Joyce gets it wrong, and all we see are the trees

So on Sunday morning Corin Dann interviewed Steven Joyce on Q+A, and asked for his views on their new poll results. Mr Joyce had clearly seen the report because he cited results that were in the body of it – results that had not yet been discussed by the Q+A panel.

Unfortunately, Mr Joyce either misread or misunderstood the results. When discussing the poll, which gauged public views on the Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson issues, Mr Joyce said (at about 4mins, 30secs):

It’s the Labour-Greens voters that say, ironically, it would change their vote. I’m not sure where they would change them to.

The question did not ask eligible voters if they’d change their vote. It asked whether these issues would be a factor in their voting decision. That’s a very different question. One is fairly blunt, and would need to be understood in the context of what party people would change their vote from and to. The other allows people to consider how important these issues are in relation to other issues.

However what was even more unfortunate was that some of those watching or reading the report seem to have accepted Mr Joyce’s misinterpretation. For example, see Stats Chat’s Change you can’t believe in.

I’m a bit gutted about this because I actually think the result shows us something quite interesting, when the question is read correctly, and when the result is considered alongside the other results in the same poll. I commented about this on Stats Chat.

Forgetting about party support for a moment, what we have is a situation where a large bunch of eligible voters think the whole ‘Judith Collins/Oravida/comments about a reporter’ thing is actually a fairly big deal – 42% think she should not remain a minister and 50% think these issues will have damaged National’s level of public support.

However, when asked if these issues would be a factor in their own voting decision, most say the issues won’t have much influence. Note that the question did not ask people if they would change their vote, it asked whether these issues would be one of the issues they would consider in their decision.* There are many other issues, of course, such as education, jobs, housing, child poverty, crime, and the list goes on.

What interesting things could we take from this combination of results?

I think what’s interesting is the results suggest that eligible voters can consider an issue to be a fairly serious one, but they may also be able to separate it from their overall assessment of a party. There are many things that may help this separation along – a person may quite like the Prime Minister, or may not yet see a viable alternative to National, or may simply see other issues as even more serious than this one.

So I don’t think the question is worthless. I actually think it helps to illustrate the complex nature of political preferences. I’m not sure your title ‘change you can’t believe in’ is really a fair reflection of the question that was asked.

*This is the reason why I’m not at all surprised that a higher number of Labour/Green supporters say it will be a factor in their decision. Like Megan, I see support for a political party as a continuous attitudinal variable. I think these issues may have helped to move some Labour/Green supporters further along the continuum in support of the Labour and Green parties.

As someone who conducts surveys and publishes the results fairly regularly, I’ve become accustomed to people misinterpreting or misunderstanding questions. Or, more commonly, overlooking what can be gained by contrasting responses to other related questions.

Sometimes, you don’t need to do lots of fancy sub-analyses, splits, or modelling to get insight from data. You just need to stand back, and think about what the results are telling you.


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