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Flawed online poll meaningless and misleading

Dear Mayor Mertons and Members of Council,

I am submitting this open letter on behalf of the County Sustainability Group to offer information that may help you interpret the results of an online poll on wind turbines recently conducted by countylive.ca. It is our view that the flaws in the poll’s design render the results meaningless and, in fact, misleading.

The question of what are the relative levels of support vs. opposition to wind turbines among residents of Prince Edward County is one that is frequently raised at council. This question has been hotly debated in recent discussions relating to the Gilead wind project at Ostrander point.

Countylive.ca has undertaken some helpful initiatives aimed at facilitating online sharing of views and information regarding wind turbines in PEC. One of these initiatives was an online poll intended to shed light on the question that Council has been struggling with:

What are the relative levels of support vs. opposition to wind turbines among residents of Prince Edward County?

Despite best intentions, the countylive online poll has major flaws which have confused rather than clarified the answer to the above question.

The primary flaws are:
1) There was not any guarantee each voter cast only one vote. A single person, or small group, may have significantly skewed the results.
2) There is no count of the number of voters, only the number of votes.
3) Votes are not limited to County residents.

In our view the above flaws render the poll results meaningless.

Additional factors which, in any case, should cause such online poll results to be viewed with caution include:

1) Even using the upper bound value of the vote count, it represents a small sample of PEC residents.

2) The poll sample is far from random or representative since most opponents of wind turbines are members of anti-wind groups that quickly alert their members (inside and outside PEC) to new developments such as polls and encourage them to go on line and vote against wind energy.

3) Most other residents are not members of groups related to wind energy and were probably not even aware of the poll.

The County Sustainability Group feels it is important to note that, for the above reasons, the countylive online poll results should not be regarded as a meaningful indicator of support/opposition to wind turbines among PEC residents.

Yours
sincerely,

Jason Alford, Member, County Sustainability Group

cc:
Todd Smith, MPP
Daryl Kramp, MP

Filed Under: Letters and Opinion

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  1. David Norman says:

    @ Rob Williams Ph.D.
    I must extend my heartfelt thanks to you: While contemplating your comments this morning I had an epiphany regarding your “ad hominem” and “shooting the messenger” contention. In what can best be described as a Jungian synchronicity, I recalled that the wikipedia definition of “ad hominem” uses the example; “What Ted Kaczynski wrote about boundary conditions in mathematics is shown false due to his crimes”, regarding ‘genetic fallacies’ inherent in the conditions you referenced. Coincidently, I had earlier this day been composing a reply to a recent letter I received from Ted. We have been corresponding for a few years now. Just in case you do not recognize his name, Ted Kaczynski is more infamously known as the “Unabomber” and his pathological murderous exploits have overshadowed the fact that he is also a brilliant mathematician. His empirical calculations on “boundary conditions” when extended to a real life situation such as human social interaction, are quite revealing. In commentaries such as those engaged in with discussions of this type, what folk express are their perceptions of an issue as it relates to their personal space. Although we perceive of concepts such as “personal space” and similarly, “sense of place” as something we call our own, both are in reality determined by others. That is, it is our interrelationship with other people that govern this condition and the expression of it. As in this case, with the imposition Industrial Wind Turbines represent to many people and political mechanisms for enforcement such as the Green Energy Act, they are viewed as being beyond our personal control. As you may now perceive, this is a condition which is untenable to many folk, particularly when they are not willingly under the delusional control of some cultural ideology. Ironically, a condition Ted Kaczynski himself became subject to.

  2. David Norman says:

    @ Rob Williams Ph.D.
    You state, “(H)have you been reading the same messages I have?” and “(P)please let’s focus on the facts. Ad hominem attacks on those (CSG members) who present opposing views, do not reflect well on the attackers.” By virtue of the first sentence and the last phrase in quotations, you are engaging in the same ad hominem attacks of which you accuse others. Your comment is supercilious in intent and structure.

  3. Mark says:

    It does seem petty. It also sounds like a whole lot of whining. If a special interest group cannot stand up to scrutiny they need to look at their goals and mission. To say oh we can’t participate in a public town hall meeting because there probably will be concerned citizens there that oppose industrial wind turbines. What, you can’t stand up and defend your position? We don’t like a poll run by a local media group (that never assured 100% accuracy) so we are going to write the mayor and councillors. They of course wouldn’t have been smart enough to take the poll for what it is. When you choose to not stand up for your beliefs other than sermons in the local rag you should expect to come under scrutiny. That is not an attack. It’s democracy working as it should. Perhaps the County folk are not as easy a target as some thought!

  4. Rob Williams says:

    Bobbi,

    Have you been reading the same messages I have? You say “It seems like such a petty and childish thing to do: attacking the supporters instead of the issue.” I agree “shooting the messenger” undermines the respectful exchange of useful information.

    Now, let’s see, which group is being repeatedly shot at in the comments below?

    Please let’s focus on the facts. Ad hominem attacks on those (CSG members) who present opposing views, do not reflect well on the attackers.

  5. Bobbi says:

    It seems like such a petty and childish thing to do: attacking the supporters instead of the issue. Here’s a thought, CSG–How about doing your part to provide evidence to sway the voters instead of childishly writing letters complaining about the way things are done. Your actions are enough to make me not want to be associated with your group at all. Boycotting meetings and writing complaints will not get you further ahead. Show us some hard facts and evidence and make your voice heard in a more mature fashion.

  6. David Norman says:

    Just a thought; perhaps the County Sustainability Group could arrange a screening of the award winning documentary “Windfall” at the Regent Theatre. There, they could address the concerns of, I’m sure, a full house of PEC folk, do a before and after poll to justify their contentions, and charge five/ten dollars a pop to raise some funds for the Theatre and their “bursary” program.

  7. Lori Smith says:

    An old Russian saying – “the empty barrel makes the most noise”. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows an online poll like this is only gauges those that answer it and is inherently inaccurate. To write a letter explaining this to council members as well as the MP and the MPP shows an arrogance that infers the level of ignorance the writer feels towards our elected officials.

  8. Mark says:

    If I was a member of a special interest group and was writing the mayor in an attempt to influence the perception of a poll,I would want to know how to spell his name correctly. Just lightening things up a bit. LOL

  9. Beth says:

    And the poll that County Live had on their Facebook clearly indicated that the majority of people casting a ballot were FOR IWT’s, interesting.

  10. David Norman says:

    @ Yehudi
    Ya think he might have voted in this poll, pro of course, via his Blackberry?

  11. Referendum says:

    To Doris Lane: I simply question the validity of a poll in which you can vote more than once, that’s all. It seems that the results here are reflective of a majority, and that’s fine, I just think it should be one vote per person, thats all I wanted to pop in here and say. I’m not affiliated with your CSG, nor am I in favor of IWT’s which only seem to divide rural communities, setting friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, nor am I a resident of PEC, just a curious party in a similar community a little west of here who may also have to face this sad division. I like to keep an eye out in case it happens to us.
    I wish your community all the best.
    God bless.

  12. Rob Williams says:

    Doris,

    If you read Jason’s letter from CSG you will find that it is not a letter of complaint or criticism of countylive. It is a constructive attempt to make everyone aware of the limitations of such a poll thereby helping to avoid misunderstanding of the conclusions that can reliably be drawn from it. We must all make up our own minds based on the facts presented.

  13. Treat Hull says:

    The poll-by-poll results for the provincial election held on October 6th were published recently by Elections Ontario at http://www.elections.on.ca/en-CA/Tools/PastResults.htm. (Download the zipped Excel file if you want to do your own analysis. Prince Edward-Hastings is riding #073.)

    A total of 9,158 votes were cast in Prince Edward County. Of these, 6,337 were cast for candidates who spoke out specifically against the industrial wind farm proposed for Ostrander Point (Smith, Hayes, Hull, Tuck). In other words, 69% of County votes went to candidates openly opposed to Ostrander Point.

    That is highly consistent with the results from the current countlive.ca on-line poll and with the results of the last municipal election. In research, consistency of results across different methodologies is an important test of the quality of results. Repeated measures show that a significant majority of County residents are opposed to industrial wind.

  14. Rob Williams says:

    To Peter:
    The flaws pointed out in the poll are not a reflection of the competence or reputation of countylive but rather of the inherent limitations of most online polls.

    Even if an accurate count of voters and elimination of multiple voting could be guaranteed, other issues relating to: restricting access to eligible voters only and ensuring all eligible voters are aware and able to vote, present considerable challenges.

    To Mark:
    You make a valid point. None of us knows the extent to which lack of access to computers may have lowered the No or Yes or Maybe votes.

    To Lori:
    Yes the flaws in the process remain regardless of which votes come out ahead.

    To Referendum:
    Strictly speaking you are correct in your referendum statement. If, however, extreme accuracy is not essential (although it would be in a binding referendum) then an easier and cheaper way to get a fairly accurate assessment of support vs opposition could be via a professionally designed and executed poll whose design (questions, sample size and profile, sampling method etc.) was vetted and agreed by appointed representatives of the pro and con sides in advance. Just a thought.

  15. Doris Lane says:

    Maybe it is time the CSG stopped complaining about everything and as someone said we should not question the validity of what COUNTY LIVE has done. It is just simple litle poll to get a general idea of how the people in the county feel.
    Maybe if the CSG paid attention to what is happening to Ontario because of the GEA, it would benefit everyone more

  16. Referendum says:

    Whether you are pro or anti, it’s obvious that this poll is flawed. Before you can cast a vote, it itself informs you that it can’t be guaranteed that voters can/will only vote once. I voted three times myself (1 for YES, 1 for NO, and 1 for MAYBE) to see if each would register, and each did. The only real way to know for certain how PEC residents feel about this issue is to conduct a formal referendum, ensuring everyone gets one vote. That would also cover the seniors unable to vote online as Mark mentions.

  17. Chris Keen says:

    Jason – since votes on this poll were apparently not limited only to County residents, here’s an idea. Let’s set up a new poll so that only residents who live in an area where an IWT can be sited can vote. Want to bet what the results of that poll would be?

  18. peter says:

    Hello, I am not certain where the comments originated about the poll being flawed. Countylive.ca is in control of the logging of the information and therefore, as they are a reputable media organization, the statement about a “flawed poll” is detrimental to the them, not to the issue of industrial wind installations. I trust that Countylive.ca has done a very good job logging the information accurately, so the accusation undermines their reputation and is in very poor taste.

  19. Mark says:

    Do not question the CSG as they know what is best for us easy targets!

    I notice in their attempt to refute the poll they left an important point to also be considered out.

    – There are many senior citizens living in Prince Edward County who do not support Industrial Wind Turbines. Many of these poeple do not own a computer or have access to the online poll. This may very well have skewed the total vote against industrial wind turbines to be “lower’ than had they been given the opportunity.

  20. Lori Cairns says:

    Would you still say the survey was flawed if the “yes” votes were in the lead?

    I think not.

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