The Globeâ€™s Experiment in Census-Taking
The Globe and Mail has allowed their poll about Census â€œintrusivenessâ€ to stand for the third day.
By 10 a.m. on Sunday over 32,000 people had registered their vote with the newspaper. Undoubtedly this is some kind of record for the daily Globe poll, which got 222 votes for the previous one.
The question is highly leading – â€œDo you think the long-form census questionnaire is an intrusion on the privacy of Canadians?â€
This is hardly the stuff of scientific research.
It does not tell us much about what Canadians â€œreallyâ€ think. The question is not substantially different from the typical the tax cut polling question: â€œWould you like a tax cut?â€ gets a “yes” response from most people. Such one-off polling questions are void of context or implication on other parts of our lives.
Similarly, asked if I mind the intrusive nature of XXX on my privacy, the question is likely to garner a hearty â€œyesâ€. â€¦ unless I know there is a trade-off, and both costs and benefits to the consequences of my opinion being acted upon.
Limitations aside, the Globe’s decision to keep this thing going, turning it into a broader sounding of public opinion on the limited terms of this highly emotive question, still yields some fascinating results.
The swing reported earlier has now settled into a 50-50 proposition. That rough measure has held since yesterday morning, at least when Iâ€™ve periodically checked it, with slight variations that have tended to be in favour of the governmentâ€™s view, that the Census long-form questionnaire intrudes on peopleâ€™s privacy.
The rate at which more votes have been added has, reasonably, slowed. Itâ€™s the weekend all across this suddenly tropical land of ours, and summertime leisures are more likely taken by water or air-conditioned malls for most Canadians.
Perhaps theyâ€™ll let it run for a few more days, and we can see how uptake changes when people are back at their desks.
Hopefully the Globe will produce a graph of how opinions changed over the course of the past few days, and how take-up has varied. It would be interesting to see the results of this social experiment over time.
The original swing factor may be mirroring the way people initially got the word out to friends who agree with one position or another, urging them to sign up. In this case, poll results would be partly a reflection of which “side” was a better organizer. That might have initially produced an east-west political flavour, as mentioned in the comments to yesterdayâ€™s blog.
But while political preferences sometimes have regional skews that might effect the results of a 24 hour poll, given how long the thing has been running, the numbers now speak to different patterns of human nature.
From here on in, if the poll continues to stand for part of the work-week, some of the increased number of votes will be random, some because of active organizing.
No matter how big the numbers are by the end of this process, precisely because it is a voluntary survey and not an explicitly randomized sample, what is being measured is the opinion of those who volunteered to share their view â€“ people who, for whatever reason, have become engaged with the story.
If they had run this polling question a few weeks ago, when the Conservatives announced their decision, the pro-government-decision faction would have probably been much higher.
Since then, we have had nothing short of a public education campaign as a result of massive media attention.
But, alas, there is as much mis-education going on as education, and from our own government to boot.
And it is likely that the Conservatives will crow that, whatever the results of the Globe poll, this is proof that a remarkably high proportion of Canadians agree the government should not insist that people respond to government questionnaires, through Census and, by extension, anything else.
Of course the results from this poll is nothing but an interesting social experiment that underscores exactly what the experts have been saying about the huge new National Household Survey â€“ voluntary processes deliver, effectively, junk, and this one comes with a price tag of something upwards of $35 million.
Perhaps the Globe could use this moment to advance public understanding about the differences between polls, randomized surveys and census. It would be interesting to hear the science and views of experts from all three disciplines of inquiry into the lives and minds of Canadians.
Hopefully the Globe will write something about this exercise in on-line newspaper polling, acknowledging the highly political nature of the question they posed.
Presumably it was designed to divide the public into clear camps. It certainly is no assessment of Canadiansâ€™ understanding of this hotly contested issue. But it has told a remarkable story.