James Dann: Gerry's spin moves into top gear

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Despite Gerry Brownlee's best PR spin, everything is not going swimmingly in Christchurch, writes blogger James Dann.
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, CERA Chief Executive Roger Sutton and Prime Minister John Key on a tour of the Christchurch Red Zone. Photo / Supplied
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, CERA Chief Executive Roger Sutton and Prime Minister John Key on a tour of the Christchurch Red Zone. Photo / Supplied

I don't need to tell you that the two-year anniversary of the quake is coming up. As I wrote about previously, Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee is well aware of it, and is fast trying to turn what many people from Christchurch would describe as an example of torpid mismanagement into a PR win. His latest attempt is an optimistically titled press release, "Wellbeing survey reveals positive outlook". Gerry has hand-picked some stats that suggest that every thing down here is going just swimmingly. For those of us that don't just read headlines, you can actually dive in and read the full survey. It's not exactly as Gerry says.

The key to this survey is in the methodology. It was undertaken between August 29 and October 15 last year. 2381 people responded to the survey. 1156 of them were from Christchurch City, 618 from Selwyn District and 607 from Waimakariri District. So that means that of the people who did respond, more than half (1225) aren't actually from Christchurch. I mean no disrespect to the people of Rolleston, Lincoln, Rangiora, Kaiapoi etc. I am sure they have had a hard time. But they don't have the same issues that people who actually live in the city do. They haven't had to deal with a lack of services, portaloos, red zoning, TC3 land, roadworks to the same extent that people who live in the city do.

The response rate to this survey was barely half - 52%. I would hazard a guess that if you were in the battered East of Christchurch, struggling through two snow falls in an broken shell of a house, answering some questions from CERA were lower on your list of things to do than they might have been for someone living on a lifestyle block in West Melton.

The survey does actually acknowledge this discrepancy, as early as Page 3:

As an overall observation:

Residents of Christchurch City rate their quality of life less positively than residents of Selwyn District and Waimakariri District

Higher proportions of Christchurch City residents have experienced issues as a result of the earthquakes that have had a strong negative impact on their everyday lives.

Yet the survey then merges these three population groups, and continues to extrapolate from the combined population for another 100 pages. If you get to the end of the report, you'll find the populations of Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri. They are 289,000, 30,000 and 36,000 respectively. More than 80% of the adult population lives in Christchurch, and yet more than 50% of respondents come from less than 20% of the population, a section of the population that the survey shows have a more positive response in this survey. In the appendix to the report, it says that the survey has been "weighted" to factor in this bias. As it does not explain how, I remain dubious.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

The Herald pretty much ran the press release from CERA without digging down into the numbers. There is this sentence, for example:

When asked about their confidence in Cera's decision-making, 68 per cent of respondents were very confident, confident or neutral.

Why is "neutral" included with "confident" and "very confident"? If you add in percentage for neutral - 28% - certainly makes for a better headline for the Government. I would argue that if you wanted to, you could just as easily add the "neutral" numbers to the "not very confident" and "not at all confident" numbers, which would then give you 57% of people not confident in CERA. Or you could take out the neutral people all together, and you have 39% confident, and 29% not confident, which would be far more balanced.

This is a flawed survey, which almost half of participants failed to respond to. The government and their cheerleaders will try and spin it as best they can, but most people living in Christchurch want more than just PR. We want solutions to real figures such as 70% of quake claims not yet dealt with 2 years after quake.

Are you in Christchurch? What are your thoughts on the survey results? Share your view in the comments section below.

- NZ Herald

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