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Alex Braae, played here by a model, confronts data. Image: Getty
Alex Braae, played here by a model, confronts data. Image: Getty

SocietyDecember 10, 2018

Data! Opinions! The results of The Spinoff’s major national survey with UMR

Alex Braae, played here by a model, confronts data. Image: Getty
Alex Braae, played here by a model, confronts data. Image: Getty

The Spinoff and UMR this year undertook a major research project, surveying 1000 readers and 1000 general population on a range of contemporary issues. Each day this week we’ll release a different set of data, beginning with Alex Braae analysing five graphs which collectively give an overview of scope of the project.

Earlier this year, The Spinoff embarked on a major (read: expensive) research project, in partnership with UMR Research. Within it we surveyed 1000 readers of The Spinoff and 1000 members of the general population to show the ways the two groups intersect, and where they differ. It ended up creating a tranche of fascinating data not only about the people who read our site, but about the country as a whole.

So over the rest of the week, we’re going to roll out a series of pieces on that data. It’s a big project, and frankly was a lot of information for us to get our heads around. But to get us started, here are five graphs that we’ve pulled out which show some of the attitudes Spinoff readers hold, and how they compare with the country at large.

Just a quick note on this series as well – some readers will look at the graphs and come to the conclusion that it’s a sign Spinoff readers are living in a bubble, compared to the so-called middle or real New Zealand. That’s a false narrative – all of our respondents for both sets of data are New Zealanders. We’re all as real as each other, living in a country where there is a diversity of opinion. It’s a really good thing to examine that more fully, and it would be cool to see data from other media organisations about what their readership skews towards as well.

So, without any further ado, here are some numbers.

The Spinoff readers are really suspicious of winning the generational lottery on superannuation

It’s one of the biggest single areas of expenditure the New Zealand government makes. In 2016, superannuation payments totalled $11 billion dollars. And at the moment, it’s universally available to everyone over the age of 65 – so it’s a huge number in part because that’s the age the baby boomer generation have now reached.  The standard rate for a single person is $370.03 at present, with proportionally less for couples where both are eligible. It’s not a lot of money for individuals if its their sole source of income, but taken together it really adds up, especially as life expectancies get longer.

So why might it not be such good a deal in future? There are a few reasons, over and above the system becoming so expensive it simply collapses. But to keep it affordable, economists warn the age of eligibility will simply have to start coming up – something that both John Key and Jacinda Ardern ruled out doing on pain of resignation. As well as that, some form of means testing might occur in future – as Gareth Morgan pointed out earlier this year, many of those 65 and over really don’t need the money. And if it does stay universal, it may be that payment levels come down, or stop being raised in line with inflation as they periodically are, which would effectively mean less money in the pockets of seniors in future.

There’s one big reason for optimism for all generations though on superannuation. Senior citizens are really, really reliable voters. In the 2014 election, over 65s had the highest turnout rates out of any age cohort, with the 2nd highest being 45-64 – i.e, those who are next in line. Woe betide any party that campaigns on killing the golden goose for the most solid voting constituency in the country.

The Spinoff readers are overwhelmingly pro-feminism, pro-environmentalism and pro-multiculturalism

Just look at those giant bars! You could look at both graphs as a whole and say in general, The Spinoff readers have a sunnier outlook on the world, given the graphs indicate strength of positive feeling. There are only two areas where there are stronger positive feelings among New Zealand at large – capitalism and religion. Even there, it’s not exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence in those structures.

A few stand out extremely strongly, and among the whole set of data these are possibly some of the starkest differences between The Spinoff readers and New Zealand at large. Arguably, all of these are a sign of the readership skewing younger, because these are all areas where cultural change has taken place over the course of decades, as it will likely to continue to do. Much of The Spinoff’s readership will have been effectively born into a world where these ideas had already started to permeate in a real sense – like going to more ethnically diverse schools than their parents did.

At this point, it’s probably worth ruminating on whether people with these views read The Spinoff because of how said issues are covered, or if The Spinoff’s coverage shapes their views. So rather than turning around at my desk and asking him, I sent Toby Manhire a slack message asking if he reckons the website has an editorial line. Here was his response:

“We don’t have an editorial line on any of those things per se, but we certainly have a centre of gravity, a kaupapa that is informed by the views of various section editors, by our writers, and absolutely by our audience too. We listen to readers all the time – whether that’s direct via email and social media or our own research – and what they’re telling us will certainly feed into editorial thinking, along with a bunch of factors. If readers are telling us we need to do more on, say, water quality or leading quiz show The Chase, then we probably will; if they’re saying they want some racist perspectives, probably not.”

What he’s really saying with this – expect a lot of Chase content in 2019.

The Spinoff readers are susceptible to generational shorthand, just like the rest of the country.

Looking at these two graphs, you’ll notice most people have a mostly positive view of most generations – except for a couple of high profile exceptions. For The Spinoff readers, that generation is the Baby Boomers. That greedy, grasping, snout in the trough lot who hoovered up free education and cheap housing, before pulling up the ladder behind them. Then for the country at large, millennials and generation Z are the villains. They’re ungrateful brats who ruin everything, spend all their money on smashed avo and all their time looking at the facebook on their telephones.

Now, both of these sets of stereotypes are exaggerated, but it’s notable that these are the generations that people actually talk about, as opposed to the blandly positive views of the now more obscure generations, like Silent and Greatest (who are admittedly also mostly all dead by now.) I wonder if there is an argument here that something like generational perception is one of those areas where media coverage is quite influential in shaping views, and what you read is more likely to reinforce existing prejudices.

Climate change might be the defining issue for The Spinoff readers, but audiences contain multitudes.

A full fifth of The Spinoff’s audience consider climate change to be the most important issue to them. Again, this probably reflects a younger than average readership, given that younger people will have to spend more years watching the planet turn into an increasingly god-forsaken hellhole. It rises to more than a third of the readership when the environment is rolled in as well.

Meanwhile, for the population at large, a third of people say the cost of living is the most important issue to them. That’s perhaps because it’s quite a large catch-all for a range of issues that haven’t necessarily been broken down into smaller parts, like prices for food, electricity and petrol.

But both graphs have a really long tail of issues as the most important. And if you have a look at the bonus graph below, you’ll see that the differences in overall importance ratings aren’t so vast.

The Spinoff readers are overwhelmingly get their news online, and so does everyone else.

This is quite a defining trend for the industry as a whole, and will get a full breakout story with more data later in the week. And for those in the newspaper game, the numbers on both graphs are absolutely dire. Once upon a time, we talked about ‘papers of record’ – the big, prestige broadsheets which set the news agenda for the country as a whole. But those days are long gone, and it’s reflected in the strategy of companies like Stuff, who are rapidly closing down or shrinking newspapers in their stable and going ‘digital first.’

For the country as a whole, TV news is hanging on, and in both graphs there are reasonable numbers for radio. This may be because they’re both mediums that allow consumers to do something else at the same time – driving for radio, or second-screening for TV, for example. One common conception is that the internet will kill legacy media formats. History shows that they never really die – just make room for a new entrant. The period of extreme growth for digital is likely over, and with it some of the extreme audience losses of legacy formats.

UPDATE: Based on feedback we’ve had on this so far, here’s the age demographics of the two groups who were part of the survey: 

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