Poll driven fruit cakes

Tracy Watkins has a very good article in today’s Dompost about the subterfuge that political parties will go through to find out how you are thinking.

There was a time when the ultimate political put-down was to call your rival a poll-driven fruit cake, the phrase coined by former prime minister David Lange. You don’t hear it much these days. It’s a pot, kettle thing.

There isn’t a nook or cranny of Parliament that isn’t inhabited by poll-driven fruit cakes. Finding ways to gauge what you or I think about any given issue is what politicians do now in lieu of playing pool, propping up the bar and smoking cigarettes.

Both National and Labour are certainly poll-driven fruit-cakes. Helen Clark focus grouped everything, John Key and Steven Joyce do the same.

The pity is that politics has become cerebral rather that guts. The left-wing dominate in cerebral politics, though they have had some goo gut -feel politicians. The last though were Lange and Mike Moore. Trevor Mallard would be a gut-feel politician but he has an anger problem which clouds his judgment.

These days they have many more insidious and intrusive ways of gauging public opinion than the old-fashioned method of hiring a polling company to phone you during your dinner and ask if you have 40 minutes to answer “a few” questions.

There is still plenty of phone polling being done  and of an increasingly sophisticated nature  but at least you have the option of slamming down the phone after shouting some obscenities.

Polling is still the most effective way to gauge support, luckily the politicians have excluded that from any scrutiny by hiding it inside Parliamentary Services. When Labour had money they used UMR, I wonder if they have started up their own polling company like they used to have and if they are running it from parliament like they used to. Their dramatic shortage of money may mean they are doing just that.

They do have other ways of connecting though.

Other methods are used by political parties to discover what presses your buttons and the odds are that you won’t even realise you’ve just been probed.

The recent security breach of Labour’s website lifted a corner of the curtain into some of these ways. Blogger Cameron Slater, aka Whaleoil, revealed that Labour had effectively left the door open to its website and was able to download 18,000 names of donors and people whose names Labour had entered on to a database.

It turned out many of those email addresses were unwittingly supplied by people who had no idea that their details were destined for a Labour Party database. That was because they responded to a postcard campaign run by the teachers’ union the NZEI that was supposedly destined for Prime Minister John Key’s desk.

Instead, those postcards ended up in the hands of Labour MP Sue Moroney  and their names were loaded on to the party’s database.
Anecdotally, it has sparked many dozens of angry phone calls.

I hope it has sparked some complaints to the Privacy Commissioner. Labour were caught red-handed and they are still to explain properly their illegal activities.

The explanation from Labour and the NZEI as to why this happened seems pretty flimsy; in an age where lists of names and email addresses can be traded and haggled over for significant sums of money it’s not too big a stretch to assume that one of the intended spin-offs of the campaign was to expand Labour’s database.

How many of the myriad other Facebook campaigns, blogs, petitions and single-issue lobby groups with web pages that require you to register and sign in are used to harvest your email address for similar political purposes?

Who knows. But you can bet the answer is “plenty”. There are other more upfront ways of electronic campaigning. These days most politicians will tweet. Those who haven’t managed to find any other form of gainful employment for themselves after nearly three years in Parliament seem to be the most enthusiastic adopters.

Ouch… nice stab by Watkins on Mallard, Henare and Curran. I think she is perhaps being a bit harsh on Clare because she is doing some good work in the communications sector and even maybe Trevor, he is crippled after all and so must do something to fill the time when he is not chasing skirt like he normally does. He does seem to have some competition from David Parker though who is working his way through the caucus.

On a more concerning note, it is how politicians use our email addresses to tailor their campaign messages that we should all be questioning.

For instance, Labour’s IT programs allow it to track what happens to emails once they are delivered to people on their database. They know whether you opened the email or deleted it without getting past the subject field, and whether you forwarded it to anyone else.

You are being polled by email, in other words, and you don’t even know it. If only 5 per cent of emails are opened then the party knows it is on to a dud and it will go back to the drawing board on how to better tailor the message. If 80 per cent of emails are opened then it knows it is on to a winner.

Labour has been quietly confident for months that its programme to stop asset sales struck a chord with voters and that is probably one of the reasons why.

Yes they were confident, that is until I busted their systems wide open. There is plenty more to come too BTW, I’m just biding my time.

The only notable thing about the incident is that the database became publicly available through sloppy IT procedures  not that it existed. It’s a sure bet that National also has a database with names garnered from campaigns that are not obviously email-harvesting exercises.

In fact, National has Labour’s database for good measure as well. National’s explanation is that it was just seeing if it could download the material after learning about the security flaw exposed by Slater  but now that it has the database it refuses to destroy it, ostensibly because it needs to take legal advice first.

This is the first I have heard of this, but it makes sense. There is plenty in the files and it takes a huge amount of time to go through it all. If I was National I would have kept it too. Of course there are my several copies in existence around the globe and on a few Ironkey’s.

The point about Whaleleaks was though, that Labour placed a heavy reliance on IT, Social Media and email systems and that avenue has now largely been busted for them.

The rest of Tracy’s article focuses on polling and messaging in and around the issue in Christchurch. I will cover that in a separate post tomorrow.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.