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The government has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars testing and polling its Unite Against Covid-19 campaign, including “brand effectiveness”.
The Act Party says it shows the government is more focused on popularity than science.
Meanwhile, the government says the research was used to ensure its campaigns were “effective and breakthrough”, and to understand how the public felt about what was being asked of them.
Information provided to the Act Party showed that the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) spent $252,945 on research, including opinion polls and focus groups related to the public campaign Unite Against Covid-19.
This included “testing messages and concepts and using research to understand how New Zealanders felt in relation to Covid-19, and the motivations and barriers to associated public health behaviors required of them”.
It included the Sentiment & Behaviors Benchmark survey released this month on how New Zealanders can stay involved with the Unite Against Covid-19 campaign.
A spokesperson for the DPMC Covid-19 Response Group said focus groups and surveys ensured messages and campaigns were “effective and breakthrough”.
The survey was also used to understand how New Zealanders felt about Covid-19 and the public health measures being asked of them.
Law leader David Seymour said that while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had always said the government would “listen to the science”, polls showed she was more interested in public perception.
“Often Acts have asked the government to share with the public the information it uses to make decisions, and the framework for future decisions.
“We asked them to treat New Zealanders like adults, which put us in their confidence.
“We now know they don’t want to release a framework so that they can be guided by focus groups. The government has been slow in releasing the advice, including the Skegg report. Are they grouping the findings before release?”
Seymour wondered how long other decisions, such as on mask-wearing, how long it took the government to invoke the transtasman travel bubble, and around RSE workers, were based on polls and focus groups.
“You have to wonder if the real reason we don’t have a plan to get our way of life back is that the government is still focused on grouping it.”
An Ardern spokeswoman declined to comment.
political scientist Dr Lara Greaves of the University of Auckland said she was not so much concerned about the poll itself, but rather the type of poll.
In the latest study, ‘brand effectiveness’ was mentioned as one of the five objectives.
“We can fully understand why they might be testing the messages and context, and a range of government agencies seem to be doing this, including the Department of Health on vaccine restraint.
“But what I’m concerned about with the… [DPMC work] it’s solid in market research and not an example of great research.”
The latest survey wasn’t peer-reviewed, nor were there many details to assess the quality of the work, she said.
“It’s a challenge of the pandemic, understanding social behavior, because ultimately people’s opinions will determine how our response works or fails.
“But where research is used with goals like brand effectiveness, it gets a little tricky. I would have liked it to be more rooted in social sciences and health psychology.”
Epidemiologist Dr. In general, Michael Baker said that in conducting a public health response of this magnitude and trying to change people’s behavior, there was a need to engage with the public in order to be successful.
Given the billions being spent on the Covid-19 response and the wider costs, Baker said there was a case for more surveys and research.