NZ pollsters discuss best practice as MP calls for poll ban
NEW ZEALAND— Researchers have met to discuss formulating a new code of best practice to help improve media reporting of voting intention polls amid calls for a ban on the surveys in the run-up to elections.
The meeting, held by the Association of Market Research Organisations (AMRO), coincided with a call from the New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters for pollsters to voluntarily agree to stop carrying out polls in the four weeks before an election “because of the way they distort the political process”.
Peters said: “We know through research that about eight per cent of people don’t bother to vote at an election because of what the political polls tell them. We also know that since the 1996 election, even polls from respectable companies have been wildly incorrect.
“If you put these two facts together then you have an industry that is directly influencing who runs the country. That is not the role of pollsters. It’s for voters to decide.”
Peters also criticised the media for the way they “skew” survey results. Addressing the same issue at the AMRO meeting, pollster Murray Campbell said: “It is important given the influence a poll can have on public opinion that those who are reporting results are aware of what constitutes an accurate poll, and what information should be conveyed to the public.”
AMRO has suggested guidelines for the media on how to cover the results of a poll. It suggests identifying whether a survey is formal or informal, who conducted the fieldwork, details on the sample size and margin of error, the source of respondents and explaining how uncommitted voters are analysed.
A number of countries seek to minimise the risks of polls influencing voting behaviour by restricting the publication of results for periods ranging from one to 30 days. However in recent years the effectiveness of such bans have been called into question as widespread internet access easily allows citizens of one country to check foreign media outlets for the latest poll results.
Social media also brings with it a different set of challenges for election officials looking to prevent the dissemination of voting intention surveys and exit polls. In France, where media outlets are banned from reporting early voting results on election days, social media users had been threatened with fines for breaching the rules – but to little effect, as this Mashable article shows.