Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shooting the messenger

A poll conducted by a Wellington company called Research New Zealand appears to have found that half of New Zealanders favour the police carrying guns.

Or does it?

The survey claims a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent (with a confidence level of 95 percent). That margin of error is higher than I like to see, even though the pollsters claim it’s an accurate representation of the general New Zealand population.

What bothers me about it, though, is the question they asked: “How much do you approve or disapprove of the Police carrying guns?” The question is far too open-ended to draw the conclusion they claimed. Police carrying guns, when? Under what circumstances? Sometimes or all the time? These variables all matter because they’d produce different results.

To say that half of New Zealanders support police carrying guns at least sometimes under some undetermined circumstances is fair enough, but to claim that “half of New Zealanders think Police should carry guns” as the pollsters do is simply not supported by their poll results.

The telephone poll was also conducted 25 June to 9 July, right around the time there were some serious crimes in South Auckland. This, too, would have skewed the results.

Add it all up, and I have a zero confidence level in this poll. If Research New Zealand is going to ask questions about such hot topics, they have an obligation to ask specific, quantifiable questions that are then interpreted correctly and fairly. In the meantime, give this poll a mere shrug of the shoulders.

A tip o' the hat to Dawn for pointing this poll out to me.

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