Sunday, 14 September 2014

Laundry Time: Dirty Politics Update

Back in Mid-August, Colmar Brunton carried out a Snap Poll to gauge the public's immediate reaction to Nicky Hager's revelations in Dirty Politics. Conducted over the two days immediately following Hager's eagerly-awaited book launch, this Snap Poll of 500 respondents would have been disappointing to anyone on the Left hoping for immediate fallout in the polls.   More than two-thirds of National supporters refused to believe the allegations, a whopping 91% said it made little difference to how they viewed their Party, while just 2% of Nats (representing a mere 1% of the entire electorate) agreed that the scandal had negatively influenced their perception of the Party.

Still, it was obviously early days. As various commentators pointed out at the time, the poll was carried out before voters had really had much time to fully digest the details and come to terms with the arguably quite profound implications.The issue was always likely to be a bit of a slow-burner as the media momentum built over subsequent weeks (not unlike Corngate - one of Hager's other campaign interventions - in 2002). And there were at least some early signs from the Snap Poll of the potential for a somewhat broader disaffection among National's constituency - 10% of Nat voters, according to the poll, said they believed Hager's allegations of smear campaigns organised at the highest levels of the National Party, a further 23% weren't sure and - joining the 2% of Nats who viewed National more negatively - a further 3% were unsure precisely how they now felt about the Party. These small, overlapping minorities of National voters were the ones who might just conceivably budge over following weeks as the scandal reached a crescendo.

The finer detail of Colmar Brunton's snap poll also raised the intriguing possibility that the most important electoral consequence of the affair might not be so much a direct swing from Nat-to-Lab or Right-to-Left but rather in motivating a sizeable section of both Undecideds and erstwhile Labour-leaning Non-Voters  to turn out on Election Day. A significant 19% of Labour supporters said they were more likely to get out and vote as a result of the scandal, while 23% of Undecideds believed Hager's allegations, with almost a quarter of this group feeling more negative about the National Party as a result. What's more,if the pattern of 2002 is anything to go by, then there is also potential for a swathe of erstwhile National supporters to stage a silent protest by simply failing to turn up at the polling booth on Election Day. A protest that may well go undetected in the pre-Election polls (It's interesting in this respect that National suffered a 4 point hit in the latest Early-Sept One News Colmar Brunton and that the Undecideds increased significantly).

 Colmar Brunton have now released their (Late August) follow-up poll on the scandal, allowing us to explore the fallout over a somewhat longer period.

Question 1 of the Late August Colmar Brunton (in the tables below, I refer to this as the Regular Poll) is essentially the same as Question 2 of the Mid August Snap poll. Similarly, Q2 of the Regular poll is the same as Q3 of the Snap poll. 

   Colmar Brunton    - August 2014   Dirty Politics Poll  (Comparative)   
     Mid-August Snap Poll (509 respondents)                                  
     compared to                                                                            
     Late-August  Regular Poll (1000 respondents)                                
  Q1 (Regular Poll) / Q2 (Snap Poll): "The recently released book,  Dirty  Politics, suggests smear campaigns and leaks were organised at the          highest levels of the National Party including the  Prime Minister's         
 Office. Do you believe these suggestions ?"                                              
  Entire Sample               Yes              No            Don't Know         
  Snap Poll                      28                43                  29                
  Regular Poll                  41                35                  24                
  Diff                              + 13               - 8                  - 5                
  National Supporters      Yes               No           Don't Know          
  Snap Poll                      10                 68                  23               
  Regular Poll                  22                 56                 22                
  Diff                              + 12               - 12                 - 1               
  High  Yes                                                                                     
  Snap Poll       - Christchurch Residents 45        - Labour and   Green Supporters 43                                                                    
  Regular Poll   - NZ First Supporters 76     - Green Supporters   75     - Maori 60     - Labour Supporters 55     - 35-54 age-group  48                                                                                                 
  High  No                                                                                      
  Snap Poll           - National Supporters  68                                
  Regular Poll      - National Supporters  56                                 
  Above Average Increase in Yes - between the two Polls                
            - Undecided Voters 23 (Snap) to 41 (Reg) = + 18 points  
            - Labour and Green Supporters  43 (Snap) to  61 (Reg) = + 18 points                                                                                

  Q2 (Regular Poll) / Q3 (Snap Poll): "Have these allegations positively or negatively influenced your view of the National Party or have they not       made much difference ?"                                                                              
  Entire Sample      Positively     Negatively     Not Much Diff     DK 
  Snap Poll                4                      9                    82               5  
  Regular Poll           5                     18                    75                3 
  Diff                         + 1                   + 9                   - 7             - 2 
 National Voters     Positively      Negatively     Not Much Diff    DK  
  Snap Poll                  5                     2                    91              3  
  Regular Poll          No Data             6                    87      No Data
  Diff                              -                  + 4                  - 4               -  
  High  Negatively                                                                           
  Snap Poll           - Labour and Green Supporters 19                 
  Regular Poll    -  Green Supporters 39   - NZF Supporters 30   
                          - Labour Supporters 25   - 35-54 age-group 24  
  High  Not Much Diff                                                                      
  Snap Poll           - National Supporters 91                                 
  Regular Poll       - National Supporters 87                                 
  Above Average Increase in Negative - between the two Polls        
        - Undecided Voters 5 (Snap) to 23 (Reg)  = + 18  points     
        - Labour and Green Voters 19 (Snap) to 29 (Reg) = + 10     

The Late August (Regular) Colmar Brunton poll certainly suggests the Dirty Politics scandal had gained momentum over those final two weeks of August as the National Party hierarchy increasingly lost control of the campaign agenda. The corollary: a steady corrosive effect on attitudes towards both John Key and the National Party.

General acceptance of the idea that smear campaigns were organised at the highest levels of the National Party, including the Prime Minister's Office, increased 13 points to 41% of all respondents (with a further 24% Unsure).

Naturally, belief in Hager's thesis was especially strong among Labour, Green and Opposition voters. But notice, too, the unusually large increase among that crucial segment of the electorate - those who are Undecided on the Party-Vote (up 18 points) - and the fact that acceptance of the allegations among National supporters had more than doubled (from 10 to 22% - with a further 22% of Nats Unsure).

Click on Read more for rest of analysis


Meanwhile, the proportion of voters who'd had their view of the Nats negatively influenced by the book also doubled over the final fortnight of August from 9 to 18%. Once again, the corrosive effect was especially strong among politically-Undecided voters, with those viewing National in a more negative light rising sharply (+ 18 points) over the space of two weeks.

Perhaps the only disappointment for the Left, here, is that the increase in negativity among National supporters (+ 4 points) was well below average. Still, the 6% of Nats who, by late August, were beginning to see their Party in a more negative light does represent almost 3% of all voters - and that's really all the Opposition Bloc need to budge in order to gain the Treasury benches.

We also shouldn't rule out the possibility that a number of previous National supporters had already swung away from the Party as a direct result of the Dirty Politics scandal and before the Late August Regular poll was taken. Their defection, of course, would be invisible in this poll because they wouldn't be included among National's supporters.

Three other interesting facets stand out from the tables above:

- If an early belief in Hager's allegations can be taken as some sort of proxy for above-average antagonism toward the current National Government then there may be a portent here that Christchurch will experience a particularly heavy swing to the Left on Saturday. Of all the various demographics, Christchurch residents were the most likely to accept the truth of the Dirty Politics allegations within the immediate wake of its release. The large minority of Chch voters who said yes in the Snap poll (45%) even eclipsed the proportion of Labour and Green supporters who, similarly, replied in the affirmative (43%). Still difficult to be sure, though. As I replied to Puddleglum of The Political Scientist blog (here... ) "The evidence on changing political sentiment in Christchurch over the last 12 months has been ambiguous, one might almost say contradictory."
Maybe we're talking about a tale of two cities, the East of Chch swinging heavily Left, the West remaining wedded to the Right ?

- In the Regular poll, the broad middle-age group, 35-54 year-olds, expressed above average belief in Hager's revelations and were more likely than average to have developed a more negative view of the National Party as a result. Demographic breakdowns from the party support segment of various opinion polls over recent years suggest this age-group (particularly the older 45 + section) lean toward National and the Right. The potential is clearly there for some disaffection on Saturday.

- Perhaps the most intriguing facet, though (particularly given the possibility that Winston will hold the balance of power come election night), is the extremely high proportion of NZ First supporters expressing belief in the Dirty Politics revelations (76%), feeling more negative about the Nats (30%) and, as the tables below show, wanting Judith Collins to be stood down (81%) and disbelieving John Key over the SIS OIA release (76%). In each case, NZF voters comprised the demographic with either the highest or second-highest proportion refusing to accept the official Key/National Party line on Hager's allegations (they were only rivalled in these attitudes by Green supporters).

The Colmar Brunton Regular poll then asked a couple of questions on Collins and Key that were new.......

  Q3 (Regular Poll only):  "It was revealed last week that Justice Minister Judith Collins gave the name and contact details of a public sector              employee to Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater. Do you think Judith           Collins should be stood down or resign as a Minister over this, or do you think she should stay a Minister ? If she resigns or is stood down, she         would still be an MP."                                                                                
  Entire Sample     Stood Down/Resign     Remain Minister    DK   
                                           61                           26               13    
  National Voters  Stood Down/Resign       Remain Minister    DK  
                                           44                            43             14     
  High  Stood Down/Resign                                                           
                - Green Voters 89         - NZF Voters 81                      
                - Maori 73                      - Labour Voters 72                
  High  Remain Minister                                                                
                              - National Voters 43                                       

Judith Collins, of course, stepped down in the immediate wake of this Late August Colmar Brunton. Not entirely surprising (putting aside the various machinations within the National Party) - a large majority (61%) wanted her gone, with barely a quarter saying she should remain in Cabinet.

As you can see, even National voters (slightly) favoured her resignation over a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket.

Voter antagonism towards Collins had, of course, been building for quite some time. Back in May, as the Oravida scandal swirled around her, Colmar Brunton carried out a poll for Q+A that found New Zealanders evenly split (42/42) over whether she should remain a Minister. As you might expect, a majority (61%) of Labour and Green supporters wanted her gone. But so too did a healthy minority (20%) of National voters (with another 13% of Nats Unsure).

In the same May poll, 50% of respondents agreed that Collins' behaviour had been damaging to National (63% of Labour/Green supporters and a sizeable minority (38%) of National voters), 42% felt the Prime Minister had not handled the Oravida scandal well (including 16% of Nats), and almost a quarter of the entire sample agreed they would factor the scandal into their voting decision come Election Day (including 8% of National supporters).

  Q4 (Regular Poll only):  "The book Dirty Politics suggests information   concerning an SIS briefing to then Labour Leader Phil Goff was released  speedily to blogger Cameron Slater under the Official Information Act.      The information contradicted Mr Goff's claim that he had not been briefed by the SIS. Prime Minister John Key, who is also the minister responsible  for the SIS, says he was never personally informed that the information     was being released. He says only his Office was told.                                 
  Do you believe Mr Key ?"                                                                         
  Entire Sample             Yes             No            Don't Know            
                                       41               44                  14                  
  High  Yes                                                                                    
                 - 55+ age-group 48          - National Voters 71            
  High  No                                                                                     
          - NZF Voters 76              - Green Voters 73                        
          - Maori 66                       - Labour Voters 65                      
          - Low Income Households (under 30k) 56                       
          - Undecided Voters 54                                                        

A plurality (44%) of respondents disbelieve Key on the SIS OIA release - and that includes a minority of National supporters (don't have the precise figure but it's likely to be around 15%). Again, there is above average rejection of Key's version of events among the all-important category of Undecided voters.

If we bring together the Colmar Brunton questions that directly concern John Key (Q1 and Q4 of the Regular poll) and the Mid-August Fairfax-Ipsos poll question on whether Key's reputation has been damaged by the Dirty Politics scandal - we find that, in each case, a plurality take a negative attitude towards Key. 41% agree smear campaigns were organised in the PM's Office (35% disagree / 24% Don't Know), 44% refuse to believe Key's version of the SIS OIA release (against 41% who believe him / 14% Unsure), and 47% agree that Key's reputation has taken a hit (vs 43% who disagree / 11% Don't know).

It should be added, though, that according to a Herald-DigiPoll taken around the same time, the majority of those who believed the revelations would damage Key (54%), thought it would only cause "a little damage" (43%), rather than "a lot" (11%).

How far will the Dirty Politics scandal shift votes - whether within the Right Bloc, across the Right-Left divide, or in and out of non-voting ? I'll be making my predictions in an up-coming post to be published a couple of days out from Election Day. 

Only a few more sleeps !!!