ICYMI: Pollsters starting to see uptick in government work

Back to “committing sociology:”

The Trudeau government is reinvesting in public opinion research after it was virtually abandoned in the final years of the last Conservative government, though spending remains far below historical averages, according to veteran pollster Frank Graves.

“They’ve committed to doing more and more work…but it’s certainly nowhere near the levels it was historically both with the early stages of the Conservative government, certainly the Liberal government before that, and the Mulroney government before that,” he told The Hill Times.

Mr. Graves, founder and president of Ekos Research, said in an interview that the federal government has contracted more public opinion research work from his company since the election last fall. He linked this to the Liberals’ push to what they see as a return to evidence-based decision-making.

It pales in comparison, however, to what was seen in even the early stages of the Conservative government, he said.

The Harper government spent $31.2 million polling Canadians in the 2006-07 fiscal year before cutting back to $4.9-million in 2013-14, The Hill Times reported.

This stretch of scarce funding represented a “very unusual period,” Mr. Graves said, with the government conducting “virtually no research” of any significance during this span.

A 2003 auditor general’s report clocks in federal spending on public opinion research in 2002-03, under a previous Liberal government, at $23.7 million and $26.2 million the year before.

Mr. Graves partly attributed lagging “rust” in the bureaucratic channels in preventing the Liberals from revving up polling efforts back to previous levels.

“[It’s] going to take awhile for the bureaucracy to catch up and for the resource envelope [to expand] to do this in levels which would be more commensurate with the need and demand and express priority provided to this approach,” Mr. Graves said, noting that civil servants would also need to catch up with technological advancements in the field.

When reached, the Treasury Board Secretariat said it did not have up-to-date figures on spending on public opinion research or consultations specifically.

….Pollsters optimistic after lean decade

Stephen Kiar, CEO and founder of Ottawa-based public opinion and market research firm Phoenix SPI, said his company has also started to see an increase in public opinion research work in the last month or so.

After the election, the Liberals proceeded “cautiously and deliberately,” as new ministers learned their departments, relevant issues, mandates, and staff, among other considerations, he said.

As a result, Phoenix didn’t see any increase in work before the government’s fiscal year ended on March 31, though things picked up afterwards, Mr. Kiar said, as departments began putting together their research plans for the coming year, and seeking the necessary approvals.

“It appears that many departments have finished that planning process and are starting to engage research firms like ours for their projects,” he explained.

Mr. Kiar said it’s too early to compare spending to the previous Conservative government, which he argued “savaged” the public opinion research budget, while dramatically increasing the media monitoring budget.

Under the Trudeau Liberals, mandate letters to cabinet ministers noted a need for Canadians to see the government’s “willingness to listen” and for the government’s work to “be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians.”

Mr. Graves framed the period under the Conservatives that saw a “real paucity” of public opinion research as an “anomaly,” and partly blamed the scarcity of polling on what he saw as the government’s indifferent, sometimes “hostile” approach to empirical research.

Critics accused the Harper government of gutting funding for research and muzzling federal scientists. The Conservatives axed the mandatory long-form census in 2011, drawing strong criticism from a wide range of groups worried about the consequences the decision would have on the reliability on the vital data gleaned from the sweeping survey of Canadians.

The Liberals reinstated the long-form census as mandatory shortly after assuming office last November.

Kara Mitchelmore, CEO of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, an industry advocacy group, says numbers on polling activity for 2016 won’t be known until the end of the year, though she cited the re-establishment of the mandatory long-form census as leading to an increase in work.

“I can say anecdotally that with the re-instalment of the long form census, which MRIA strongly supports, there is an obvious noticeable increase in data collection roles,” she said in an emailed statement, noting that this will “trickle down” into more analyst roles, which is “great news” for the industry.

Mr. Graves said he expects funding for polling to eventually be restored to previous heights, though predicted it would only reach a quarter of the historic average this year.

That’s still “a lot better” than what we saw in the late stages of the previous government, he noted.

Source: The Hill Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: