The print media has let down its readers today with poor coverage of the last polls. At odds with their reputation, it's the blogs which are offering the superior journalism on the last day of the campaign

As you probably know, Pundit is only six weeks old and I've spent most of my journalistic career in the print media. It's been fascinating for me to join the web community this election, no more so than this morning.

The day before the election, this is a striking difference between how the newspapers and the websites are covering the last minute round of polls. Frankly, I'm unimpressed by the newspapers and their poor reportage of today's political realities. If media-watchers and political junkies are wondering what difference blogs are making, today they have their story.

The newspapers this morning are speaking as one. Under headlines such as Time for Change and Final polls give it to Key, the metro dailies are giving the impression that National is comfortably set to lead the next government. Whether they are blinded by the marketing-driven need to push only their own poll, whether they still somehow fail to comprehend MMP, or whether the right-wing bias of Mahogany Row is being exposed, I don't know. But it's poor analysis.

Yes, there is a solid trend in support for National, but only at 47-48%. If National's support fell to 45-46% (and those voters went to the left, rather than ACT), the picture would change markedly. There's every chance the momentum is with National and it could yet "canter" to victory, as the ODT over-excitedly claimed this morning. But that's not what the polls are telling us, not when it comes to support for the centre-right and centre-left blocs. Then there are a New Zealand First and Maori Party variables. It's much closer and harder to predict than the newspapers would have you believe.

What's fascinating, is that the blogs are reporting the polls with a much more sophisticated eye and, in contrast to their reputation for journalistic looseness, with much more consideration and caution.

Whale Oil gets a bit carried away, saying "it's all over for Labour". But then with a headline like yesterday's "Vote for Labour the Party of Rapists", it's living down to every nasty-blogger cliche.

Kiwiblog is more measured:

Whether or not there is a clear result, will depend on turnout primarily. If people want a change of Government you have to go vote for it.

Matthew Hooton gets is: Still, it is incredibly close, even if the newspapers don’t seem to fully understand that, even at this late stage.  A few points from National to Labour and if NZ First gets up then a Clark/Peters/Anderton/Green/Maori Government is on.

The left-leaning blogs obviously have the incentive of desperate hope to encourage their line than it's closer than it looks. The Standard says:

National’s bloc is ahead in all of them but only by a nose in most. You have to remember that the polls generally give the Right a couple of percent extra; a shift of Right -2 and Left +2 would make all the difference.

Martyn Bradbury at Tumeke – friend of the site – agrees:

Folks, this election is down to the wire. There are some of our friends on the right who in their excitement are screaming that they are winning an Obama-esk landslide, bless ‘em... I think the reality is that there is a much tighter election ahead and that the possibility of Labour voters in Rimutaka in Winston’s Plan D to help support Ron Mark as an electoral candidate could change things, the historic fact that the Polls have been overblown and Labour Party representation underplayed and National’s lead over represented, and the Labour ‘machine’ on election day has a much better organizational ability than National’s...

Russell Brown at Public Address takes a more moderate, but similar line:

It is not a done deal, and the change could happen in a number of ways, but the odds are certainly with change.

In fact, Russell's campaign wrap-up piece is a fine effort at a first draft of history. It's well worth a read.

The point, I should stress, is not what actually happens tomorrow; the point is how well the respective media are reading the data they have to hand. For me, the bloggers have won this one hands' down and proved their worth today.

Why do I think media should be reporting a close race, rather than a comforable National win? There are a few reasons beyond the numbers themselves. Well within the polls' margins of error, the election result and style of government we have could change dramatically. The percentages are close enough that turnout will have a significant influence. The number of voters missed by phone pollsters because of changing technology is growing. And with an estimated ten percent of voters not choosing who to vote for until the last minute, there's huge potential for gut-inspired volatility.

So be wary of bold predictions today, and go to the polls tomorrow determined to vote on the policies you want to see implemented in this wonderful country of ours.

 

Comments (2)

by Ian MacKay on November 07, 2008
Ian MacKay

Russell Brown's write up is like yours good stuff; balanced and reasoned. Many of the issues have been discussed well on the blogs and I have read the papers less and less. Maybe a sign of the times and the dying of papers when I can get up-to date information and opinions quicker and more on-line.  Thanks for your efforts Tim and friends.

by Hardcentre on November 07, 2008
Hardcentre

I can't bring myself to get as worked up over coverage, print or any other, given the circumstances that they all work under. TV, Radio, and Daily print all have to return a profit to their shareholders. This is maximised by maximising their viewer/reader base thereby demanding a larger fee from their advertisers. This is easiest to achieve by NOT getting bogged down in the detail too much; by not looking too far beyond the sensational and by keeping it a level any 8 year old can quickly understand. 

The one major point that all reporting of polls has missed is that when we vote we vote for a PARLIAMENT, not a Government. Under MMP it's a proportional but not immediately satisfying result (remember 1996!?)

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