Jan 13, 2008

Peter Neilson Opinion Piece Raises Many Questions

The Herald on Sunday is today running an opinion piece by the CEO of the New Zealand business Council for Sustainable Development. We are disturbed that this article was accepted by the HOS. Was it actually sanctioned by the members of this organisation? Is it the official view of the members or is it an article written to express the personal views of Mr Neilson? There are no answers to these important questions in the article.

Most disturbing, however, is the fact that the content is sharing the results of "new polling". This apparently "shows some fascinating coalition and policy combinations are possible this year".

No where in the article are we told who did the research, what methodology was used, what the survey sample was, what the margin or error is etc. this is essential information the results of this "new polling" is to have any meaning. If for example, the poll was taken from a survey controlled by the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development (an organisation that is by definition slightly green leaning), it would be no wonder to find that it found"among all voters, Green is the most-favoured coalition partner for National and Labour, so a betting person would say John Key will need to stitch up a deal with the Greens". Indeed this is the conclusion and a large part of the theme for the article.

The HOS has done New Zealand a disservice by allowing this article to be run today. The editorial team can do better.

The Hive would be interested in some real experts on opinion polling (such as David Farrar) analysing this and other survey work that has been undertaken and published by Peter Neilson.

Update: Kiwiblog has done an analysis on this issue.

This concludes:

"However ShapeNZ works only the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, as they are part of it.

And here is the problem - you probably have a self-selecting sample. Those who are interested in green, environmental and sustainable issues are not the same as the total population. Hence it is no surprise that a majority of respondents would pick the Greens as the most favoured coalition partner for National.

Now ShapeNZ probably does its best to mitigate by, for example, balancing the sample based on party vote. So they may have a sample which is 40% Labour, 38% National etc so they can say it is the same proportion as the last election.

The problem with this though, is that not all National voters are the same. There are “green” National voters and (for example) National voters who think climate change is vastly exaggerated. And the ShapeNZ survey probably only captured “green” National voters as the other sort would probably never have been visiting their website.

So overall I would be very suspicious of the poll results Peter Neilsen refers to. Of course this is based on assumptions because he hasn’t said where these results come from. Ideally he should make the full results public so they can be judged in context, rather than just refer to “polling”."