach specific party labels to these respective education policies may have, in one sense, muddied the waters a little here (even, while, at the same time, offering this pure, unalloyed insight). As I said in my previous post, "maybe, just maybe, what the Herald-DigiPoll is telling us has nothing to do with education policy at all". By explicitly linking the two main parties to its rendition of their core policies, it's at least theoretically possible that the Herald-DigiPoll was actually inadvertently measuring commitment to the Key Government. I can't help but wonder, then, if the One News Colmar-Brunton results would have been rather different had they'd followed suit ? In other words, precisely how deep is the strength of feeling ? Would a sizeable minority of respondents have switched from Smaller Classes to Leadership Programmes if they'd been fully aware of which parties were offering which policies ?*** Does support for National, that is to say, override support for cutting class size ?  I suspect not. But it's difficult to be sure.

Or, to put it all another way, the striking contrast in results between these two polls is probably best explained by the fact that One News Colmar-Brunton provided a much more accurate encapsulation of the education debate. But the fact that one poll (Herald-Digi) specifically attributed party labels to the respective policies while the other (Colmar-Brunton) didn't may also have played some role here. We can't entirely rule it out.

**(I'm basing this assumption on the One News report's rendition of the wording)

***(This, of course, begs the question: precisely what proportion of respondents were aware that smaller classes was Labour's policy and leadership programmes - National's ?)