The accuracy and necessity of political polling with RANZ

This episode of our podcast was recorded after the Research Association New Zealand's AGM meeting, covering a panel about the accuracy and necessity of political polling in society. The discussion kicked off by framing the current political landscape, with an upcoming election in New Zealand and the national conversation surrounding it - including a recent article in the New Zealand Herald, which was used as a jumping off point to talk about the role of political polling.  

The panel members included:

  • Representing the pollsters: Founder of Curia Research. Pollster to Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders… David Farrar
  • Representing Academia: Deputy Director, Healthier Lives National Science Challenge. Associate Professor (Honorary), Department of Statistics | Waipapa Taumata Rau / The University of Auckland. Managing Director iNZight Analytics. And co-author of “Understanding Public Opinion Polling in New Zealand (May 2023)… Andrew Sporle 
  • Representing the Fourth Estate: With NZME, working on the BusinessDesk team's election coverage, focusing on political parties’ policies and plans to address issues facing New Zealand… Dileepa Fonseka
  • And representing the Research Association: Founder Baseline Consultancy. RANZ Life Member and RANZ Political Polling Spokesperson. Masters degree in Geography, graduating, in fact, at the same time as me with the same degree but with much better marks… Murray Campbell

The panel members addressed many questions during this in-depth discussion, including the Herald article’s claim that polls as they currently stand are not particularly accurate. They talk about the historical accuracy of the polls, diving into specific numbers and metrics to examine margins of error and the relevancy of the polls to the election outcomes. They touch on the multiple factors that can weigh into the accuracy of polls, including people who vote but don’t necessarily participate in polls and the influence of mainstream media on the polls. They also talk about the structure of voting itself and how it is evolving among generations and specific demographics. 

The discussion turns to ways to ensure representativity in polling, ensuring a diverse cross-section of voters, while also talking about the intrinsic possibility for error in polls. “It’s a challenging balancing job; acknowledging uncertainty and error beyond just pure random sampling error…we just want to get as accurate as we can.” Using examples from New Zealand and other countries, the panelists recount some of the challenges faced in the industry and answer the question “What can we do to increase the public's confidence in polls?”

They say that “Polling is really an essential element, not only in democracy, but also in terms of the good side of public research because it is putting information from the people back to the people.” This can be critical in certain nations that don’t have easy access to political information in the media. 


We invite you to listen in to hear some great examples of polling, both past and future, an analysis of voting habits, and a discussion of how to find greater accuracy in the polling process.

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