In their latest poll released yesterday, the Angus Reid polling firm published samples of some of the questions they asked respondents about the Harper Conservative government.
Here’s a sample of some of the “questions” they asked.
Anything seem, how shall I say, ‘not right’ about these questions to anyone else? This is borderline push polling.
Script: “How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the way the government has dealt with the following issues?” […]
“Cleaning up government by passing the Federal Accountability Act?
“Helping parents with the cost of raising their children?”
“Making our streets and communities safe by cracking down on crime?”
“Working with the provinces to establish a Patient Wait Times Guarantee?”
In a related matter, Stephen Harper has recently come out in opposition to urinating on the elderly, do you support him in this matter?
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This poll reminded me of one of my favourite thinkers in the field of opinion manipulation and the mass media. If anybody gets the chance, or is interested, there is a fantastic academic writer named Benjamin Ginsberg (he unfortunately shares the same name with George W. Bush’s lawyer in the 2000 Presidential race) who writes on matters of polling and opinion manipulation in democratic societies. One of his famous works is The Captive Public: How Mass Opinion Promotes State Power. In this work Ginsberg holds that the problem with polling and polls is that it domesticates and placates opinions whereas prior to polling, the realm of politics was animated by political action and behaviour which tended to me more dangerous to élites and the state.
Here is a brief selection from Ginsberg’s The Captive Public:
“Prior to the advent of polling, public opinion could often only be inferred from political behavior… The advent of polling transformed public opinion from a behavioral to an attitudinal phenomenon. Polls elicit, organize, and publicize opinion without requiring any action on the part of the opinion holder…. From the perspective of political elite, the obvious virtue of polls is that they make it possible to recognize and deal with popular attitudes… before they materialize in some unpleasant, disruptive, or threatening form of political action…. By converting opinion from a behavioral to an attitudinal phenomenon, polling is, in effect, also transforming public opinion into a less immediately threatening and dangerous phenomenon.”