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PoliticsJune 11, 2019

Two polls. Two wildly differing results. What happened?

colmar brunton reid newshub poll feature image

Last night Newshub-Reid Research and Colmar Brunton both released opinion polls. Political pundits, in the middle of a poll drought, waited eagerly for what turned out to be wildly diverging results. Josie Adams talks to Colmar Brunton’s Jason Shoebridge about what happened.

Last night’s polling results had little in common, with the only consistency across both being that Simon Bridges is a very unpopular party leader. In short: the Colmar Brunton poll showed National up to 44%, and Labour dropping to 42%. It showed Jacinda Ardern as preferred prime minister for 45%. The Newshub Reid poll showed National at 37.4%, and Labour at 50.8%. It showed Ardern as preferred PM for 49%.

The immediate reaction from many was to pick the poll they liked best – they couldn’t both be right. However, the divergence doesn’t necessarily mean one is wrong. “Without digging into what Reid’s methodology is and what the details are it’s hard to comment on why there’s a difference,” said Jason Shoebridge, CEO of Kantar, Colmar Brunton’s parent company.

I asked him why he thought there was a difference in the results, and it turns out there’s a simple explanation: “Reid use an online methodology as well as landlines, and we just use landlines and mobile phones. Then there’s a difference of when we were collecting the data – we were collecting later than they were.” Colmar Brunton was conducting their research from the 4th to the 8th June, and Newshub-Reid Research did theirs from the 29th May to the 7th June.

The last Colmar Brunton poll was taken in the days following the Christchurch terror attacks on March 15th, an event for which Ardern was near-universally praised for her handling, so it’s not surprising to see Labour’s popularity declining closer to what it was before the attack. With this in mind, alongside the recent furore around the wellbeing budget, Ardern’s result in both polls could be seen as a win.

One way to tell the accuracy of a poll is how it fits into the over-arching trends, and in general, polls prior to this showed Labour going up and National going down. Shoebridge believes the only true measure of a poll’s accuracy is an election.

“Where the stress really comes in is on election night – that’s the real test,” he explained. Political opinion polling is the most high profile work the company does, even though it’s only a small proportion of their business. “We always want it to be as accurate as possible, and we’re confident in our numbers.”

In the past, both Colmar Brunton and Newshub-Reid polls have had a fairly good track record. During the last two general elections, polling companies predicted results reasonably close to the outcome. Isn’t there a little controversy about polling during election years, though?

“There’s always some commentary about how polling shouldn’t be allowed through the election campaign,” said Shoebridge. “But if we aren’t doing public polls, you can be sure the parties themselves are doing their own polling. It’s in the public interest for us to do political polls.” News outlets, politicians, and pundits alike all have a yearning to know where the public opinion is – and companies like Colmar Brunton and Reid are less likely to massage the numbers than a political party. Additionally, in the absence of public polls, private polls are often leaked or supplied to journalists by partisans, as with a recent Auckland mayoralty poll.

Despite the diverging results, last night’s polls aren’t without impact: 1 News political editor Jessica Mutch McKay thinks the Colmar Brunton poll party results will protect Simon Bridges from an attack on his leadership, but Matthew Hooton is already calling for a coup on Twitter. He suggests Collins should overthrow Bridges and lead the party, thanks to the Newshub-Reid poll showing Collins towering at 7.1% over Bridges’ 4.2%.

With both Mutch McKay’s and Hooton’s wildly different conclusions drawn from polls released on the same day, it’s clear the results are up for interpretation. National MP Paula Bennett is unsurprisingly more a fan of the Colmar Brunton poll, which paints her party in a slightly better light. During this morning’s AM Show, she told Newshub that she doesn’t think their results are accurate. “I’m sorry, I really don’t believe the numbers you put out last night are a true reflection of where it’s all at,” she said. “It’s way better than that.”

One consistency between both polls is the surprising revelation that fewer people want cannabis legalised in 2020 than in previous polls. The Colmar Brunton results showed 52% against cannabis legislation in 2020, and the Newshub-Reid results showed 48%.

Reid Research was not at liberty to release more information to us due to its commercial relationship with Newshub, but said it was confident its poll was correct.

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