Blog by John Miller

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Poll trickery

Honestly, I hate to pick on Sun Media, but it's such an easy and deserving target.

The Sun newspapers and TV network yesterday published a dishonest and highly suspect opinion poll that said a majority of Canadians believe there should be some restrictions on abortion. Sun Media did not say who paid for the poll, just that it had been "conducted ahead of Thursday afternoon's annual March for Life on Parliament Hill."

In fact, Sun Media itself paid for the poll. It was done by its network's official pollster, Abacus Data.

Nor did its news story say how the poll was done. In fact, you have to look on the pollster's website to find out that important information. It says it "surveyed 1,007 adult Canadians randomly selected from an online panel of over 400,000." So the poll appears to have been done online, not by telephone, and the participants were selected from some undisclosed online database. Anyone who knows about polling should see that's not kosher, folks.

What are we to make then of the results, which were interpreted as "flying in the face of the political consensus in Canada in which all major party leaders at the federal and provincial levels are committed to the status quo?"

The poll found 59% of Canadians believe there should be some restrictions on abortion as pregnancy proceeds.

More than one quarter of Canadians, 27%, said that human life should be protected from conception onwards, 21% said there should be protection after three months of pregnancy and 11% after six months. Only 22% agreed with the status quo which is no legal protection until a child is born. Furthermore, 63% of women believe in restricting abortion either before or at the sixth month compared to 56% of men.

This means, according to Abacus CEO David Coletto, that most Canadians are ready for a debate.

Oh? This certainly seems to fly in the face of a poll done last year by EKOS, a more established polling firm (Abacus Data was only formed last year). That poll showed 52% of Canadians describe themselves as pro-choice, versus only 27% who are pro-life.

Furthermore, EKOS said: "The lean to pro-choice holds true across virtually all demographic groups, although the margin is less clear with Conservative supporters and seniors ... Interestingly, there is no significant difference on the issue between men and women."

The EKOS poll was based on a random telephone sample of 2,162 Canadians aged 18 and over. It carefully listed all the questions asked, which Abacus did not.

Perhaps there are some clues about where Sun Media is coming from in Coletto's announcement in March that he would be the network's official pollster. "Together," he said, "we are going to peel away the layers of Canadian public opinion and find out what really makes people in this country tick: What inspires them, what frustrates them and sometimes what makes them mad as hell."

The Abacus website admits its analysis of data is "unconventional." It says the firm fills a need in Canadian society, for strategic research that isn't "stuck in the same old way of doing things." (Interestingly, the vice-president of public affairs of the parent company is Jim Armour, who once served as communications director for Preston Manning and Stephen Harper and is now a lobbyist in Ottawa).

Well, that's a perfect fit then. After all, Sun News is the network for journalism that isn't stuck in the same old boring rut of credibility that we usually find in other news outlets. Isn't it?