Tuesday, 26 January 2016


At his first post-Cabinet briefing of the year, John Key insisted his Government was sitting on the right side of public opinion regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA):
"I think we are winning the argument, actually, with the New Zealand public."  

Meanwhile, seeking to decipher whether or not John Key and his advisors have been setting a carefully-layed trap for anti-TPPA protesters, Chris Trotter at Bowalley Road has speculated that maybe:
"Over the Summer, Key and his pollster, David Farrar have been drilling down deep into New Zealanders' thoughts and feelings about the TPPA"            
and that, if they have, they've probably discovered that:
"most New Zealanders are quite relaxed about the TPPA. Any fears Kiwis may have had about it in 2015 were allayed by a combination of Helen Clark's pre-Christmas endorsement of the agreement, and the mainstream media's generally positive coverage of the final draft."

I'm not quite so sure.

Here are four recent Polls on the TPPA by leading public pollsters:

Reverse Chronological Order

   Herald-DigiPoll   (Dec 2015)                               
   TPPA           Oppose      Support      No View         
                           26%           27%              46%      

     3 News Reid Research   (Nov 2015)                 
   TPPA         Oppose     Support     Don't Know   
                           52%          34%              14%      

     One News Colmar Brunton     (Sep 2015)                
   TPPA        Not Sign     Should Sign      Don't Know   
                          44%              24%                 32%          

   Herald-DigiPoll    (Aug 2015)                          
   TPPA         Oppose     Support     No View      
                         30%           20%           45%        

Helen Clark signalled her support for the TPPA on October 1. Over a month later, 3 News Reid Research carried out the first poll to be conducted on the matter since Clark's intervention (fieldwork 8-16 November). As you can see, over half of respondents opposed the deal with only a third supporting it.

These Oppose/Support differentials are pretty much in line with those found in the One News Colmar Brunton poll two months earlier - albeit with a much greater Don't Know factor in the latter.

That leaves the two Herald-DigiPolls - both of which stand out for (1) their relatively weak opposition sentiment and (2) the comparatively hefty number of respondents choosing the Don't have enough knowledge to come to a Conclusion option (summarised in the Tables as No View). According to the latest Herald-Digi (carried out 4-14 December), the roughly half of New Zealanders who have made up their mind are pretty much split down the middle, with a small swing from Opposition to Support apparently occurring between the two polls (Aug-Dec: Oppose 30% down to 26%/Support 20% up to 27%). (Note: however, that my source for the August Poll - which just happens to be the Curia website run by Mr Farrar himself - provides figures (30/20/45) that only add up to 95%. So, I would treat the August Herald-Digi numbers with a certain amount of caution until I can confirm them).

On the face of it, the December Herald-Digi (the latest sampling of public opinion on the issue) might appear to partially confirm Trotter's worst fears - "most New Zealanders are quite relaxed about the TPPA"  - given that just a quarter (26%) explicitly oppose the deal. But, then again, outright support for the deal is only a smidgen higher at 27% (a statistical tie), with roughly half of respondents feeling they haven't been furnished with enough details to come to a firm conclusion one way or the other. I'm by no means sure that the latter can simply be deemed "relaxed" about the deal - particularly when the secrecy surrounding the TPPA negotiations had been given a resounding thumbs down in a mid-November Consumerlink Poll. The poll suggested most New Zealanders wanted TPPA to face a solid dose of democratic scrutiny, with fully two-thirds feeling the contents of the agreement should have been made public before the deal was completed and signed.

More importantly, though, there are reasons to be a little cautious of the two Herald-Digis, particularly the December one.

The obvious divergence (in TPPA findings) between the Herald-Digis on the one hand, and the TV News Polls (One News Colmar Brunton and 3 News Reid Research) on the other, tellingly reflects a similar divide on Party Support. Since May 2015, every single one of the Colmar Bruntons and Reid Research Polls have favoured the Opposition (always placing it ahead of the Governing Bloc), while, in stark contrast, all of the Herald-Digis have favoured the Government - the December 2015 poll by a massive 10 points (very much an outlier compared to other polls taken around the same time).

I think it's reasonable to suggest, then, that Pollsters currently favouring the Government and the broader Right - Herald-Digi (also Roy Morgan) - are naturally going to discover less Opposition to the TPPA than pollsters currently placing the Opposition Bloc in front - the Colmar Brunton and Reid Research Polls. (although it probably can't explain the sheer magnitude of the divergence). All comes down, I'd suggest, to contrasting methodologies - whether it be Question Wording, Sampling Techniques, Weighting Procedures or a mix of all three.

Hence, the fact that the December Herald-Digi is such an obvious Right/Govt-friendly outlier in terms of Party Support should alert us to its probable impact on the TPPA figures. There are grounds, I think, for some caution.

My personal feeling is that the Colmar Bruntons and Reid Research Polls tend to be more methodologically robust (for reasons that I may discuss in up-coming posts), but, being a relatively conscientious sort of a geezer, I'm also prepared to at least consider the possibility that my Left-leaning proclivities may play a subliminal role in my thinking here (what with the two TV News-sponsored Pollsters currently pointing to an Opposition and anti-TPPA lead).

Both the Nov 2015 3 News Reid Research and Sep 2015 One News Colmar Brunton Polls provide some demographic detail (in the process, pointing to the vital role of Party Support in shaping views on the issue and hinting at the way variation in Govt/Oppo support between different pollsters therefore impacts decisively on the final TPPA poll results).

3 News Reid Research supplies breakdowns by Party Support specifically for the Oppose option:

  Oppose TPPA                            
  NZ First Supporters    = 87%  
  Green Supporters        = 84%  
  Labour Supporters      = 73%  
  National Supporters    = 23%  

One News Colmar Brunton provides stats for those demographics more likely than average to choose any one of the particular options:

Those more likely than average (24%) to Support the TPPA were:
  National Supporters             = 37%  
  High Income Households     = 33%  
  Male                                       = 31%  

Those more likely than average (44%) to Oppose the TPPA:
  Green Supporters                = 82%  
  NZ First Supporters            = 73%  
  Labour Supporters              = 53%  

Those more likely than average (32%) to say they Don't Know were:
  Female                                   = 38%  
  National Supporters             = 37%  

While Colmar Brunton doesn't provide full demographic details, there's enough info here to see that National Supporters split 37 Support / 26 Oppose / 37 Don't Know. By no means a wholehearted endorsement from the Government's natural supporters. 

And if (sovereignty issues aside) opposition to the TPPA can be taken as some sort of proxy for above average antagonism toward the current Government then it's intriguing that NZ First's support base is, once again, up there with Green Party voters. An overwhelming majority of NZF voters gave the thumbs down to the deal in both  Reid Research (87%) and Colmar Brunton (73%) polls, while Greens split against the deal by 84% and 82% respectively. Similarly decisive majorities of NZF and Green supporters expressed belief in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics revelations before the last Election, wanted Judith Collins to be stood down and refused to believe John Key over the SIS OIA release. And these are by no means the only issues where the respective support bases of both (supposedly mutually antagonistic) parties have converged.

Perhaps the twain - the morally-liberal Left and the morally-conservative Left - shall meet after all ?