How will we cope as we head towards a drought of polls….?

Politicians like to say the only poll that counts for them is the one that takes place on Election Day. Voters in New Zealand would appear to feel the same way.

When it comes to the other kind of election polls – the ones that so dominated the related news coverage of the last seven weeks – their actual relevance to the contest seems to have been inversely proportional to the attention they received.

David Lange famously likened the economy his new government inherited in 1984 to a Polish shipyard. Thirty-three years on, the spectre is a bit more that of a poll-ish train wreck.

Polls just feed media.  It generates publishable information, speculation and opinion.

Overseas, the BBC imposes an impressive number of restraints on itself when reporting the findings of opinion polls, even on the ones the broadcaster commissions.

It will not lead a news bulletin or programme simply with the results of an opinion poll, nor headline the results of an opinion poll unless it has prompted a story which itself deserves a headline and reference to the poll’s findings is necessary to make sense of it.

“We should normally report the findings of opinion polls in the context of trend and must always do so when reporting voting intention polls,” its editorial guidelines read.

“The trend may consist of the results of all major polls over a period or may be limited to the change in a single pollster’s findings. Poll results which defy trends without convincing explanation should be treated with particular care.”

In other words, a crucial prerequisite is to view most of these political polling exercises with about the same weight as an uncertain September breeze.

The fact that parties pay for their own internal polling shows they do feel it has value to stick a finger in the air and get a sense of the issues as well as the trends.

But the media-driven ones are purely for entertainment.  Sometimes they are close enough, frequently they are nothing but a waste of time and money.

Still, as pundits, we treat just about each one as if it was an election result by itself.




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