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. en­zom@now­ | @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.

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