Poll: Do you support the conservatives or oppose helping children? WTF!

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?

~ ~ ~ 

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.”

15 Responses to “Poll: Do you support the conservatives or oppose helping children? WTF!”

  1. 1 Adam 17 October, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    What is wrong with the questions? I’m not seeing what you are seeing.

  2. 2 paulitics 17 October, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    The problem is that the poll assumes successful causality of the policy in question (something which polling firms like the one I used to work in are not supposed to do).

    For instance, most people left-of-centre would suggest that a) the Federal Accountability Act in Canada didn’t clean up government b) That Harper’s specific strategy for getting ‘tough on crime’ doesn’t make streets safer; and lastly, its an empirical fact acknowledged even by the conservatives that they’ve actually slashed the funding for children rather than “Helping parents with the cost of raising their children”.

    This is why the poll is virtually a push poll.

  3. 3 RPJ 17 October, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Since those polls look so similar to the type used by Bushco in the US, methinks they’ve been listening to the neocons south of the border again. Angus Reid needs their ass kicked and a warning label affixed to their work until they get the message that they are not supposed to direct public opinion but just to chart it.

  4. 4 paulitics 17 October, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    RPJ – well put. Agreed.

  5. 5 Timothy Webster 17 October, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Unfortunately Paul, TV media never explains details required for people to understand what is really happening in the world around them. TV media is mostly mindless eye candy. It is the journalist responsibility to ask difficult questions to help people understand the real world around them. Not to push an official opinion. When a government controls the journalist allowed to ask questions, they prevent honest reporting.

  6. 6 Dan 17 October, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    People need to be reminded this is not your parent’s Conservative Party (err, PC Party). These guys will use push polls, and they will do even more. The goal of this bunch is nothing short of moving the political centre of gravity rightward. Permanently. Tom Flanagan and his ilk have said as much. Do not expect them to let up. Look at the American conservative movement of the past three or four decades, permanent war.

  7. 7 Red Jenny 17 October, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Here’s a question: do they have any incentive NOT to use these kinds of polls?

    When the gov’t can say they are just following the will of the people, and use polls to support it, why would they stop? Each individual Canadian might think “although nobody I know thinks that, I guess it must be a popular position, since the polls say so” and so the minority opinion appears to be the will of the people.

  8. 8 janfromthebruce 17 October, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    And the liberal party today was not Trudeau’s just society party of yesterday. That ended. The cons are scary “fear card” is so yesterday.

  9. 9 Adam 17 October, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    I’m still not seeing the push polling. They (Angus Reid) is asking the public to rate how well the conservatives have done with their 5 priorities that they outlined through the last campaign. The questions can’t be that biased, did you happen to look at the results of the poll?

  10. 10 paulitics 17 October, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Adam, I’ve already attempted to explain to you — from the perspective of somebody who used to work in the industry — why the questions are biased. The questions presuppose that, for instance, the conservatives’ Federal Accountability Act actually cleans up government or that the conservatives’ childcare platform helps parents raise their children — both of which may be distinct possibilities, but we’ll never know how people think about either when you spike the question with the presupposition. When, and only when, the questions are properly formulated, will they generate reliable and useful public opinion on whether the populace believes, for instance, that the Federal Accountability Act has “cleaned up government” or not.

    Presuppositions in policy polling questions are not only biased, but are of extremely bad form within the industry.

    If you can’t see the problem with the questions, then there’s nothing further I can do to help you on this matter, but you are welcome to read the .pdf file I linked to in the post which documents the poll thoroughly.

  11. 11 Michael 20 October, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    In spite of the loading of the questions, the tories appear not to have done so well in this poll. Thank goodness for the women, the young, and the poor of this country !

    In answer to Adam, by including specific information on government bills and policies, the questions become biased.

    It would be fair to ask:

    1. Are you satisfied with the performance of the harper government in reducing hospital
    wait times ? (leave out the part of “working with the provinces” as it distorts the question a bit, implying that they ARE working with the provinces.

    2. Are you satisfied with the record of the harper govt in improving government accountability. OR are you satsified with the accountability act passed by the harper government (don’t combine the two pieces of information).

    3. Do you approve of the way the harper government is approaching the issue of crime ?
    (don’t give people the gratuitous information that they are (apparently ?) “cracking down on crime”

  12. 12 Rob 29 October, 2007 at 12:31 am

    The question comes to mind, who is controlling to pollsters? It feels like particular polls are trying to steer public opinion and this article only confirms that.

  13. 13 Zoop 1 March, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Maybe the questions aren’t really biased …

    These questions cover four of Harper’s 5 priorities from the last election. It seems to me the questions basically asking “Are you satisfied that Harper has kept his election promises?” In other words its inquiring about the causal relationship set out in the promises themselves, ie “Did the Accountability Act clean up government like Harper promised?” Not that I have unbridled faith in polls or pollsters or anything …

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  1. 1 More pro-conservative opinion manipulation at Angus-Reid « Paulitics: Paul’s Socialist Investigations Trackback on 5 November, 2007 at 1:07 pm

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