Just before Christmas, my town hall sent out a survey to its citizens. The first question read, “Are you proud to live in Stanstead? Yes or No.” Well, that stopped me right there. Am I proud? That’s a pretty bold emotion. Content? Sure. Proud? I don’t know. Is living in Stanstead the fulfillment of a lifelong dream? No. Do I wake every morning, look out the window and go, “Yes!” No. Am I occasionally peeved at my town, especially when the compost truck doesn’t come by as scheduled? Yes.
I’m not not proud, yet I couldn’t honestly bring myself to check “yes.”
Of the 86 percent of respondents who did check “yes,” I wonder how many did so with a shrug. As for the 14 percent who said, no, they weren’t proud to live in Stanstead, I say, “Love it or leave it, haters!”
This, then, is the problem with surveys. The results are given with such statistical firmness, yet how many of those answers were made by people who were unsure or confused or drunk?
Let me tell you, people: I am one of those people. I’ve been known to be all three of those people.
Imagine the following survey question: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper would make the ideal date for Valentine’s Day: do you a) strongly disagree b) somewhat disagree c) somewhat agree or d) strongly agree?”
Well, that depends. Is it a first date? Because Valentine’s Day is too much pressure for a first date. Have Stephen Harper and I been dating for a while? If so, I think we would have a lovely Valentine’s evening. We’d probably stay in, have a little dinner of Alberta beef, or maybe Chinese, probably lots of Chinese. Then we’d sit at desks for a while, because I know from those photos the PM posted on Twitter that he really likes sitting at desks. And I’d ask him questions about his life, and he’d avoid answering them, and I would say, “Don’t make me go through Access to Information!” and he’d laugh and delay my request for 30 days and then another 30 days and so on.
Later, we’d Google pictures of Bob Rae in high school and make fun of him, until eventually Stephen would open up and tell me how he wishes he could have an inaugural ball and he could willfully assassinate domestic terror suspects. And who knows where the night would go from there…?
Sorry, where was I?
Oh yes, the survey question. Given the options, I’d probably answer “somewhat disagree,” which isn’t my true answer – my true answer being “Follow your heart, not your caucus” – but it’s the best option available. Such ambivalent answers, though, could affect policy and deny the prime minister a delightful hypothetical Valentine’s date. Sorry, Stephen. I know: it’s just like Grade 3 all over again…
Besides being undecided, how many people answer surveys without clear knowledge of the issue? I heard on the weekend, for instance, that only a third of Canadians support providing humanitarian aid to Mali. What they don’t tell you is that 53 percent of those polled thought Mali was one of the counties in southwestern Nova Scotia that got clobbered by the snowstorm and felt we already give too much aid to those deadbeat Malitimers.
The survey-makers will tell you that their results are 96 percent accurate within three percentage points, which sounds good (I guess) until you realize that the people claiming the survey-makers are accurate are the survey-makers themselves, which is like me telling you that 96 percent of the time I am breathtakingly handsome, a fact I can prove because I said so.
So, back to my town survey. Because I couldn’t honestly answer that first question about being proud to live in Stanstead, I ended up not answering the survey at all. So if I inadvertently caused my fellow citizens’ taxes to go up by not answering the question about whether I was in favour of opposing not funding salary increases for councillors as well as the construction of the Stephen Harper Centre for Getting Tough on Crime and Romance, I do apologize for the oversight.
Originally aired on CBC Radio “Breakaway” on February 12, 2013. You can hear the original rambling here. It helps if you follow Canadian politics. Sorry, rest of the world….