Dodgy News Limited survey

A story asserts

“Australians would re-elect Prime Minister John Howard in a landslide if votes were cast purely on policy – not personality or party loyalty – according to the first results from a “blind voting” tool developed by”

Almost 35,200 of the 72,300 participants who have completed the Vote-a-matic were matched with the Coalition, compared with 28,700 participants who were identified as a fit with Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party.

A further 6700 participants have been matched with the Democrats, while around 1700 went to the Greens and 175 to Family First.

The trends in results are a reversal of findings in the authoritative political polls which indicate the Coalition could face catastrophic defeat in the election, due to be held before the end of the year.

This is not even close to true. Firstly, the results come from an on-line survey and are not representative of the electorate. Secondly, because of the way the tool works, the results don’t even represent the policy preferences of those that take it.

To see why, look at the questions in the “Leaders” section:

(1) Who do you spend the most time talking to at parties?

A. Someone you’re familiar with (Coalition 1 point)
B. Someone new (Labor 1 point)
C. Someone with the same interests
D. That friend you’ve lost touch with (Democrats 1 point)

It’s not a good question in any case, since it’s about parties rather than what you want in a Prime Minister, but the scoring is biased against the Greens and Family First — there is no way they can get any points, no matter what you answer.

(2) The most important thing in a prime minister right now is…

A. Experience and a strong track record (Coalition 3 points)
B. Important friends (Coalition 1 point)
C. A fresh approach (Labor 2 points)
D. The Dalai Lama on speed dial (Greens 1 point, Democrats 1 point)

This one is even worse — the Greens and Democrats only get points from the joke answer, two of the answers give points to the Coalition, and only the Coalition and Labor can get more than one point from this question. And even if Family First’s policies perfectly match your preferences, this question gives points to some other party.

The scoring on the other questions is similarly strongly biased against the minor parties and somewhat biased in favour of the Coalition. It may be that voters prefer the Colition policies, but this survey is useless as a guide to voter’s preferences.

Also unimpressed with the survey are Phil Gomes, Jeremy Sear, and Tim Hollo, while Bryan Palmer has a much better test that matches you with a political party.


  1. #1 Lachlan Kiel
    October 11, 2007

    The byline is “by staff writers”.

    No-one willing to put their names to this?

  2. #2 Jc
    October 11, 2007

    Come on Tim, be fair here:-)
    The assumptionthe question is based on is reasonable. Who in their right mind would want to spend a night out with a Greens or Dems supporter?

    I would rather have pancreatic cancer (for short and temporary time only )if I was to spend face time with Bob Brownshirt or Kerry Kettle (australian Greens Bob Brown, kerry Nettle)

    To our American cousins: Don’t think the Australian Green Party’s leadership in any way resembles Ralph Nadar who even if you dislike his policies you at least can admire the man’s qualities and integrity.

    When you think of our Green Party leader think Harry Read but without the charisma. Yea, I know what you’re thinking. You never thought it was possible, but it is.

  3. #3 Tim Hollo
    October 11, 2007

    Thanks for the link, Tim. Nice work on quantifying the data – I hadn’t even bothered…

  4. #4 hc
    October 12, 2007

    A delightful story that one suspects was written with a certain amount of ‘tongue in cheek’.

    Voting for the Labor Party as a cognitive error. No wonder you lefties are getting in a stew about the whole thing.

    The truth underlying the story is that on major policies the two parties are very similar. Howard is being rejected for non-policy reasons. The Australian public are committing something approximating a massive cognitive error.

  5. #5 sjk
    October 12, 2007

    hc, this one is over.

    workchoices is going to kill off the coalition for very obvious and very understandable reasons.

    The australian people aren’t as stupid as the tories think they are.

  6. #6 Tim Lambert
    October 12, 2007

    hc, could you explain why you think it is a cognitive error for voters to consider reasons other than the stated policies of the parties when voting? For example, why don’t you think trustworthiness should enter into their decisions?

  7. #7 Jeremy
    October 12, 2007


    How can people put their trust in an organisation willing to sink so low? How can they believe a word News Ltd prints?

  8. #8 hc
    October 12, 2007

    If you assume policies will be introduced then you should select parties in accord with their policies. It is less than ideal if you reject a candidate because his eyelashes are too bushy or because he looks like Mr Magoo.

    If you advance a policy then you associate with that policy a probability that it will be introduced. It is a package. If you are suggesting that Kevin Rudd’s ‘me-tooism’ conveys a greater sense of honesty and integrity than his opponents then, Tim, you are compounding one cognitive error with one that suggests gullibility.

    Of course motives and all the fanatical left-wing hatred directed at Howard over the years mean absolutely nothing. Just a substitute for thinking.

  9. #9 Tim Lambert
    October 12, 2007

    hc, it is beyond silly for you to suggest that voters are turning off Howard because of his appearance, since they re-elected him the last few elections and his appearance hasn’t changed.

    I agree that voters are likely to evaluate things based on the package of policy plus probability of it being enacted, but that just shows why asking them to choose just on the policy without the attached probability might give a different answer. For example, Labor and the Coalition’s policies on climate change are very similar, but given all the global warming denialism in the Coalition and the Coalition’s track record of denial and delay, voters might reasonably conclude that Labor would be more likely to carry out their policy.

    And as you have conceded, there is little between the parties on policies, so there doesn’t seem to be anything irrational about making a choice on other grounds. If voters want to replace Howard because they are sick of him, that is no more a mistake than my deleting a song I am sick of listening to from my iPod so that I have room for a new one.

  10. #10 Lucy
    October 12, 2007

    Yesterday I decided this “survey” was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen, for all the reasons listed above. Unfortunately I don’t expect it to retain that title through the election campaign. But for now: kudos, News Ltd!

  11. #11 hc
    October 12, 2007

    If what you say is true I am delighted. We will elect a clone of John Howard who will seek to implement John Howard’s policies.

    But a difference is clearly experience and reliability. With unemployment at its lowest level for 33 years, inflation accelerating to a mighty 2.8% next year and rapid economic growth it seems to me that substituting the unknown and unproven is a dangerous choice if you think the optimal policy mix is more of the same. It only makes sense if you believe there are strong policy differences that you prefer.

  12. #12 Robs
    October 12, 2007

    Yup, very biased. It was blindingly obvious when I did it that something was odd!

    I’m very left wing, and it put me middle/left ::: No where near it!

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