Khadr outrage How Angus Reid’s really bad poll fuelled a hate fest
How Angus Reid’s really bad poll fuelled a Conservative Party “outrage” hoax over the feds’ $10.5 million payout to the former child soldier
Canadians could be forgiven for being confused about how their fellow citizens actually feel about Omar Khadr – especially if they were among those relying on that Angus Reid poll that came out shortly after a $10 million payout to Khadr was announced. Its lit up anti-Muslim vitriol on online comment forums in the weeks since.
That poll claims that “the vast majority” of us, 71 per cent, believe the feds’ payout and apology to the former child soldier was the wrong decision. In return, Khadr will drop his $20-million civil suit filed over his treatment by government officials.
According to the survey, most Canadians, some 65 per cent, also reject the notion the government had no choice but to settle.
Then, like an improvised explosive device in the middle of Angus Reid’s poll, plopped the pronouncement that 64 per cent of Canadians believe Khadr is a “potential radicalized threat.”
Conservative media jumped all over that one, which is to say they reported it dutifully without bothering to dissect the supporting numbers. A closer look at those tells a different story. That’s the thing with public opinion polls. They can, and often are, used to push an alternate reality.
And with this one, there were a number of red flags missed by we gatekeepers of public discourse (i.e.: the media) beginning with the fact that those polled were not what might be described as ordinary Canadians. They’re members of the Angus Reid Forum, an online panel paid to take part in surveys for the polling company. (Check out the snaps on Angus Reid’s Instagram account.)
Red flag number two: Angus Reid’s poll was “self-commissioned,” which is always dangerous given polling companies usually only commission their own polls to get their name in the papers.
Then there are the numbers Angus Reid crunched to determine its key findings. They just don’t add up. For starters, only 21 per cent of those surveyed have followed the Khadr story “closely and know a lot about it.” Almost half of the 1,521 people surveyed (47 per cent), had only followed the Khadr case “some, and know a little bit about it.”
Dig a little deeper into the “tables, graphs and methodology” section and Angus Reid’s conclusions become wobblier.
For example, 32 per cent of those surveyed report that they either recognize Khadr’s name “but haven’t followed the story/don’t know much about it,” or don’t know anything about Khadr at all.
So, how the poll could have arrived at the conclusion that the “vast majority” of Canadians oppose the settlement looks like statistical wizardry. Oh wait, the answer to that apparent discrepancy is right there in the two-page backgrounder issued by Angus Reid. It states somewhat matter-of-factly that opposition to the government’s decision, “does not appear to be affected by awareness of Omar Khadr and his story, or by gender... but political affiliation plays a major role.”
In other words, the fact that people know little or nothing about Khadr’s case seems to have little bearing on their opinion. Well, then...
That may explain why 42 per cent of those surveyed answered “not sure/can’t say” when asked whether Khadr was treated fairly or unfairly.
Angus Reid’s key findings are seemingly contradicted by its own survey. Some 74 per cent of those asked agreed with the statement that Khadr was a child soldier at the time of his arrest at the age of 15 “and should have been dealt with accordingly,” which presumably means not left to rot in Guantanamo.
Despite that finding, 64 per cent agreed with the statement, “Omar Khadr remains a potential radicalized threat now living in Canada.” But half of those who agree with that statement only “moderately agree.”
Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, told Huffington Post that the Khadr decision could “haunt” the Liberals’ electoral prospects come 2019. (See sidebar for Angus Reid’s response to NOW).
To be sure, that’s the predictable narrative that’s been making the rounds among Conservative party acolytes on social media – it was a Conservative government under Stephen Harper, after all, that allowed Khadr to languish in Guantanamo Bay, that ignored his claims of torture, and that fought efforts to have him transferred to a Canadian prison.
As for polls, there was one out last week by Nanos Research, which tracks cross-country support. It shows the Cons got zero bounce from their efforts to demonize Khadr. Clearly, Canadians are not buying the BS. email@example.com | @enzodimatteo
The following response was received from Angus Reid research associate Ian Holliday shortly after this story was published online July 26. It’s really quite remarkable. It has been edited for length.
You’re correct in noting that the Khadr story is something Canadians profess relatively little knowledge about. Public opinion is often uninformed or ill-informed. People have opinions about things they don’t fully understand.
Part of the responsibility of media in a democracy is to strive to educate the public about issues in order to try to improve their understanding. (It’s challenging, because often the goals of politics and the format of news don’t lend themselves to explaining nuance.)
This is a responsibility for pollsters as well. This poll (like all polls) is an accurate representation of what our representative sample of Canadians said in response to the questions we asked.
The fact that many Canadians say they know little about the issue doesn’t change the poll’s ability to accurately (within margin of error) record their responses.