COLUMN: To web poll, or not to web poll

Although not scientific, web opinion polls have their place Thom argues

Whenever we put up an opinion poll on our website, we inevitably get slagged for it.

One criticism that almost always comes up is ‘why have a poll like this?’

Why, indeed?

Our web polls are hardly random, usually a statistically low sample size, sometimes skewed by motivated special interest groups and therefore not scientific.

But that is not their intent.

The results are, nevertheless, interesting from a local perspective in a number of ways.

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For example, in our recent poll on climate change some people were outraged we were giving a platform to climate change deniers, that this issue has been settled, and we should just ignore the fact there are dissenting opinions.

I agree that the science has been settled. Climate change is happening and human activity is the primary driving force.

What is not settled is how people feel about it. The specific result was just about a 50-50 split between climate change being caused by human activity and being primarily the result of natural cycles is by no means scientific, but it is an indication that a significant portion of the local population doesn’t get it.

And that’s not something to be swept under the carpet. We are not in the business of policing opinion. We are in the business of exposing opinions, no matter how wrong or unfounded they are.

Clearly, more education is required, both on climate change and the role of newspapers.


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Most recently we asked if people supported the Tahltan trying to evict jade and placer miners from their traditional territory.

That generated a fascinating discussion about democracy. It never ceases to amaze me how so many people who live in a liberal democratic society do not understand the concept of liberal democracy.

It is not “majority rules.” We are governed by principles enshrined in a constitution that is designed specifically to protect minorities from the potential tyranny of the majority.

If our democratically elected officials attempt to circumvent those principles, we have institutional checks and balances—i.e., the courts—to hold them to account.

It was suggested that asking the majority to vote on the rights of a minority is something that doesn’t happen in a democracy.

If The Interior News was an elected body and our poll was a referendum that would result in a law that infringed minority rights, that would indeed be antithetical to democracy.

But we are a news organization and it was a web opinion poll that gives us a qualitative gauge of what our readership is thinking.

We reported on the story because Indigenous rights and title and resource extraction are important issues.

We ran a poll on it for the same reason.

Again, the results are non-scientific and therefore not of much quantitative use if it were to be used for, say policy development purposes.

But again, that was not its intent, either.

It does gives us qualitative sense, however, that there is a great deal of support for Indigenous rights well beyond the Indigenous population itself.

That’s encouraging because the specific issue of placer mining is not just a First Nations issue. It appears this activity is extremely widespread in B.C. and either poorly regulated or inadequately enforced, perhaps both, and provides very little return for the risks associated with it.

In general, web polls are community snapshot at best and almost more entertainment than news.

But if nothing else, they show us we have a very engaged readership and for that we are grateful.

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