QOTD: Herald Insights on NZ voting patterns

Credit where credit’s due, some great work is coming out of the NZ Herald’s Insights data site, like this interactive exploration of how different groups in NZ vote. But there’s a lot more to it than you might think on the surface:

  • Best predictors for National voters are places with high proportion of people from European ethnicity.
  • In a Labour versus Greens contest, places with higher proportion of educated voters are more likely to vote for Greens.

A comparison between different parties allows readers to see the shift in voting patterns for different population characteristics.

However, it is not possible to infer voting patterns for individuals using this analysis.

Even considering the social patterns, such as higher proportion of European ethnicity, it is useful to consider whether it is the ethnicity or living in a less diverse neighbourhood that has the impact on voting patterns.

[Edited slightly in solidarity with lost subeditors]

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “Pasifika people all vote Labour” or “small business owners all vote National” or “this person is a middle-aged white male tradie, he’ll be really conservative”. We have to go a lot deeper, and consider each individual’s place in their community, to understand why they vote the way they do.

Go check out the whole thing!

Charging for OIAs

A number of journos on Twitter have started highlighting the somewhat ridiculous amounts of money they’re being quoted by government departments and DHBs to fulfil requests made under the Official Information Act. The Spinoff had a hilarious take on it.

Apparently this is permissible under the Official Information Act – though the Act itself probably needs an update to deal with the realities of email and OIA-requests-via-Twitter.

But I started pondering if this shows a worrying disconnect between some parts of the public service and the people they theoretically work for – no, not Cabinet Ministers. From my Twitter musings on the topic:

The charging-for-OIAs issue highlights a fundamental disconnect: govt agencies don’t think it’s part of their job to provide information.

So it makes perfect sense to them: finding and collating info for journalists and citizens is additional, and has not been budgeted for.

Whereas journalists and citizens have this odd belief that there’s a basic obligation of transparency and open info from our govt.

Therefore it is baffling and a little scary that our govt agencies want to charge us for access to information which is ours by right.

It would be great to see some real political movement on this. The difficulty is it’s easy enough to demand open and transparent government when you’re in Opposition – and much harder to hold the line once you’re the one in the Beehive trying to govern a country and not look like an utter prat.

But why listen to me on the subject when the canonical text has been around for 36 years?

The line between political activist and commentator

Owen Jones wrote a great piece the day before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the UK Labour Party, reflecting on his own role and how people’s perceptions of his writing might be affected if Corbyn won.

It was never my intention or ambition to become a writer. … All I’m interested in is reaching people with political ideas that are otherwise banished. Obviously, the role of any individual in political change is limited and modest. I’ve spent the last few years trying to contribute to rebuilding an alternative politics, and unashamedly so. I see myself as an equal to any other activist: we’re all trying to achieve political change and contribute in different ways.

That makes my relationship with the mainstream media pretty difficult and conflicted. … Choose your metaphor or simile: but it feels like swimming against an extremely strong tide, without getting out the world’s smallest violin (oops, another one).

The point I’d make is this. I make my opinions and biases abundantly clear. But there are news journalists who are as opinionated as me, but pretend to be impartial. Indeed news and opinion are extremely blurred in this country. It is often possible to read through a news article about British politics and have a fair guess at the political convictions of the writer. As for the mainstream press as a whole — while, it serves as a very sophisticated de facto political lobbying operation, overwhelmingly promoting the cause of right-wing politics.

Go read the whole thing, it’s excellent.

It obviously gave me a bit of pause for thought. I don’t have anything like Jones’ reach or platform (no paid media gigs is a significant one) and I don’t think I’m anywhere near his level. But I am a party activist. I was fairly closely involved in Andrew Little’s campaign for the Labour leadership (enough so, and proud enough of my work, to stick it on my LinkedIn page like a total nerd, prompting a few interesting “who’s viewed your profile” results.) I work for the biggest Labour affiliate union, and blog in my free time on a clear understanding I am expressing my personal opinions.

There are plenty of other people in the NZ political blogosphere and commentariat who wander back and forth across the pundit/activist lines. Many, unfortunately, don’t draw clear lines about when they’re acting as one or the other – and that goes for people on the left as well as the right. And many, I believe, don’t reflect Jones’ commitment to only put in print what he would say behind closed doors anyway.

I can tell you I’m happy to make that commitment. I may choose to comment or not to comment on different issues, but when I comment, you’re getting my opinion on the matter. (Of course, if you already think I’m a party hack regurgitating Head Office’s key messages you aren’t going to believe me, but that’s up to you.)

I have an agenda, just like Owen Jones and just like anyone else who believes passionately in their politics. I want to see “my side” succeed. But a pillar of my ideology is that democracy is the bedrock of our society, and for democracy to function properly it needs an informed, aware electorate.

If we start telling voters what we think they want to hear, in order to gain power at any cost, we don’t deserve power. The other side don’t deserve power either, but I’m not willing to destroy everything that makes our movement worthwhile to get them out. What precisely would we achieve then? The same cold-hearted value-free government with a different arrangement of faces on the front bench.

Words are my tool. I love to write and express my political beliefs through writing. Sometimes that’ll be within the Party of which I’m currently a member. Sometimes that’ll be here. Usually it’ll be on Twitter.

I do work in communications, and I haven’t always worked for employers whose policies or processes I agreed with. And yeah, in those instances I’ve given advice on how to communicate their terrible policy or process best, if that was my job. But when I tell you something is my opinion, you can believe it, and you can believe I will say it to anyone behind closed doors who wants to listen.

If someone wanted to pay me to say it in a major newspaper I’d be down with that too …

freddie mercury wink

Brent Edwards takes a bow

It seems thoroughly unfair that hot on the heels of losing Dita de Boni from our political commentariat, we’re saying goodbye to Brent Edwards as political editor at Radio New Zealand.

the craft crying

But it’s not all bad news – he’s moving to the position of director of news gathering at Radio NZ. He and Mary Wilson, who’s moving to director of news programming, should make one hell of a team.

So here’s his sign-off. It should probably be required reading for #nzpol nerds.

… with ministerial press secretaries and political advisers on their case, public servants increasingly appear to consider the political implications of anything they do, including when it comes to releasing what should be publicly available information.

Couple that with the rise of political spin, a practice adopted widely around the world, and politicians’ natural aversion to speaking in a straightforward manner it is little wonder the political debate has become less and less relevant.

Politics has become a profession and now politicians are judged by how they practise their profession.

While that might be good for politics, it is not necessarily good for democracy.