Friday, 10 August 2018

3. Poll Results and their Commentators

Poll Results and Comments

Election results."I see a man. No, a woman, in your life"

Colmar Brunton and most New Zealand political polls were remarkably accurate close to the 2014 election as this table from the National Business Review shows. The polls differed little from each other and were very close to the actual election results shown on the bottom line. Pn26

A month earlier, however, Colmar Brunton was not as accurate. It had Labour on 37% purportedly due to the “Jacinda Effect”, National on 44%, NZFirst on 10%, and the Greens on 4%, under the 5% threshold and out of the elections. A Stuff heading read “Green Party out of Parliament, Labour surges in new poll”.

One wonders whether polls improve as they get closer to elections.

Fiji polling in 2014
Fiji polling has not been as accurate. A Tebbutt poll held three weeks before the Fiji 2014 Election produced the heading “Fiji Election: Final pre-election poll shows a drop in support for Frank Bainmarma's Fiji First Party”.

Asked for preferred prime minister (the preferred political party question was not asked!) Bainimarama polled 49%, down from 60% a month earlier, and Ro Temumu polled 20%, up from 17%. The ABC stated that if the “results were translated into votes on election day … Bainimarama would have to form a coalition.”

And Fiji academic Professor Brij Lal from the Australian National University supported this view, saying “the (decline ) in the the poll results were not unexpected,... so a coalition government is very much on the cards ...with either SODELPA or with other minor parties which might win some seats”.

The actual election result, as shown in the table below, proved them all wrong.

FijiFirst won 59.2% of the votes; SODELPA 28.2% and NFP 5.%. No other party crossed the 5% threshold.

The main contenders in 2018

(Left-right) Voqere (Frank) Bainimarama FijiFirst, Ro Teimumu Kepu Social Democratic Liberal Pary (SODELPA), Dr Biman Prasad National Federation Party, Sitiveni Rabuka, Chairman SODELPA, and Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji Labour Party.

FijiSun/Razor poll results
It is exceedingly difficult to obtain a chronological view of poll results over time because the newspapers (and the FijiSun with its more frequent polls has created most problems) seldom reports results and comments in a consistent manner. While most times, reports show the results for the major parties, at other times the focus has been on preferred prime minister or the number of parliamentary seats won or lost. My “best effort” is shown in the table below.

FijiSun/Razor Poll Results (%)
Approximate polling dates


Fiji First Party

Social Democratic Liberal Party SODELPA









National Federation Party NFP
Fiji Labour Party FLP
Undecided (b)


a. See paragraph below. b. And minor parties.

I have been unable to obtain the poll results for some weeks. For example, the May 29 Sun's Battle for iTaukei Votes in Full Swing reported that SODELPA support “dropped 19 percent to 15 percent” compared with last week, and the FLP and FLP respectively increasing their support from 5.1 to 10% and 3.7 to 5%. No mention is made of FijiFirst support, other parties or the undecided – and the figures mentioned do not match those of the previous week.(See (a) in table). My efforts to obtain poll results from the Sun by email have so far not been successful.

The Sun put the assumed SODELPA drop by May 29 was put down to “internal divisions on a number of issues” and the appointment of iTaukei Pio Tikodudua as the President of the NFP that historically has obtained most of its votes from Indo-Fijians.

By July 21, however, SODELPA was seen to have “pulled away from the opposition pack” and the “National Federation Party … failed to live up to expectation”.

Weekly changes in poll proportions, which have been rarely statistically significant, do not merit these conclusions.

The Sun's political leaning was also reflected in another poll question that week on whether people thought Opposition parties were using race and religion in their campaigns. Most (60%) said yes, 21% no, and 19% were unsure. I wonder whether those interviewed were also asked what FijiFirst was using in its campaign?

By August 3 the Sun's Nemani Delaibatiki had revised his position. He claimed the NFP was “rebuilding” and could hold “the balance of power” NFP leader Biman Prasad took this up saying he could become the “Winston Peters of Fiji.” 

This view echoed the “coalition” prediction – which proved to be very wide of the mark – made by Brij Lal before the 2014 election. Delaibatiki, however, noted Prasad was calling for an election now because it appears .support s slipping away from their grasp.”  I'm left wondering whether the NFP is holding or slipping.

Overstatements and using polls for political end
Political parties everywhere seek to divide their opposition with talk of internal divisions, leadership rivalry, and possible coalition arrangements. Fiji is no exception.

Opinions based on poll results include the Sun's May 12 ….
Kepa grabs lead from Rabuka. She scored 12% leaving “Rabuka trailing (sic!)” at 11 percent” – a one percent difference. It went on to stoke the fires with ”While there have been unity moves … the gap between the Ro Teimumu camp and Mr Rabuka's camp is widening.

If they are, it will certainly help Fiji First.

Yet another example of overstated media statements, based this time on the Tebbutt poll, was February's Fiji Times release stating that Charismatic local celebrity Lenora Qereqeretabua (NFP) had 'soared' in the preferred prime minister stakes” --- from one to three percent!
The NFP candidate's support compared with NFP leader Biman Prasad's 2%, Bainimarama's 64% and Rabuka's 23%.Soar away!

Tebbutt polls
A later Tebbutt poll showed her on 8% of possible women prime ministers, well behind SODELPA's Ro Teimumu on 49%, Lynda Tabuya on 14%, and FijiFirst's Rosy Akbar on 13%.

These statements followed on from a Tebbutt poll in March that showed 70% of those polled said Fiii is ready for woman prime minister, and Prof Ratuva thought “Fiji might (have one) after this year's general election.”

Comments by both papers often amount to unsupported hypebole. In March Fiji Sun /Razor poll, reported a “week of political dynamism” with Rabuka and Ro Teimumu “neck and neck” on 11%. A week earlier Rabuka had been on 20% but Ro Teimuma's 5% was due to her candidacy being uncertain. All that had happened in the week of dynamism was her confirmed candidacy. Nothing had really changed.

Some interesting deductions have also been made by academics. For example, a 5-8 February Tebbutt poll led Fiji academic Professor Steven Ratuva, Director of the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at Canterbury University, to conclude the forthcoming election will be a close contest.

The poll showed FijiFirst at 32% down from 37% a year earlier, SODELPA at 22%, NFP at 3%, 1% for FLP and a very large 34% undecided, down from 40% a year earlier.

Ratuva put aside the undecided and from those who had stated a party preference he concluded FijiFirst would win 56%, SODELPA 38% and NFP 5% which would give FijiFirst only 16 parliamentary seats while the opposition parties would have 13 seats, leaving 21 seats to be filled by the undecided. If a high proportion of the undecided do not vote FijiFirst, Ratuva thinks the election will result in a coalition government. Prof Brij Lal said this about the 2014 election, and he was shown to be very wrong.

The large undecided vote is worrying and its causes are far from clear. They have remained between 35-40% for a year. But this kind of statistical adjustment and speculation does not make things clearer.

Nilesh Gounder USP economist Dr Nilesh Gounder, reported in the FijiTimes1 says the February Tebbutt poll shows Fiji First support at an “all time low” but notes support for Bainimarama as PM rose by over 20%. He  concluded that there was a clear “delink” between the preferred party and preferred PM polls. He could be right if Tebbutt polls are reasonably accurate on both types of poll.  But the FijiSun/Razor polls show no delinking.

Comment from politicians and the street
Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka commenting on Tebbutt polls that suggest a decline in the vote for FijiFirst says the polls show a “paradigm shift” while FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry says “people are looking for a more dynamic leader (than Bainimarama) “with a clear vision for Fiji.” Both claim the polls support their opinions.

Street opinion on the polls include these from FirstFirst opponents:

There's something wrong with the polls or the people are dumb“
The polls could be right. The people are blindfolded.”
People are distracted by rugby...”
The vibe on the street is that people want change. You can almost feel the tension in the air”
I know people who voted FijiFirst but will change their vote this time”
Democracy is dead as shown by the poll results””

  • The Fiji population is very diverse making accurate sample polls difficult.
  • While the Tebbutt poll methodology is generally better than the Razor polls, it also is far from perfect. And a better methodology does not necessarily produce more accurate results.
  • The FijiSun/Razor and FijiTimes/Tebbutt polls often often arrive at very different conclusions, probably due to differing methodology and political leaning.
  • The large undecided vote on the Tebbutt polls is a matter of concern but its causes are probably multiple, and discussion on its causes purely speculative.
  • Few of the results are statistically significant.
  • Few informed conclusions can be made on the results. Opinions are fine, but they are not necessarily facts.
Finally, it would be interesting to know if polls actually influence people's voting behaviour. An obvious answer is that there would be no polls unless someone thought they did, though some pollsters would argue they only seek to measure opinion, not to influence it, 

Overseas research has shown that political polls can influence public opinion, especially among the truly undecided or when there has been a new “cataclysmic” event. They have also been shown to lead to tactical voting, going along with the majority, or changing sides to be more acceptable, Minority parties are most likely to be affected.

There has been no research in Fiji on the influence of polls but my work on Fiji political blogs2 concluded that most people read and supported blogs that “confirmed their predispositions.” I think this is also likely  for polls.

All political polls ask people what they think of government. Putting the boot on the other foot, it would be pleasing to see government polls which ask the people what they think. 

Government's present use of walkabouts, consultations, commissions and standing committees fails all tests on random representative sampling!

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