Globe public editor: The trouble with online surveys
The Globe’s questions are not online polls, but surveys of readers’ views.
By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail
Two readers wrote to take The Globe and Mail to task for its online survey last week on assisted dying. You see these daily questions on the homepage under “The Conversation” on the right-hand side about halfway down. Readers can click on yes, no, unsure/maybe on an issue in the news each day.
A reader in Ontario noted that last Wednesday morning, the question was about assisted dying. When he voted early that day, “it was running 80 per cent in favour after a few thousand votes.” That percentage is roughly in line with what published polls have demonstrated in terms of Canadians’ views. But by Thursday, he said, the numbers “showed 72 per cent against assisted dying. … I surmise that some group against this initiative got wind of your poll and had its members go to your website to vote. Can’t blame them for trying to exert their influence, however if my surmise is correct your polls will fast become useless.”
Then on Saturday, The Globe published a small item in the paper’s Focus section titled Assisted Suicide that included the results of that survey. It said: “Most pollsters say that Canadians are greatly in favour of changing the law to reflect this point of view. But when we asked our online readers if they agree with assisted suicide, the response was very different, indeed.” It said 71 per cent of online readers had voted No, 26 per cent had voted Yes and 5 per cent were unsure.
Wanda Morris, the chief executive officer of Dying With Dignity Canada, was quick to send a letter to the editor titled Responsible Journalism Please! Re: Assisted Suicide [sic] Globe Poll:
“I was appalled to read Saturday’s article about the difference in polling results between the Globe’s (online) poll and the results of statistically valid polls by reputable polling firms, of which last week’s Ipsos Reid poll was the latest example.
“The results of the Globe’s uncontrolled online poll do not reflect the opinion of Globe readers (as the article states) but of anyone who votes. Special interest groups routinely skew results by sending out mass e-mails to their supporters encouraging them to vote.
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