What is the most important issue facing Canadians today?
The Public Opinion Polls collection in <odesi> includes over a thousand public opinion polls, or POPs for short.
What is a Public Opinion Poll?
A POP is a survey of public opinion about social, economic, and political issues. “Public opinion” typically means a commonly held belief about something, usually by a majority of people. “Poll” or “Polling” has roots in voting and recording those votes, but has since evolved to also mean the act of recording people’s opinions on a topic as a pollster asks them a series of questions.
A brief history of POPs in Canada
One of the first major POPs in Canada was conducted by Gallup on behalf of the Liberal party in the early 1940s to gauge the public’s views on the issue of conscription during World War II. Other major polling firms in Canada, such as Decima Research, Environics, Angus Reid, and Ipsos Canada, have been more active since the 1980s when polling began gaining more influence and a larger audience.
Given these roots, it’s no surprise that POPs deal heavily in politics and elections. In Canada, POPs are thought to have close enough ties to elections that section 326 of the Canada Elections Act is dedicated to providing directives on what information to provide when transmitting the results of a POP to the public during an election. The Act brings up several important components when looking at POPs in general, such as:
- the name of the sponsor of the survey;
- the name of the person or organization that conducted the survey;
- the date on which or the period during which the survey was conducted;
- the population from which the sample of respondents was drawn;
- the number of people who were contacted to participate in the survey; and
- if applicable, the margin of error in respect of the data obtained.
The question of sampling is important in this context. Obviously, asking an entire population a series of questions, for example all Canadians eligible to vote in the next federal election, could be very difficult to accomplish. This is why a sample of the population is surveyed in order to obtain an approximation of public thought on an issue. It is important that a sample be representative of that population in order to be accurate.
Different kinds of polls
Some survey methodologies that are commonly used for POPs in <odesi> include:
- Random sample monthly polls – typically through random digit dialing via telephone (Example: Monthly Gallup Polls)
- Web-based polls – often targeting people via e-mail or website traffic (Example: Web 2.0 Cellular Telephone Survey, 2008)
- Exit Polls – where respondents are asked who they voted for as they leave a voting station (Example: Ipsos Reid Federal Election Exit Poll 2006)
- Longitudinal surveys – polls that attempt to follow a population’s opinion over time (Ex: 2014 Ontario General Election 5-Week Omnibus Survey)
In sum, a POP can cover all kinds of topics, but usually deals with contemporary issues and often have a political flavour. These surveys are also a significant tool used by various organizations, and the media, to gauge the public’s opinion and predict or forecast certain outcomes.
References and Further Reading
Butler, Peter Marshall. Polling and Public Opinion: A Canadian Perspective. University of Toronto Press, 2007. https://www.worldcat.org/title/polling-and-public-opinion-a-canadian-perspective/oclc/762967787&referer=brief_results
Blais, Andre. “Public Opinion.” Canadian Encyclopedia. Last modified October 17, 2014. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/public-opinion/
Canada Elections Act, Statutes of Canada 2000, c.9. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/E-2.01/index.html
Emery, Claude. “Public Opinion Polling In Canada.” Library of Parliament, Political and Social Affairs Division, 1994. http://publications.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/BP/bp371-e.htm