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Saturday, July 24, 2010

I'm not up-in-arms about making the long-form census voluntary, but you wouldn't believe that if you read the Globe and Mail

There haven't been many occasions where the Canadian print media has become so inflamed about a subject that has highlighted the dichotomy of classes and interests in this country as the current controversy about Industry Minister Tony Clement's decision to make the long-form census questionnaire voluntary.

A recent Angus Reid poll on the matter, like most public opinion polls, produced results that could be interpreted in different ways.

Based on the numbers of the poll, it looks like Canadians are about evenly split about whether they think scrapping the long form is a good idea of not. But that's not the sense anyone would get from reading the newspapers. If one was to rely on writers in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, it would be easy to think the census decision was the most contemptuous, imperious decision a government took against an unwilling citizenry since the Bourbons ruled France.

Norman Spector, in the Globe and Mail wrote under the headline "Canadians support long-form census":
according to the poll (margin of error 3.1 points), 52 per cent of Canadians think the government should reverse its decision and keep the mandatory long form census. Only 27 per cent support the decision to replace it with a voluntary form (24 per cent of Canadians think the long form is overly intrusive). ..

In light of these data, don’t be surprised if the Harper government fashions some sort of climb down
But wait, it seems that at some point, Spector took a closer look at the data and added this update based on data from the same poll:
According to the detailed poll results, almost half of respondents (47%) oppose the federal government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long form census, while 38 per cent support it.

So let's pay attention everyone, so we get this straight. 52% support keeping the long form, and 47% oppose the government's decision to scrap it. Huh?!?

Wouldn't support keeping the census be the same as opposing getting rid of it? Shouldn't the results be the same.

Well, no, because polls are often inconsistent and meaningless.

And if 47% oppose getting rid of the census, doesn't that mean that 53% , a majority, must either support it, or are indifferent?

James Travers in the Toronto Star, in a typical  histrionic rant against the Conservative government refers to the census matter as a "crisis".

A crisis?!?

A search for the term "census" in the Globe and mail produced approximately 50 resulting stories in the last week. In the Star, the same search produced 33 articles, the tone of which can be gleaned from titles such as
"The Tories: Tea Party North"

Chris Selley in The National Post gets to the heart of the matter:
In the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, John Gormley makes a point that really needed making: Canadian journalists rallying to the defence of statistics and statisticians? The people who spend all day detecting trends where there are none, torquing scientific studies past their breaking points and freaking out over the slightest changes in opinion polls? Puh-lease!

Speaking of which, isn’t it funny how the same journalists who can peg an entire story about Michael Ignatieff’s impending demise to a within-the-margin-of-error drop in the polls can completely ignore surveys that call their narratives of choice into question? Not ha ha funny — you know, odd. Bad. Take the census thing. This week, Ipsos-Reid released a survey finding Canadians are split right down the middle on the question of axing the mandatory long-form census. You sure wouldn’t know it from this week’s punditry, much of which suggests that Canadians from the ivory tower to the tar sands are up in arms.
The Gormley article makes some very good points about the way the media has handled and mislead the public about the census issue. The long form census, which is mailed out to 20% of households and was mandatory, will, under the new proposal, be mailed to 60% of households and made voluntary.

So data collection may not suffer much, if at all, and those who think that providing private details of their lives is a civic duty will have the opportunity to continue to do so.

For a government whose popularity has not declined after its opposition attempted to create a frenzy over prorogation, the attempt of the media to whip up hysteria over a matter of such little interest to the public may be a watershed.

This could be the point in Canadian history where the mainstream media conclusively proved it was completely out of touch with and serving different interests than the people.

1 comment:

Van Grungy said...

Can't wait for SunNews... JournoListers are assholes...