Sunday, 14 September 2014

Can't See the Wood for the Trees

Right, so let me get this straight.

The latest Colmar Brunton has National plunging 4 percentage points, with the Right Bloc (excluding Colin Craig's Conservatives) down by 2.

At the same time, while Labour is mildly down (1 point), the Left Bloc as a whole has risen 2 points and the broader Opposition Bloc (Left+Winston) are up by 1.

All of which means the chances of a Labour-led Government according this latest Colmar Brunton are significantly higher than they were a week ago when the previous poll was taken. The 4 point gap that existed between the Right and Opposition Blocs during the first week of September has now been slashed to just a single percentage point. Knife-edge stuff.

What's more, in the broader context of recent poll trends, this latest Colmar Brunton seems to herald the end of National's post-Collins-resignation bounce. As with the latest Reid Research, the Left are now hitting the early 40s (rather than late 30s), the Opposition Bloc's up in the late 40s (rather than early-mid 40s), National are down to their self-identified 'Danger Zone' (46-47% rather than their early-mid 50s ratings in the immediate wake of Collins' demise) and the Right Bloc (sans the Conservatives) are down on 48% (rather than 50-55).

So, how did the MSM frame what is essentially good news for Labour and the Left and Opposition Blocs - news that makes the election of a Labour-led government in a week's time rather more likely ?

"The latest One News Colmar Brunton poll brings more bad news for Labour" - that was the RNZ newsreader on Thursday night, introducing the main items to be covered on Radio New Zealand's 10pm Late Edition news. A few minutes later, in the item itself, the newsreader (presumably reading a script written by an RNZ sub-editor) is forced to come across as some kind of partisan apologist, immediately explaining away National's conspicuous fall in support in the most grudging and dismissive terms - as if  to say 'Nothing to see here, this is the very least important aspect of the poll and best we all just forget about it'. Yes, yes, OK, National may have fallen 4 points in the latest Colmar Brunton but we can absolutely assure you that (i) they remain "well ahead of Labour" and (ii) Labour have fallen 1 point to 25% which is their worst Colmar Brunton performance in the last couple of years. Cue: more rhetoric about Labour's poll woes.

This, unfortunately, proved to be RNZ's exclusive framing of the Colmar Brunton results over the following two days: Introducing an item on Checkpoint, for instance, Jim Mora suggested that: "a day after the 3 News Reid Research poll showed the National Party continued to retain strong public support", the latest Colmar Brunton suggests National has "continued its strong showing" (or, as another RNZ report had it, the poll points to "on-going strong support for the National Party").

Forget, then, the little fact that both Reid Research and Colmar Brunton  had the Nats down in their acknowledged Danger Zone of 46-47%. Forget the apparently minor piece of trivia that a Labour-Green-NZ First Coalition might possibly, just possibly, now be on the cusp of power (in a way that they weren't just a week ago). No, this poll, according to the State broadcaster, was apparently all about (i) National being well ahead of Labour and (ii) Labour sinking ever deeper into the mire -  dropping that all-important one percentage point (in what, given the margin-of-error, could quite conceivably have been nothing more than statistical noise).

First-Past-the-Post: 1, MMP: 0

A day later, Dominion Post political editor Tracey Watkins argued that, while the Greens' rise to 14 points in this latest Colmar Brunton would normally be cause for jubilation, "the hard reality facing the Greens is that as long as Labour remains in the doldrums, they may as well be on 5 per cent."  The Greens, she went on to suggest, ".....are marooned by their refusal to contemplate any deal supporting National in government."

And yet later, in the self-same article, Watkins - seemingly unaware of the inherent contradiction - agrees that "...on last night's poll (ie the Colmar Brunton), NZ First would be kingmaker."  Riiiight. So, Watkins' line of reasoning is that NZ First will hold the balance of power according to this poll, National will be unable to govern with its current little helpers, everything will essentially come down to Winston's choice of Coalition partner, to Winston's basic proclivities - and yet, apparently,  it's all over bar the shouting, the chances of a Labour-led government: beyond hopeless !!!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the odds are necessarily in Labour's favour or that Winston is more likely to choose a Left-leaning Coalition over a Right-leaning one.

What I am saying is: vague, meaningless, waffly FPP-style rhetoric about National remaining well ahead of Labour or sweeping assertions to the effect that this Election is done and dusted - just won't cut the mustard. Voters are entitled to know precisely how likely various Coalition scenarios are, based on the latest poll results. If polls start suggesting that the Right-Left or Right-Opposition support-gap is narrowing, so much so that a potential Labour-Green-NZ First Coalition has become at least a realistic possibility (even if not necessarily a probability) then that's exactly what well-paid Political Editors like Watkins should be telling readers.