Friday, 14 June 2013

How Canadian Political Opinion Polls Skew Results: Leading Questions and False and Misleading Contexts

If you have wondered about the credibility of Canadian opinion polls, the Probit online poll on Canadian federal politics sent to me on June 13, 2012, and in which I participated, offers an excellent example as to why the credibility of surveys are suspect.  

The Probit survey had very many questions about Trudeau's image - distracting attention, as Trudeau himself would want it --  from his policy content to superficial/airhead responses/options  along the lines of image-specific adjectives/anecdotes such as "hopeful," "interested," excited," and "curious" coupled with other end of image spectrum terms such as "angry" and "resentful."  If leading questions are those which tell the respondent what's important, this survey fits the bill. There were no questions on policy statements to-date from Trudeau  - most of Trudeau's policy statement thus far from Trudeau are similar to those of Harper.  

For me, the closest on the Probit lists of response choices for the Trudeau questions was  "disinterested," an image related term which does not accurately represent my point of view - not everyone who responds to a Probit survey is an airhead!  Nothing on the lists related to substance such as offering a response choice pertaining to Trudeau's very conservative policies, very similar to those of the Conservative Party, on the Senate, guns, wealth distribution, corporate taxes, trade with China and Nexen, health, Keystone, the environment, and EI.  

In other words, with the list of choices provided by Probit regarding the Trudeau image, it was not possible to reflect my opinion because this should not be about picking a winner for Canadian Idol  but rather should be about the ideas, credibility and competence of someone who wants to be Prime Minister. 

Further on numbers of questions per party/leader, Harper made it to second place for the numbers of Probit questions about his government. In last place for numbers of Probit questions, was Mulcair.  The numbers of questions on each party constitutes not so subliminal messages regarding the importance of each of the political options.  

In addition to the aforementioned nonsense, there were questions that demonstrated an appalling ignorance on the part of the Probit people who crafted the questions.  In this regard, one question asked whether one's preference is for a focus on the "environmental damage from energy development and pipelines" or for focus representing "a strong preference for a government that was more excited about the jobs created by energy development and pipelines." .  This is a factually inaccurate/misleading and partisan leading question as Harper would pose it. To be more specific, the facts are that 1) green energy sectors are high job creation sectors and among the fastest growing sectors in the world and 2) the numbers of jobs created for a given level of investment are several times higher for clean energy development when compared with fossil fuel sector development. -- There were 5 million jobs in the rapidly growing clean tech sectors in 2011; with China in the lead with 1.6 million jobs; with the US in second place with about 400,000 jobs in these sectors in 2011; with over 500 US wind tech manufacturing facilities and with wind power being the US largest new source of electrical power in 2012; with a 13% annual increase in jobs in the US solar sector to reach 119,000 jobs in the this sector in 2012; with Germany at 372,000 jobs in the renewable energy sectors in 2011; with $67.7 billion and $42.2 billion invested in clean tech sectors in China and the US respectively in 2012 ; and with 20% of US venture capital activity invested in the clean tech sectors in 2011 and 2012.  Simply because Canada is not a full participant in these growth sectors --thanks to Conservative policies -- is not an excuse for the extraordinary ignorance/denial of Probit.

Another leading question asked if one favours a socially progressive and fiscally conservative model.  This is a tired old Liberal Party of Canada cliché that Liberals like, but as a motherhood statement, it means nothing. As such it is another leading question. I do not know of any party that calls itself socially regressive or fiscally irresponsible. Are the Conservatives fiscally conservative on F-35 jets?  Are Trudeau and Harper fiscally conservative because they both believe in our extraordinarily low corporate taxes, tax rates that have contributed tremendously to government debt while $600B lay dormant in corporate liquidity in 2012? 

Having participated in many online surveys, I can confirm that the aforementioned Probit poll is not an exception to the rule.
Will Dubitsky

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