Questioning the answers
I support Halifax’s 2014 Commonwealth Games bid if
… If I know how much they’re going to cost. And if that cost seems to be reasonable, given all the other priorities I’d like my governments to focus their attention — and spend my money — on.
Those “ifs” are critical to my position on the bid, but they weren’t incorporated into the seemingly blandly generic Games question Corporate Research Associates asked 400 metro adults between Feb. 1and 7: “As you may know, Halifax is the Canadian entry in the bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. All things considered, do you completely support, mostly support, mostly oppose or completely oppose Halifax hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2014?”
The phrasing of the question and its lack of important context probably explains why the pollsters were able to report — in the words of a clever Daily News headline writer — 72% Of Us Are Game For The Games, even though every water cooler poll and casual conversation I’ve ever had on the subject leads me to believe otherwise. (Intriguingly, nine of the 10 readers who took the time to comment about the positive poll story on the Daily News website offered negative comments about hosting the Games.)
The problem I have with the poll is the same problem I’ve had with the Games bid process itself. It’s all about selling me something rather than ever telling me what I want — and need — to know.
It’s worth noting that Don Mills, the president of Corporate Research Associates, the company that conducted the poll, is also co-chair of the Bring on the Games Committee, a primarily business lobby group whose avowed goal is to sell the rest of us on the benefits of hosting the Games.
CRA’s vice president of public affairs, Peter MacIntosh, insisted to Daily News reporter Rachel Boomer that Mills personally had had nothing to do with the poll. I accept that. But does it really matter?
When you ask a broad question like the one CRA asked, without any probing follow ups to explore what the answer actually means, you’re left with little but spin.
And MacIntosh was spinning for all he was worth. “People see [the Games] as a great opportunity,” he declared. “They see that, in the long run, it’s going to be a job creator; this is not going to be a money-losing event.”
Is that really what we
see? Or is that what MacIntosh wants us to believe everyone else sees?
I was intrigued, for example, by the fact that four of the 400 people questioned actually stepped outside of the completely/mostly-support/oppose boxes the pollsters had created for them, and answered that their answer “depends on cost.” How many more might have checked that box if it had been one of the listed responses in the survey? Or if poll had offered “maybe” as one of its responses instead of the either/or “completely” and “mostly”?
And would MacIntosh’s upbeat spin have had to be different if there’d been some concrete follow-up questions?
Like: Would you support the Games bid if you knew it was going to cost $500 million? $785 million? $1.3 billion? More?
Or how about: Would you support the Games bid if you knew Ottawa would not contribute more than $400 million to the Games, regardless of the final costs?
Or, and this is perhaps the key question: Do you think the Games bid committee has provided you with enough information about Halifax’s proposal to fairly judge whether you support or oppose the bid?
The problem is that the poll was never really intended to find out what we actually think about the Games bid. Its purpose was to help the Games promoters sell us on what we should think.
The spin games are well underway. It’s long since past time for them to stop.
Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College, is an award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a novel, Reparations.