Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The predictable early poll on the perimeter deal rolls in

Amazingly, we have a poll on our hands, already, on the perimeter deal: "Poll suggests Canadians overwhelmingly favour integrated border with U.S." The poll includes the obligatory technical details:
Each week, Harris/Decima interviews just over 1000 Canadians through teleVox, the company’s national telephone omnibus survey. The most recent data were gathered between February 3 and February 7, 2011. A sample of the same size has a margin of error of 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.
The Harper-Obama meeting occurred on Friday the 4th. So the poll's questions and prep work were done in advance of the 3rd, it appears. Quite the fortuitous timing on this pollster's part to start polling on the 3rd about some broad underpinnings of a deal that was just announced on the 4th. And then to roll out the results early the next week.

It really would be interesting to see who pays for some of these polls, particularly in light of the timing. These pollsters aren't in the habit of doing volunteer work.

While the headline of the poll is eye-catching and likely meant to be, to say that Canadians overwhelmingly favour an integrated border with the U.S. is a stretch based on the findings. The survey asked respondents how supportive they would be of including these items in a possible agreement: harmonizing food regulations (84% support), shared intelligence gathering (75%) and a bilateral agency overseeing the building of border infrastructure (70%). Asking whether someone supports including such items in a possible agreement without respondents knowing how those items will be implemented in an agreement is an incomplete analysis. It's an apple pie first blush reaction.

What are people going to say when asked whether they support shared intelligence gathering? No? People are realistic, of course there's going to be some intelligence sharing between Canada and the U.S. over threats we may face. But how we go about doing that and what implications it will have on our border sovereignty, immigration policy and privacy rights is a bundle of separate questions that are not raised in this first blush poll.

84% support including the harmonizing of food regulations...you know, I'd almost be inclined to agree with that one myself given Gerry Ritz and the Conservative government's track record with the listeriosis debacle. But really, food safety is not likely to be the controversial guts of a coming agreement.

Note that the surrounding context to the phone survey seems to have been the larger relationship between Canada and the U.S. ("Overall, would you say that relations between Canada and the US excellent, good, fair or poor?") The majority of questions were in that ballpark.

We'll see how these numbers evolve once the debate shapes up and Canadians start hearing about concrete changes that might take place in the U.S./Canada relationship. Maybe there's a hint in the reaction to one concept put to the respondents. 59% are opposed to the perimeter deal including Canadians needing visas to cross the border. Once implications become a little more tangible, a recoil is there.

Lots more polls likely to come.