UPDATED: Dubious Poll Reporting Achievement of the Week Award: Sun Media/Leger Marketing

Honestly, ITQ isn’t trying to pick on Sun Media or Leger Marketing here, but — well, actually, she sort of is, but only because this story — on support for the Afghanistan mission —  is such a perfect example of how media outlets can unwittingly (at least, she assumes it’s unwitting) render the findings of even a fairly stark and straightforward poll utterly meaningless:

Almost half of Canadians say our troops should remain in Afghanistan, but only if the mission changes from a combat role to a training and development mission.

A Leger Marketing poll says 45% of Canadians support staying for a non-combat mission, while 12% want the troops to stay until the war is won.

Okay, let’s do some math. 45 +12 = 57. 100 – 57 = 43.  So what did the 43 percent of respondents — just 2 percent fewer than those who back a continuing, if non-combat role for Canadian troops in Afghanistan — think about the future of the mission? We don’t know, because – somewhat unbelievably – that result simply isn’t provided. Seriously, ITQ reread the article three times, thinking she was  somehow missing it, but no, it’s just not there. The fact that it isn’t, and that we don’t even know what the third option*–  if any — might have been, makes this poll virtually useless as far as presenting anything approaching an accurate snapshot of Canadian public opinion.

UPDATE:ITQ partially retracts her accusation, and takes full responsibility for her sloppy interpretation of the regional data, buried in which is the fact that 37 percent of respondents want to see Canadians leave “immediately,” although that still leaves six percent unaccounted for. But she maintains that that number — which is higher than she would have expected, frankly — should have been presented with the rest of the topline data. So there.  (She also now wonders why there was no option that would have troops leave in 2012, with no continuing mission — “development and training”-focused or otherwise, and can’t help but think that including that as a possible outcome could have substantially altered the results. But that’s a polling nitpick, not a reporting one.)

Oh, and the story also fails to give field dates, sample size or margin of error — all of which is helpful, if often overlooked information when attempting to determine how much credibility to give a particular poll, but that’s a comparatively minor sin. Excluding the views of 43 percent of respondents, on the other hand, is pretty much indefensible, not to mention inexplicable.

*For the record, ITQ suspects that there was, in fact, a third choice presented to respondents, although really, even if there wasn’t, the fact that such a sizeable contingent was undecided, or went with ‘none of the above’ would still be noteworthy; based on previous polling on the Afghanistan issue, it almost certainly proposed a scenario in which Canadian troops would remain until 2012, but then withdraw on schedule, and withdraw completely, not simply reconfigure the mission into one focused on ‘training and development.’

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