You ask a silly question and you get 40,000 silly answers! The Democrats survey debacle…

In an article in The Australian, Jill Rowbotham interviews the Anglican military bishop Tom Frame (ie. he is a bishop for the military, not the “Onward-Christian-Soldiers” type which Melbourne Catholics are hoping for in their prayers!)

I’m not too fussed with the article itself, but I did perk up a little at this paragraph:

“At the same time the Australian Democrats’ online survey, God and
Government, was allegedly bombed by a Christian campaign in which 40,000
people responded, overwhelmingly pro-church in their answers. (A normal
response rate is 1000.) The God survey yielded no information about what
the broad community thinks, but confirmed that some in the churches are not
prepared to take perceived attacks lying down.”

“Bombed”? “Attacks”? Golly. Whoever heard of survey being “bombed” before? Is this leakage onto the Opinion page from the World News section?

And the logic (or lack of it) in that conclusion is quite breath-taking, isn’t it? A survey is overwhelmingly successful in its response rate and so it is deemed unsucessful. The “broad community” is someone else other than the 39,000 who responded with the “wrong” answers, ie. the religious answers, as opposed to the “right” answers, ie. the secular atheistic ones.

One presumes that the secular atheists got out in force too, not only the Christians. I imagine that the entire secular atheistic community in Australia voted in the survey (yep, all 1000 of them–the ones that are the “normal” respondents to such a survey).

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3 Responses to You ask a silly question and you get 40,000 silly answers! The Democrats survey debacle…

  1. Peregrinus says:

    The survey was always an astonishingly silly idea (and therefore entirely suited to the campaign it sought to support). I mean, who was ever going to find the survey website and answer the badly-phrased and obviously loaded questions? It was hardly going to be a statistically reliable stratified sample of the Australian population, was it? It was going to represent the kind of people who ordinarily find their way to the Australian Democrats website, among whom – I’m hazarding a wild guess here – committed supporters and even members of the Australian Democrats might be over-represented relative to their numbers in the population at large.

    I don’t imagine that the 39,000 politically inconvenient respondents are a representative sample of the population either. They’re also committed supporters, but with a different commitment, and they too found their way to the Democrats website – with the help of people like yourself, David – to express that commitment.

    Their views are of course just as valid as the views of the 1,000 who adhere to the true Democrat faith, but just as unrepresentative of the nation as a whole.

    So what does the survey tell us? Nothing about the views of the public at large – it was never going to do that. It could have told us something about the willingness of Australian Democrat members and supporters to adhere to this particular brand of anticlericalism. That has, however, been frustrated by the unexpected participation in such large numbers of those with a different commitment. So what we have in fact learnt is that the number of committed supporters of the Australian Democrats is very small, and they are easily swamped by those with a different commitment.

    But I think we knew that already.

  2. Schütz says:

    Well, yes, you’re quite right of course.

    Nevertheless (I love that word–just count how many times I use it in the average blog)…

    Nevertheless, surely it tells us something about the “broader” Australian community. It tells us that the broader Australian community has at least 39,000 Christians in it who are willing to visit a website and fill in such a stupid survey just to let the Democrats know they’re there.

    It tells us that if this were an election and not an internet survey, Family First would get 39 times as many votes as the Democrats.

    Now there’s a thought…

  3. Peregrinus says:

    Actually, I don’t think it’s really about the numbers. Or, at least, not entirely. I think it’s more about organisation and strength of feeling.

    Either the Democrats can’t organise or motivate their supporters to visit the website/complete the survey, or they can’t reach out effectively to non-Democrat supporters who would support an anticlerical campaign and who would give the desired answers if only they knew the survey was there. Or both, of course. The 1,000 responses couild be the tip of a larger iceberg who simply weren’t reached.

    By contrast, the “Family First” tendency (it’s a grossly inaccurate label, but I’m too lazy to think of a better one) can motivate and organise people to respond to the survey. Not necessarily 39,000 people, since I do believe that this was an “up yours!” spoiling exercise. It could have been a smaller number of people responding more than once each.

    The bottom line is, whether through larger numbers or better or more committed organisation or (probably) both, the “Family First” tendency is more effective than the anti-clerical tendency. But the real challenge for them is not to annoy Lyn Allison, fun though that undoubtedly is, but to persuade the huge middle ground, which is not especially concerned with this question, that the involvement of church and state in the form we have it in Australia is beneficial, to the point where the likes of Lyn Allison will recognise that attacking it is a vote-loser.

    One side-effect of the spoiling exercise was that, if there is a strand within actual or potential Democrat supporters who would have been unhappy at this campaign and would have signalled that in their responses to the survey, the spoiling exercise will have obscured that. Lyn can take comfort, if she chooses, in the belief that her campaign was ‘attacked’ and frustrated by the Forces of Darkness, and avoid what might be the reality – that the constituency to which she seeks to appeal was lukewarm about this exceptionally silly idea.

    The irony is that there really is a debate to be had about the proper relationship between church and state in Australia, and about the role of churches in Australian society. But Lyn Allison hasn’t the first notion of how to engage in that debate.

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