Tell us the answer you want, and we’ll make the poll

The blogosphere is buzzing with the release of a poll from Environics about Childcare. Surprisingly, many MSM outlets are reporting the results of the survey without noting the flawed methodology. CTV even goes so far to conclude that 50% indicates that Canadians favour the Liberal child-care plan.

So, you must be asking yourself, did 50% of Canadians really choose the Liberal plan when presented by a non-prompted, fully detailed, and fully disclosed question?

The answer is no and it is irresponsible for news outlets to report it this way.

Let me explain, first of all this poll question was what I call the “headline question” (ie. the question that generates the answer headlines the MSM reports. Fittingly, this is also the question that is crafted by those that commission polls):

5. The new Conservative government has announced as one of its major platforms a new child care plan that will provide parents with a $1,200 per year allowance for each child under 6 to help them pay for child care. This plan will replace the national early learning and child care system announced by the previous government, which was to provide provincial funding to create 100,000 new affordable child care spaces.

First of all, you’ll notice that this is question #5 (more on this in a bit), but you (and the MSM) should also notice a few other things. The poll pits what is referred to the plan of the “Conservative government” against the plan of the “previous government”. Some people when given the choice between “Conservative” and “Liberal” will always choose their favoured partisans no matter how wretched the policy being proposed by the party. The question would start resembling a fair question if it used “current government” and “previous government”. Further, and perhaps most dishonestly, the poll actually doesn’t outline the entire Conservative plan! The question fails to mention that the Conservative plan also includes the following:

  • a commitment to provide incentives to create 25,000 flexible child care spaces per year through the Child Care Spaces Initiative, beginning in 2007.

The poll does not give the following information to the respondent prior to asking the headline question:

  • The Liberals have been promising a childcare plan for 13 years and they haven’t delivered. The poll fails to mention that the provinces only had a one-year commitment from the Liberals on funding.
  • Subsequent to the failure of Liberals to deliver on their childcare plan, the Conservatives have delivered on their plan as $3.7 Billion was set aside in the 2006 budget (passed unanimously in the House) for the $1200 tax allowance.

Now that the budget has been passed, should the poll question have instead read:

The House of Commons ratified the Conservative government’s budget to provide a $1200 tax allowance for each child under 6 to provide a choice in childcare. The government plan also includes measure to create incentives that will produce 100,000 childcare spaces over the next 4 years. The Liberals promise is to take away the $1200 tax allowance and to create a national subsidized childcare plan with 100,000 spaces. Which do you prefer, the Conservative plan, or the Liberal promise?

Now, of course, that question isn’t appropriate for an poll either. It is, however, more honest.

Unfortunately, CTV reports the following as part of their report:

In addition to cash for parents, the Conservatives have pledged to create 125,000 new daycare spaces by offering $250 million in tax credits for businesses and non-profit groups that create new spaces.

This is unfortunate because the poll did not inform the respondent of this half of the Conservative plan. This disappointment is compounded by CTV’s actual reporting of this fact because it makes it seem that poll respondents were aware of this.

As alluded to above, the headline question was question #5. This, of course, allows pollsters to bias their sample prior to asking the question that pays the rent.

Consider question #1:

1. I would now like to ask you about child care. Many Canadian children under six years of age are currently in child care programs, which are run mostly by community associations such as the YWCA. From what you know or have heard, would you strongly agree, somewhat disagree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with each of the following about child care programs in Canada today:

a. They provide a safe place for children while their parents are working
b. They promote the early learning and development of children
c. They help prepare children for school
d. They allow parents to participate in the workforce
e. They are essential for the livelihood of low income families

This question lists the fantastic values from childcare programs, which of course, wouldn’t be a problem if the pollsters hadn’t presented the headline question (#5) as a choice between hard cash and child care spaces. But since they did, respondents are dishonestly primed by question #1 to prefer a plan that favours rationed childcare. Of course, while this rationed childcare is part of the Conservative plan, the pollsters fail to mention it in the headline question thus accomplishing the desired skewed result.

Consider question #2 which also has the effect of preparing the respondent for the headline question. Question #2 reads:

2. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the issue of child care. How serious a problem do you believe the lack of affordable child care is in Canada today? Would you say this issue is a very serious, somewhat serious, not very serious, or not at all serious problem?

Respondents are left to think that the lack of affordable child care is a serious problem. While respondents could answer “not at all serious”, to do so would be to disagree with the question which suggests, in fact, that this is a serious problem. This question also is intended to prompt the respondent for the headline question.

While it isn’t necessary for the poll to specify who commissioned the poll, CTV does so. However, full disclosure is still wanting here. The poll was conducted on behalf of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC). What CTV fails to mention is that CCAAC is a lobby group that acts on behalf of those that would want a national unionized daycare system.

Ironically, when CTV and other outlets of the MSM report on research conducted by the Fraser Institute, they are often quick to provide the descriptors “right wing” or “conservative leaning”.

You may access the poll questions here

UPDATE: This post made the Sun’s best of the blogs for June 22nd.