Paint it, black

by Gareth on July 9, 2008

Paintitblack.jpg Interesting to see how one opinion poll can say different things to different people. Over the weekend, Fran O’Sullivan in The Herald referred to a survey commissioned by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (they of the mostly useless recent report on the economics of the ETS). Here’s what Fran noticed:

The detailed survey shows extraordinary ignorance by New Zealanders. It indicates only one-third of the country believes in climate change in the first place. Only 13 per cent strongly support the ETS, with less than half the country aware of the scheme’s existence until prompted by surveyors.

The usual suspects have been trotting out a similar take on the survey. But it seemed fishy to me (and to No Right Turn). The results don’t seem to square with other online polls on the subject. So I downloaded the survey results and had a look [PDF].

The survey design is based around asking respondents to rate their perception of an issue on a scale of 1 to 10. Here’s the first question:

Some say the earth’s temperature is changing and this could have drastic effects in the long run. Do you believe climate change is happening? (Please rate on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means ‘Don’t believe at all’ and 10 means ‘Completely believe’).

NZIER take those who replied 9 and 10, 7% and 26% respectively, and say that a third of people strongly believe that climate change is happening. They cunningly ignore the fact that only 9% of respondents strongly disbelieve in the reality of climate change. If you add up all the people who scored the issue from 6 to 10 – on the “believe” end of the scale – you find the number soars to 67%. That’s an inconvenient number, so it doesn’t get mentioned.

Support for the ETS was gauged after reading out a list of “key benefits” and “key costs” of the scheme. Take a look at the “key costs” list:

- Fuel prices will go up from 2011

- Household electricity prices will increase from 2010

- By 2025 it is predicted that the scheme will result in the loss of 20,000 jobs and an overall cost to the economy of nearly $6 billion

- Some companies have said that they will not be able to compete with countries where a similar scheme is not in place. Some have said that they may have to move overseas in order to compete with overseas companies

- Industries like forestry, fishing and shipping have said that this scheme will seriously affect them

- New Zealand is the only country in the world intending to include agriculture in an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and agriculture accounts for nearly half of New Zealand’s incomefrom overseas as well as nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions

The numbers they quote come from their own mostly useless assessment of the costs of the ETS, and are way out of line with other work. After reading a list like that, would you support the scheme? Looks like a stacked question to me. A mostly useless poll to add to their daft economic assessment.

If this stuff is supposed to be informing the NZIER on their “policy development”, then it looks like they’ll be following their own trend, and suggest mostly useless policy. And that’s a shame.

[As I was working on this post, the Business Council for Sustainable Development posted their own reassessment of this survey. Just goes to show how far you can play with the figures to get the result you want.]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Idiot/Savant July 9, 2008 at 1:42 pm

For surveys which use a 1-5 scale, it is usual to report “agreement” (4-5) and “disagreement” (1-2), rather than just the strong figures.

But fundamentally, it can’t be trusted, simply because the methodology is shonky.

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