I got woken up a little today, and I'd like to stay that way: Flawed methodology, poor representation, and the Canadian anti-terror bill.

OK, so listen. I’m the first to admit that I don’t pay nearly enough attention to Canadian politics. American ones are louder, flashier, and often cut across simpler ideological lines, making them both easier to understand and easier to make fun of.

But today I’ve started looking into Bill C-51 - this federal anti-terror bill our Conservative government is rushing through the bill-to-law process without time for adequate debate.

I’ve learned that many former government officials as well as the NDP (a party I tend, as a general rule, to trust more than the others) are pointing to sweeping language in this bill that could give our security agencies increased powers under decreased oversight, and could potentially label activities like peaceful environmental protests “terrorist activities”. I haven’t watched Rex Murphy’s commentary yet, but if even he is calling for radical opposition to this thing, that’s a reason to stand up and take notice.

There’s one thing, however, that started to bother me as I read more and more news reports. In a way it bothered me even more than the content of the bill itself. And that’s this poll, from the Angus Reid Institute, which is being cited all over the Canadian mainstream news as finding that 4 out of 5 Canadians support Bill C-51. And while I realize that I run in pretty liberal circles (women, nerds, librarians, Vancouverites - that’s a lot of overlapping socialist tendencies right there), this number struck me as WAY too high to represent the Canada I know and love. Where are the young people, the Indigenous people, the people who came here to escape real terror in other places in the world? Am I really supposed to believe that this national poll of “Canadians” represents us all?

So I did a little digging. Turns out, this “random sample” was a random sample from WITHIN a group called the “Angus Reid Forum Panellists”. These are people who go to the Angus Reid website and SIGN UP (a more methodological term might be SELF SELECT) to participate in regular polling, often of a commercial nature. So these are people with the means and the education to use digital polling tools; the leisure time to devote to such a task; and very likely the political desire to support the decision making processes of the governments and corporations with the means to pay for and/or be the subject of Angus Reid polling.

That’s a pretty damn narrow slice of the mainstream middle of this country. And the narrowness of that slice hasn’t stopped news agencies, chief among them the Globe and Mail, from touting this poll as a representation of “public opinion” - a phrase non-pollsters generally take at face value. In fact, the Globe initially reported the poll as representing a true cross section of Canadians, complete with a small margin of error. They have since issued a correction (in small italic print at the bottom of the original article). 

Increasingly, despite the fact that I myself am a white, middle class, educated citizen of this country with the leisure time to read and write about this sort of thing, I am starting to feel less and less represented by the institutions around me. So I can only imagine how the truly marginalized people in this country feel about issues like this. I want to keep asking these kinds of questions, and get more involved in finding answers and methods of governance and ways to live together that work for all of us - not just for the folks already in power trying to hold onto that power. 

Part of why I love being a librarian is because it makes me part of a network of institutions that really do try (we never fully succeed, but we KEEP TRYING) to welcome, support, and represent everyone. To the point where many of us have started stepping outside of our buildings and into our communities, to keep TRYING to provide what help, service, and inspiration we can even to people who can’t or won’t come to us. I feel like that should be the way government operates too - but obviously, in this country, that’s less and less the case all the time.

So I guess all of this is just to say that I’ve been feeling a little lazy lately about the immediate issues around me - it’s been easier to watch other people’s problems from afar. But this issue has woken me up a bit, and made me more motivated to keep reading and questioning and getting involved.

Here are some of the things I read today, if you’re interested in reading them.

And if you’re interested in talking more about this, or if you’re already doing things around these issues and you need support, please reblog and let me know!













NOTE: as always with everything on this blog, my opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employers.

My mother shared this story from her polling place: 

A man votes with his two sons. At this particular polling place, they give doughnuts to children after their parents vote. The election official hands both sons doughnuts and says, “You’ve done your civic duty; now you get a doughnut.”

The kids look at their father with wonder and say, “We can have doughnuts?” Their father nods and says, "Yes. With democracy, you get doughnuts."

Excluding blacks from the national collective: parallel examples from the 1920s and the 2000s.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

In a great book, The Averaged American, sociologist Sarah Igo uses case studies to tell the intellectual history of statistics, polling, and sampling. The premise is fascinating:  Today we’re bombarded with statistics about the U.S. population, but this is a new development.  Before the science developed, the concept was elusive and the knowledge was impossible. In other words, before statistics, there was no “average American.”

There are lots of fascinating insights in her book, but a post by Byron York brought one in particular to mind.  Above is a screenshot of his opening lines (emphasis added by Jay Livingston). The implication is, of course, that Black Americans aren’t “real” Americans and that including them in opinion poll data is literally skewing the results.

Scientists designed the famous Middletown study with exactly this mentality.  Trying to determine who the average American was, scientists excluded Black Americans out of hand.  Of course, that was in the 1920s and ’30s.  How wild to see the same mentality in the 2000s.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

We continue to find that Democrats trust most TV news sources other than Fox, while Republicans don’t trust anything except Fox. News preferences are very polarizing along party lines.

Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling, in a press release on a new poll released on American trust in its broadcast news stations. Fox News’ Credibility Declines (PDF).

The News: Americans don’t trust broadcast news sources. Matter of fact, more people distrust NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Comedy Central than trust them.

However, Fox News is the news org that Americans are most skeptical about. According to the PPP poll, 46% of voters distrust it while 41% trust it.

The only news org that a majority does trust? PBS, with 52% of voters saying they trust it and 29% saying they don’t.

Fox News' Biased Polling Question Backfires.

So I was reading through the Fox News Poll for January 22, 2014 like a good political nerd and I came to this question:

As you may know, the federal government sets the national minimum wage — the lowest rate in dollars per hour that most workers should be paid — which is now set at $7.25 an hour. Which of the following comes closest to your view on how the federal government should handle the minimum wage?


1. The government should raise the minimum wage because it would help lots of people pay their bills

2. The government should NOT raise the minimum wage because it would cause businesses to cut jobs

3. There shouldn’t be a minimum wage because government shouldn’t tell businesses what to pay their employees

4. (Don’t know)

First off, this is a good lesson in how to skew a poll in the direction that you want it to go. This phenomenon of highly biased and leading polling questions by Fox News has been covered over and over again. Of course, just because they do it with regularity doesn’t mean they will not attempt to tear apart the questions asked by other pollsters. Even if they can’t represent them properly when using outside poll results in their own programing.

In this question, the scale used gives people reasons why we should enact, or not enact, specific policy as though they are facts. Although to be honest this is what what Fox News really does, they tell people what to think rather than report the News.

But that isn’t the interesting part, what is really fascinating is found in the results of this highly skewed question. They didn’t quite get the answer they were looking for. Even while attempting to bias the question, 56% of Likely Voters stated they wanted to see the minimum wage raised. Only 25% wants the minimum wage to stay the same while 15% want the minimum wage abolished, 3% were unsure. 

Not only is this another Fox News fail, but it shows how important of an issue this really is to voters when you cant even bias your polling question enough to drop the support for a minimum wage increase below 56%.

If you want a more accurate picture of the support for a minimum wage increase look no further than the Quinnipiac poll that finds that 72% of likely voters and 52% of Republicans support a minimum wage increase.   

Old People Hate Hipsters, Kurt Cobain, and Justin Bieber, According to New Poll

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm that’s normally one of the most accurate political pollsters around, sometimes has too much time on its hands. When it does, it takes national nonpolitical surveys of basically whatever the people running PPP think would be funny. In the past they’ve discovered that 62 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Halloween, 47 percent think there’s a “war on Christmas,”and a surprising amount believe in all kinds of conspiracy theories.

This month, they polled over 500 Americans about music, famous musicians, and “hipsters.” Some resultswent up yesterday, and it turns out that voters like classical music and jazz more than other genres by a fairly large margin, are into Adele and Taylor Swift, dislike Justin Beiber and Chris Brown, and like Beyonce better than Jay-Z. Oh yeah, and they hate rap—50 percent of the voters polled said that it’s their least favorite genre of music, and 68 percent of them had an unfavorable view of it. Dubstep and Skrillex had bad numbers as well, but 47 percent and 54 percent, respectively, were “not sure” what their opinions of those entities were, which makes it pretty clear that a lot of the folks taking this phone poll had never heard of them.


Three in four voters believe “wealthy Americans have a better chance than others of influencing the election process,” according to polling released this week by CBS News. In addition, 76 percent believe outside group spending should be limited, and 71 percent want to maintain contribution limits to candidates. The former has been ruled unconstitutional in Citizens United v. FEC. The latter is likely to be challenged by conservative lawyers in the future.

Then it’s no surprise that the same poll found just 5 percent of voters “think most members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve re-election.” That’s an astoundingly small lack of public trust in our elected leaders. That’s the price we pay for a Congress more attuned to needs of the money over the many

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Bloomberg News poll reveals a majority of Americans believe in Obama mandate
  • 65% of voters believe that President Obama has a mandate to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans after being reelected last month. That includes 45 percent of the Republicans surveyed as well.
  • 64% of voters believe that President Obama also has a mandate to protect programs like Medicare and Social Security during his next term. Considering Senate Republicans are now relying on filibusters of their own proposals related to the “fiscal cliff,” something tells us that Speaker Boehner was probably correct in telling House Republicans not to make holiday plans this year. source
Most Republicans Say They Can't Live Off Minimum Wage, But Oppose Raising It: Poll

A poll released Tuesday found that a vast majority of Republicans say they would not be able to live off the minimum wage.

A survey conducted by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling on behalf of Americans United for Change and the Center for American Progress Action Fund found that 69 percent of Republican respondents said they don’t think they could live off the minimum wage, versus 80 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of voters overall. However, when asked if they support raising the minimum wage, just 37 percent of Republicans said they would back an increase. (74 percent of Democrats said they are in support of a hike.)

The poll’s release comes on the heels of a new campaign by Americans United for Change challenging lawmakers to “Live the Wage" and live off just $77 for a week. Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) as well as former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced that they will begin the challenge Thursday.

Overall, 54 percent of respondents said they were in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour — the wage floor President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are hoping to pass at the federal level. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour.

In April, Senate Republicans blocked legislation raising the wage to $10.10, with just one Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, voting in favor of proceeding with the bill.

"By preventing even a vote on this bill, they prevented a raise for 28 million hardworking Americans," Obama said after the vote. “They said no to helping millions work their way out of poverty — and keep in mind, this bill would have done so without any new taxes, or spending, or bureaucracy. They told Americans like the ones who are here today that “you’re on your own” -– without even looking them in the eye.”

The PPP poll surveyed 801 registered voters from July 18 to July 20, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.