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Riposte – By Sumner Burstyn: Manipulate This

Published By   /   October 23, 2012  /   Comments Off

Manipulate This

Riposte – By Sumner Burstyn.

How do you create public opinion? If you were in New Zealand the best person to turn to would have to be Pauline Colmar.

Over the last few weeks Ms. Colmar has been popping up at select corporate speaking engagements discussing her latest polling project, The Solid Energy Survey 2012 (click here for the survey). And certainly the results are startling. She’s even been invited to speak to the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment because it turns out almost two thirds [of New Zealanders] think we should make greater use of our coal resources.

In short so many of us are coal industry supporters that in Ms. Colmar’s own words, the industry needs to “stop being victims and get out there and shout about it.”

Chris Baker the chief executive of Straterra the mineral sector lobby group was reported in the ODT as saying the percentage is “high enough to be a game-changer.”

In fact Straterra is so hand clapping happy about the research that Mr. Baker says they will put education programs in place soon, enlarge their communications team in Wellington and will be briefing politicians.

Bernie Napp, Senior Policy Analyst for Straterra said the poll was heartening because much of the opposition (to mining) is based on misinformation, either inadvertent or malicious, and it is good to know that only a minority of New Zealander’s believes it.

So given it’s game-on for extractive industries in New Zealand you’d hope the coal industry jubilation was based on something sound.

Except it’s not. Even though Solid Energy who commissioned the poll has refused to release the actual data, the questionnaire alone raises serious ethical concerns.

Question one sets it all up. How concerned are you about New Zealand’s standard of living? If you answer ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ the next question asks how important you think our natural resources are in improving our economic prosperity?

Without context, options or the bigger picture you sort of have to answer ‘very’ or you risk contradicting your previous answer.

Another question offers the possibility that coal reserves could be converted to diesel. But forgets to mention that the conversion plant idea is likely shelved. Another offers the idea that coal could be converted to fertilizer but ignores that any development in that area is based on international prices and would massively raise our agricultural emissions.

Some of the questions are framed very broadly in talking about all of New Zealand’s natural resources from gold to iron sands. But the options to agree or disagree are really focused on coal. The poll even asks how you would feel about impossible things.

So it goes on throughout the form, from positive statements about coal to unqualified and non-contextualized questions. Even the title Public Survey of New Zealand’s Natural Resources omits to mention it’s about mining and you’re more than halfway through the survey before the real focus – lignite in Southland is even mentioned.

So far two organizations, backed with expert market research opinions, have called out the poll as built upon misleading questions designed to induce a positive result.

Solid Energy says the poll was created and managed by Colmar Brunton. Pauline Colmar who left the company years ago is fronting the results and market research company ConsumerLink is claiming authorship, so the true creator is a little hazy.

But whoever is responsible, the polling industry is supposedly governed by a code of practice. It all makes one wonder about the credibility of other polls carrying Colmar Brunton’s name.

There is meant to be a massive difference between spin doctoring and polling. In my opinion, Ms Colmar’s position appears obvious. It’s up to the polling industry in general to state clearly where it sits.

When you break it down the poll is farcical. But that won’t stop Straterra spinning it as the best thing since kettle fries. Watch as that pro-coal, oil, gas, gold and iron sands PR blitz hits mainstream media soon. Mind you, given two-thirds of us are already in support of such extractive industry you wonder why they would bother.

RIPOSTE @ Live News

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