Why we shouldn’t get excited about the next preferred PM result

The next Colmar Brunton preferred Prime Minister result will generate a lot of interest – probably a few cheers from the opposition and kind folks at The Standard, and fairly cautious or defensive responses from some National Party supporters.

Here are my predictions:

  1. Bill English’s result will be lower than John Key’s current result of 36%.
  2. Andrew Little and/or Winston Peters’ results will increase, but probably not substantially (which one does or doesn’t increase could be interesting!)
  3. John Key will still feature strongly in the results for this question.
  4. Support will increase for Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges.

Reactions will include:

  • Folks on the left taking this as an indication ‘the tide is turning’, and support will soon swing to bring about a Labour/Green Government.
  • Questions over whether English was the right decision for National, and whether he can maintain National’s strong public support leading into the election.
  • People arguing that the voting public want John Key back!

Here’s why people need to calm the farm:

  • This question is asked in a completely open-ended way. Respondents could literally state anyone they like (including themselves, Kim Dotcom, and Gareth Morgan!).
  • Your average respondent doesn’t care about politics. Even under normal circumstances, around a quarter of respondents reply ‘don’t know’ when asked this question. Many people who mean ‘Bill English’ will say something along the lines of ‘that new National fellow, whats-his-name, Johnny English’ (assuming they’ve noticed the Prime Minister has changed at all).
  • John Key, as our our most well known politician and until recently Prime Minister, will come to mind more readily than ‘that new National fellow’ or the name of the current leader of the opposition ‘which seems to change all the time’.

You might wonder whether this question is even useful at all. It has its advantages and disadvantages. This particular one is useful because:

  • It provides context. It has been asked the same way for more than 20 years. There is value here. You can look back over time and, for example, compare Andrew Little’s result to Helen Clark’s prior to her becoming PM (see the two charts below that Colmar Brunton Tweeted last year).
  • Unlike similar questions that prompt respondents with the names of various party leaders, this approach has the potential to  identify any ‘Donald Trump’ type up-and-comers – it can verify their claims about how popular they are and ‘what the public really want’
  • It can signal who in each party the public might like to see in a leadership role.

If I had my way, I’d probably include this question in a poll, as well as some other prompted questions to measure leader favourability and perceptions of effectiveness. You only have so many interview minutes available though.



3 thoughts on “Why we shouldn’t get excited about the next preferred PM result

  1. Thanks for a great post, love reading your comments about polling.
    It always interests me watching these as a lot of the time they show me what percentage of people are paying attention to politics. (Old Leaders, retired MPs etc showing up)

    One thing annoyed me about the charts, and is something about Colmar poll charts in particular that annoys me, they use “polls” as the scale along the bottom, not the period of time, so makes some years longer than they should be on their charts.

    1. Thanks Jono. I have it on good authority that Colmar Brunton had a go at fixing that issue but the chart became corrupt, then the person doing it ran out of time 🙂

  2. Yeah, measures like net Favourability and Performance ratings seem to be at the core of UK pollsters’ Leader evaluations. Very little emphasis on Preferred PM (or any close proxy).

    Here, the only pollsters employing these measures seem to be Labour’s UMR (Favourability) and TV3’s Reid Research (Performance) … although I seem to remember that (the now apparently defunct) Herald-DigiPoll used to do a variation of the latter as well. Pity TV3 no longer make their (quite detailed) Leader Performance ratings publicly available.

    All 4 predictions seem pretty sound – particularly number (3) (Clark, of course, gave Goff a run for his money well after she’d left for the UN / same with Muldoon during Bolger’s early years as Nat Leader) – but (in terms of (1) – don’t entirely rule out English enjoying a brief honeymoon, remembering that Key is now rating below National support (even taking into account the fact that Preferred PM ratings include Don’t Knows while Party Support ratings don’t). Admittedly, though, it appears more likely that, despite his slowly diminishing personal support, Key is still single-handedly responsible for locking-in a portion of ‘swing-voters’ for National. How many will see English as a proxy for Key and (at least initially) support him out of loyalty to the Dear Departed Leader’s last wishes ?

    … I also don’t rule out Little / Peters remaining roughly where they are (partially negating (2)).

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