An opinion poll with an invisible thumb on the scale
A trio of Nova Scotia environmental organizations — the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition, the Council of Canadians, and Sierra Club Atlantic — scored a public relations coup yesterday when local news organizations reported that “Nova Scotians overwhelmingly support a continued ban on fracking” in a poll commissioned by the group.
A news release said the poll, conducted by Abacus Data, a respected Ottawa-based polling firm:
…found strikingly solid support for a continued ban in all areas of the province –from a high of 72% in Cape Breton, to 70% in HRM and Annapolis Valley/South Shore, and 61% in the northern part of the province.
The overwhelming support crossed the political spectrum – 71% percent of those committed to vote Liberal, 72% NDP and PC and 82% Green either strongly supported or supported a continued halt to fracking. Support was equally strong among men and women, and held steady across all age groups.
There was only one problem. The single-question in the survey was asked in a manner so flagrantly biased as to render the results meaningless. Here’s how it read:
Fracturing or hydraulic fracturing, is a relatively new process for extracting shale gas. Concerns have been raised about water contamination, harm to human health, and negative effects on communities and the climate. The Nova Scotia government has a moratorium on fracking while an independent review is underway. Do you support keeping the ban on fracking in place, unless the independent review finds there is no risk to drinking water, human health, the climate or communities?
This is a classic “push poll,” a pseudo survey in which the tendentious questioner slips a thumb onto the scale so as to get the results she wants. In the guise of background, the question supplies respondents with arguments on one side of the issue, but not the other, and then seeks a response. In essence, this one warned that fracking contaminates water, harms human health, and hurts the environment and the climate, then added, it’s banned here now; should the government allow it?
None of the news stories I read quoted the question, or called foul on its blatantly contaminated methodology. They just regurgitated the fracking opponents’s analysis of the results, as if it were based on meaningful data. Shame on them, and shame on Abacus, whose website promises “objectivity” and cites “integrity” as a core value, for participating in this propaganda exercise. (I have asked the CEO of Abacus for a response.)
There are lots of reasons to be wary of fracking, and public opinion is one factor Cape Breton University President David Wheeler will have to weigh as he reviews the pros and cons of continuing the fracking moratorium. I can’t imagine Wheeler, a respected academic, giving this survey any credence.
I wonder if an honest poll wouldn’t have revealed lopsided opposition to fracking. We’ll never know, until someone conducts one.