Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Polling on the CBC's budget

This just looks like plain old seeding of the ground for CBC budget cuts. A poll conducted by Abacus Data for QMI news agency appears in their pages today. QMI are no friends of the CBC, they have pursued thousands of access to information requests from the CBC relentlessly since the Conservatives made that change in 2007 (there are journalistic reasons for some of the reluctance on CBC's part, but this post is not really about that issue, just mentioning it as context for this QMI commissioned poll).

QMI's poll purports to demonstrate this: "Canadians want CBC budget cut." I would take issue with that conclusion, see last part below. Here's the chart (pdf) that captures the poll results.

First, to just go over the details, the poll asked whether the respondents were aware of how much funding CBC received from the federal government last year. Now do you out there know the budget of the CBC? I do since I write a political blog and I'm crazy enough to have blogged on this topic repeatedly. But I'm not that surprised at all to find out that the majority of people polled don't know the CBC got $1.1 billion dollars last year. Only 17% of the respondents knew this. The rest were way off. Way, way off. The biggest group of respondents was a 25% slice who thought the CBC gets $150 million. So what this proves is that people really have no sense at all as to how much it costs to run the CBC or even how much it should cost. And why would they?

So naturally, since they don't even know how much it costs to run the broadcaster, the next question is whether the $1.1 billion is too much (no word on whether they asked what the budget of the PMO was or whether that is too much). Oh, and there's no sense from the poll as to whether there was any comparator offered. Like, such and such other Canadian broadcaster needs this much in operating dollars. Does the CBC use too much or not enough in comparison, etc. Nope. Anyway, surprise, surprise, people generally said yes, that's too much. $1.1 billion does sound like a lot of money after all, for anything really. This breaks down along some partisan lines that are played up in the story - Conservatives are overwhelmingly of the view the CBC gets too much funding. I mean, who knew? Liberals think it's just about right, more so than the NDP, interestingly.

So that's the poll in a nutshell. Helpful? Or useless? 

The really interesting questions would be the ones that would follow from this little survey but were not asked. For example, if you think the $1.1 billion is too much in funding, what would you cut? CBC Radio? The cost of that beloved aspect of CBC could be put to people and they could decide whether it should be axed from the $1.1 billion. Or maybe the whole news department should be axed so that we no longer have CBC news or The National. Wonder if people would like that. Or, say, no more Hockey Night in Canada or Don Cherry.

I suspect that if you put those or other items to people, they'd start feeling differently about the cost of the CBC. They'd start thinking about it in terms of what they value about the CBC as a Canadian institution and how it might change if you start de-funding. That's what's missing from this little survey exercise and report. When you have that discussion, then maybe you can say Canadians want CBC's budget cut. Or, you might end up saying Canadians don't want CBC's budget cut. Until then, I think the conclusion the QMI folks (and Conservatives) would like us to reach is just not on.