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Tolley’s folly to see split electorate

27 Apr 2018 9:20 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

by Graham Adams

Published: April 26, 2018 1:33PM 
Source: Gisborne Herald


On April 18, The Gisborne Herald reported that East Coast MP Anne Tolley was seeking feedback from the public on assisted dying because, she said, she has always represented her voters’ opinions in conscience votes, even if it meant going against her own beliefs.

This seems a laudable and democratic approach, although the fact that she reckons the electorate remains evenly split over the End of Life Choice Bill is disturbing.

It has raised eyebrows because polls over 20 years have shown a clear majority in favour of assisted dying. Why, you might wonder, would the East Coast electorate be so markedly different from poll results produced over decades?

Among the more recent, a Newshub poll in February showed 71 percent supported the End of Life Choice Bill, with 19.5 percent against and 9.5 percent unsure.

A Horizon poll conducted last June put support for assisted dying for those suffering from end-stage terminal illness at 75 percent, with only 11 percent opposed.

Support was also very strong for medical assistance to die for people with irreversible conditions, such as motor neurone disease, which may not cause death in the immediate future, with 66 percent in favour and 15 percent opposed or strongly opposed.

It would seem very odd if East Coast voters’ preferences differed substantially from consistent, long-term polling.

It certainly can’t be ascribed to the fact her electorate is represented by a National Party MP elected with a healthy majority. The Horizon poll showed that National voters, at 83 percent in favour, were a higher proportion than any other party.

It seems most likely that Tolley’s assessment of an even split is based on the feedback she is receiving. Unfortunately, this is often highly inaccurate, not least because those opposed tend to be noisier than supporters (for various reasons, including religious motivation).

Certainly that is what former North Shore MP Wayne Mapp found when he tried to gauge his electorate’s opinion before the 2003 vote on Peter Brown’s Death with Dignity Bill, which was narrowly defeated at its first reading.

In comments on a Kiwiblog post in June 2017, after the End of Life Choice Bill had been drawn from the ballot, Mapp recounted: “When this issue last came up (in 2003), I voted in accordance with the views of the electorate as expressed by the hundreds of letters and emails with a North Shore source that came into the office. They were 70 percent opposed.

“A few months later (after the parliamentary vote), I did a proper scientific opinion poll of the electorate. The result was the reverse, with 70 percent in favour.”

Mapp said he conducted the survey because he twigged that the initial wave of letters and emails represented a campaign by a minority of opponents (including from religious organisations) and suspected they didn’t represent the majority’s wishes, as he discovered was the case.

He never had the chance to vote for another bill to reform the assisted dying law because none was presented before he left Parliament in 2011.

Hopefully, Anne Tolley will become aware of the folly of basing her vote on the number of emails and letters she receives and take notice of the fact that polls show those opposed are reliably less than 20 percent.

If she wants to know what her electorate thinks on assisted dying, she really needs to conduct a scientific poll of her own, or to uncover the reasons her electorate is not split along the same lines as the rest of the country.

© End-Of-Life Choice • PO Box 321, Gisborne 4040 • Email:

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