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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Referendum negativity

Someone wanted to sign the petition the other day and I had problems explaining the wording:

Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?

I agreed with them that the wording asks the person who supports keeping assets to cast a negative vote against the question and that this is counter-intuitive. This person was not going to sign until they understood - and I don't blame them for seeking clarification - after all the logo says "keep our assets" but the question is termed as supporting the sale.  This wording is far from ideal and I'm surprised it was put this way. Perhaps there was an element of cynicism that a right winger supporting privatisation would also vote 'No' because they want more than 49% sold? For whatever reason, and despite the exemplary brevity, the text is lacking.

If you want people to support something you would be better off asking them to vote positively in favour of the proposition rather than against it.  There must be reasons for the wording (like the difficulty of adequately representing the status of the already partially privatised and publicly listed Air NZ on the same basis as the wholly-owned state companies), but it looks like a basic error to have gone negative.

I suggest the following wording may improve the question:

Do you support the Government keeping full ownership of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and retaining all the Government held shareholding in Air New Zealand?

That's certainly more positive and a bit clearer than confusing people by mentioning percentages and defining the question purely in terms of National's specific programme (which people may not know and do not need to know to exercise an opinion).

And as for whingeing from the right about the use of parliamentary service funding for the referendum: considering some of the campaign rorts that are acceptable under the parliamentary service rules the advocacy for a democratic measure like a petition for a referendum does not appear inconsistent with that sort of funding.

Keep Our Assets Facebook page.


At 31/5/12 1:29 pm, Blogger Graeme Edgeler said...

The Parliamentary Spending rules were deliberately written to allow the spending of money on seeking signatures for CIR petitions.

At 31/5/12 9:47 pm, Blogger Alex said...

Well I'm glad the question is slanted against keeping the assets. That way, when the Keep our Assets coalition win the referendum, it will be completely and utterly obvious what the will of the nation is.

Compare this to the infamous 'light smack' referendum. The results to that referendum were only ever going to agree with the question. This is different, as it requires people to make a clear statement of what they think the Govt should do.

At 31/5/12 10:55 pm, Blogger Pale Fire said...

I also wonder whether merging Air NZ with the energy companies is wise. They seem to belong to different categories of urgency, and certainly some people I've talked to (whether you agree or not) are a lot more ambivalent about losing control of Air NZ than the energy companies...

At 1/6/12 7:04 am, Blogger Shaun Hotchkiss said...

It's very head when asking a question like this not to lead the neutral responder. For a petition it is fine because you're only getting those with an active interest sharing their opinion. However, for a referendum it is very delicate. The question has to be as neutral as possible, or people without much interest in the issue will vote for whatever sounds the most positive.

If you just want a yes vote on the question, then fine you can deliberately ask a leading question, but then nobody will care what the result is (like the smacking/"good parenting" referendum). So, when framing this question it is not sensible to be thinking "I want people to support this cause, how should I phrase this referendum question" because then your question won't be neutral. You should instead be thinking "I want someone who is undecided on this cause to also be undecided on their response to the referendum question".

I don't think this would be the case for your suggested question. Someone undecided would just think "Oh yeah, if things were better I reckon it would be good if the govt could keep these assets, I'll vote for that".

Also, your wording had the awkward situation that someone who supports the current government has to choose no to a question that starts "Do you support the government..."

I'm a Green voter/member living overseas. Your post was the first time I've seen the actual wording being used for this petition and I think they've done a very good job. If this referendum passes with a strong no (or yes) vote it will be very hard to argue against the result.

Essentially, I agree with Alex, above.


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