Politics

What our Policy tool’s data vault has to tell us about election 2017

We present the five most interesting takeaways from analysis of the vast trove of data thrown up by our Policy tool in the lead-up to this election.

Since its debut on August 14, more than 120,000 people have viewed over 1.3 million pages of Policy, our tool for comparing parties’ different positions across various areas. The project, created by  Asher Emanuel, Ollie Neas, Racheal Reeves and their team, has been a phenomenal success in its aim to inform and educate potential voters about specific policy areas.

Alongside that success has been an incredibly rich trove of data, revealing a huge amount about which parties and policy areas have proven popular. Critically, given the coalition-building that MMP has always required in New Zealand, it also shows how users’ preferences overlap across parties. The master set would likely be of great interest to parties, given what it reveals about how various policies and issues are rating with such a large number of likely voters. For the rest of us, it’s a fascinating insight into what makes us pull the two levers which are the main way we participate in our democracy.

A few caveats: it’s only in the past 10 days that users have been able to blind policy from party, so existing preferences will have had a bearing on what they highlighted. It’s unscientific, in that users actively had to seek out the tool. And while it has generated a large volume of search engine traffic, the clear majority came through our platform – make whatever assumptions you like about our audience’s demographics and political leanings. Be aware that all parties had different quantities of policy – from ACT’s 69 up to Labour’s 152 – which will impact certain sections. Another note: there was no facility to login, so no individual preferences were or are visible.

That declared, here are the five most interesting takeouts from the data.

1. The most popular policies overall are…

Policy allows users to “fave” policies they like best – the function from which this info is drawn. Labour has two in the top five, but it’s interesting to see all four of the largest parties represented. Water has been a strong thread to the campaign, and the protests in Morrinsville brought it to the forefront of the debate again. But few might have picked Labour’s water levy as the most popular policy of the campaign to date. Interestingly, National’s policy on dairying, requiring the fencing of waterways, also cracked the top five. Housing also appears twice, via Labour’s rental WOF and NZ First’s restrictions on land ownership, with the Greens’ tourism levy rounding out the top five. Bubbling under: the next three policies on the popularity list were all from the Greens: on infrastructure, cycling and tax reduction for the first $14,000 of income.

2. Party preferences

Based on the number of policies a specific user faved, we were able to extrapolate a party preference. Again with the caveats: this assumes that all preferences are weighted equally, which is rarely true, and ignores other vote-inducing calculus, like potential coalition partners, polling and personality. Also, remember the assumptions you might make about our audience’s demographics and politics.

Still, the results are pretty extraordinary, particularly for the Greens, who’ve had a largely miserable campaign to this point – a lot of people seem to really like what they’re saying. It also shows a far more even distribution of votes – with the exception of the drag racers of the main parties, who are at half or below their current levels, every single other party out-rates their current polling.

3. Topic preferences cross-mapped with party preferences

This offers some fascinating insights by combining most favoured party with area of policy interest. The depth of the red indicates how likely a user with an obvious party preference was to interact with policy in a specific topic area. It likely confirms your existing biases about what a party’s voters might emphasise, but nonetheless throws up interesting nuggets. Those who lean toward TOP weight the environment considerably more heavily than those who lean toward the Greens, for example – perhaps giving weight to the latter party’s argument that its affinity there is over-weighted by pundits.

The Labour inclined skew toward housing policy roughly twice as heavily as National’s. For all the billions being thrown at roads and rail this election, it rated fairly low for all parties. And who knew United Future fans cared so much about health?

4. Issue interest versus party preference

This is like a deeper dive into the prior – beyond the policy area and into the issue. The detail is quite startling. For example, ACT has three separate issues – all related to the economy – about which its voters care more than those of any other party care about anything.

It perhaps shows the extent to which minor parties become vectors for people passionate about relatively narrow baskets of policy. It also shows that there are three areas of peak issue interest alignment across the parties – all, intriguingly, between parties currently divided between government and opposition, or on a kind of war footing: National and New Zealand First on regional development; Labour and the Māori Party on schools; the Greens and TOP on water. Here are the areas most explored, along with the percentage picking that issue and party leaning.

5. The overlap of issues

One layer down sits what might be the most tantalising detail of all: the policy championed by one party most “liked” by those of another. Tantalising because after the fight, comes the dance: these guys are all going to have to arrange themselves into some form of coalition, and that coalition will be far more easily assembled if those who drove parties to power are passionate about the same broad policies.

Policy wouldn’t be here without the very generous support of lead sponsor Chapman Trippthe Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, Grant ThorntonMuffin Breakiwantmyname and InternetNZ.

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