Volume 93, Issue 20

October 1, 1999


Star's strategy angers papers

Commercialization raises debate

Bars prepare for Homecoming rush

Internet access quickens for students

Polls shouldn't be taken lightly

Program to improve cancer patient care


Caught on campus

Polls shouldn't be taken lightly

By Stephanie Cesca
Gazette Staff

To believe or not to believe – that is the question when reading the results of a poll.

Don Guy, researcher at Pollara Inc., said a recently publicized survey was conducted by the polling company to find out what initiatives they would like to see Prime Minister Jean Chretien take in the future.

The data showed strengthening the economy was the top priority for 58 per cent of Canadians, while unemployment, high taxes and health care trailed behind respectively, Guy said.

In addition, the data showed 64 per cent of the 1,670 adult Canadians surveyed believed Chretien was an average or better-than-average Prime Minister, Guy said.

David Bellhouse, professor of statistical science at Western, said those who consider statistics in such polls should be careful.

"When a polling company puts out results, you want to ask questions such as who sponsored the poll," he said, adding certain questions may be slanted in order to receive a specific answer. The way in which questions are asked, as well as the sequence they are asked in, is essential in order to avoid biases.

The demographics of a survey – what kinds of people are questioned and where the survey was conducted – can also influence the results, Bellhouse added.

Although several factors can manipulate polling data, Bellhouse said no kind of Canadian law exists to regulate the manner in which polls are conducted.

"The other aspect is the media itself," he said, explaining the media always holds the power in deciding whether or not results are published.

Martin Westmacott, a political science professor at Western, also said polls should be read using some discretion. Westmacott said the validity of the poll and how well it is constructed should be considered before accepting the data as factual.

With respect to how seriously the government takes polling data into consideration, Westmacott said polls do hold some weight.

"My general sense is government tends to rely very heavily on polling data," he said. Westmacott added some levels of government may even hire polling companies to survey certain areas of particular interest.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999