Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Special Interest Groups Are Busy About "Surveying" the Candidates.

The special interest groups surveys are coming in hot and heavy to the candidates in the past few days. These are techniques used to inform candidates of the issues of interest to various special interests and to illicit responses form candidates.

The campaign war rooms in the past have often tightly controlled the messages in such survey responses. The Ed Stelmach war room has not been prescriptive to candidates on what they say and which surveys they may wish to reply to. There are suggestions being made as to responses but PC candidates are free to speak their own minds in survey replies.

The surveys themselves cover a wide range of topics. Some are very good, others are set ups and very biased and others are plain ugly in their attempts to get meaningful candidate responses on issues of “import.” The latter two survey models usually ask leading questions and accept only yes or no answers. If the issues were that simple they would not need leading questions and the answers would be obvious.

Here is a sampling of surveys I have seen and applaud, scratch my head ofver or just plain want to “dis’ them – and for good reason.

The CAANA group is all about commuter air service in Alberta and want to know if candidates support “Open Sky’s Policy” passenger air service in Alberta but the real agenda is passenger air service into the Edmonton Muni Airport. This matter of the Edmonton Muni passenger service is outside the provincial jurisdiction and candidates can try an influence the issue but they can’t decide it. Best to pass on this one…there are more key issues, especially for Edmonton candidates to deal with.

The Citizens Advocating the Use of Sustainable Energy (CAUSE – cute eh?) are a Calgary group who oppose the development of nuclear energy in northern Alberta. Some “context setting” language is in the survey that is prescriptive and the expected response to a complex set of issues is again yes or no. Na├»ve to say the least but it helps bring the nuclear question to candidate consciousness – if they take the group seriously.

The Gay Calgary and Edmonton Magazine has a survey they have out is unfocused and on everything from privatized healthcare to rent controls and low cost hosing to the Civil Marriage ct and environmental issues. The kicker, they will publish replies in their March edition. The election is March 3, what good will a March publication date do any candidates?

HealthVision 2020 is a group promoting a dedicated funding of a health promotion fund focused on improving the quality of life of Albertans and they provide helpful context behind their questions. The Pembina Institute survey on oil sands development gives rationales for the questions they ask as well. They still all design in yes and no answers but they at least the issues are conceptual and not just totally self-serving for the sponsor's cause.

It will be interesting to see how survey sponsors use the results and if anyone beyond their own circles of friends actually will care about these surveys in the end. Can a special interst group actually create a ballot question for its members using such survey techniques? Or will people just use the survey information as more background in deciding how to vote. That is an interesting research question for some political scientist to study some day. My guess is that such surveys are just white noise in the real world of how voters make choices.