While my primary academic interests revolve around media, religion and psychology I have always been a political junkie… or at least since I was a teenager. Being Canadian, I follow Canadian politics very closely and, I must admit, I am obsessed with polls. I visit these two sites nearly every morning to check for updates:
Setting aside for a moment an alarming trend in multiple Canadian polls, most of which see the federal Conservatives slowly regaining some popularity (be afraid, Canada, be very, very afraid–they still could win the next election, especially if they call it early), there was some interesting and unusual data concerning Canadian media in the latest Abacus poll, but it also addresses Canadian fears surrounding “radical Islamist terrorism” versus “deranged individual attackers”: Abacus-Release-November-5_Vote_Response.
To summarize, of the poll’s 1,850 respondents, opinion is divided between 51% who think the recent attacks in Ottawa and Montreal “were caused by the growing conflict with radical Islamic influences in the Middle East” and 49% who think they “were more about two deranged individual attackers than a broader conflict.” 47% say the “attacks prove Canada must take a harder line in the fight against terror in the Middle East”, while 53% said “the attacks don’t affect my view of what we should do in the fight against terror in the Middle East.” 56% believe that “Canada faces a growing risk of radical Islamist terrorism in Canada” while 44% adopt a more tentative view “It’s not yet clear whether the risk of radical Islamist terrorism in Canada is growing”.
But then this data was added: “Finally, as events unfolded, many people watched TV news coverage: 28% said they mostly watched CBC/Radio Canada, followed by CTV (22%), Global (14%) and TVA (11% or 42% in Quebec). 5% watched CNN. Large majorities said they thought the broadcasts they watched did a good job providing coverage, with the strongest positives for the CBC.” More media data was provided a little earlier in the press release: “In terms of how people first heard of this attack, TV was the first source for 34% of the population, radio was cited by 15%, while 10% said they heard about it directly from another individual, and 4% got a telephone call from someone. The rapidly growing role of digital communications is evident in that 18% said the Internet was their first source, another 14% said social media, and 5% said an email or text message.”
At this point I will refrain from commenting too much on this data. I present it here “for your information”–and for my information as well. But it is interesting data and I will at least say this: if accurate, it paints a picture that shows the federal Conservatives may very well be able to create a wedge issue rooted in religious fear and ride that fear to another election victory, especially if they call an early election. We should be worried about that. But on an almost completely different topic, it also paints a picture of a country that still watches a lot of TV (in spite of the growth of digital communications), still watches mostly Canadian news when they do, and still trusts Canadian public broadcasting to a remarkably high degree. I wonder how many Canadians really understand the threat the Conservative party represents to public broadcasting? “Well, they’ve been in power for almost ten years and the CBC is still here, so….” Good point, except it’s not. The CBC is in a much more precarious position today then it was 10 years ago, and while the Liberals haven’t been particularly friendly to the CBC since at least the 1970s, the Conserveratives actually do want to see the CBC fail. Furthermore, the Conservatives like to kill things slowly, bit by bit, drip by drip, budget by budget. Give them another four years, and you will see four more years of incremental “death by a thousand paper cuts” inflicted on the CBC. There’s only so much more they can take.
Wait, I thought I wasn’t going to comment on this data? I guess I am; but it’s interesting that I’m focusing on the media data in the poll rather than the religious and the psychological, i.e. the Islamist extremist threat versus the deranged crazy person threat. I should be honest. I don’t yet know what to say about the near 50/50 divide in perceptions about “radical Islam” verses “deranged individual attackers.” My fear is that too many people believe “radical Islam” represents all of Islam and that “deranged individual” equals mental illness in general. But I need to think this through a little more; and I cannot just rely on one poll to draw general conclusions. In other words, my specific academic interests are represented in this poll, but I don’t quite know what to do with them yet. It’s much more safe to talk about the CBC.
But then there’s also the methodology problem–this poll is NOT a random sample of the Canadian population. It’s an opt-in online poll in which a random sample was taken of a recruited online panel. But that’s a growing problem amongst pollsters these days, as so many turn to the internet to conduct their surveys using opt-in panels. Perhaps I’ll post on that problem at another time. I’ve already said much more than I intended here as I really just wanted to draw attention to the raw data, which I myself don’t know what to do with yet.