Should Australia #ChangeTheDate? Polls Vary Depending On What Is Asked

    The result you get can depends on how you ask the question and what other questions are asked in the survey.

    Davidf / Getty Images

    Two new polls out today from right wing lobby groups show overwhelming support for keeping Australia Day on January 26, but previous polls have shown a different result when the question is asked a different way.

    The debate over whether the national day should be held on January 26, when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788, rages in the lead-up to the date every year.

    This year, it was kicked off by prime minister Scott Morrison announcing that the government would force councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, in response to less than 10 of the over 500 councils voting to not recognise Australia Day on January 26.

    Fuelling the ongoing culture war, the Institute of Public Affairs and Advance Australia have both put out polling on Wednesday that shows Australians overwhelmingly support keeping Australia Day on January 26.

    According to the IPA's polling, 75% of 1,000 Australians polled by Research agree "Australia Day should be celebrated on 26 January", while just 10% disagree.

    Polling released by Advance Australia – the new right wing group touted to be the latest conservative response to GetUp – asked 1,659 people "do you believe we should change the date of Australia Day from 26 January to some other date". No won at 71%, while 29% said yes.

    But that is in contrast with polling from progressive organisation, The Australia Institute. Last year the firm asked 1,417 Australians whether they agreed with the following statement:

    "I don't mind when we hold Australia Day, as long as we have a day to celebrate being a nation."

    A total of 56% of people agreed with that statement, and 36% disagreed.

    Polling from a more neutral source, Essential Polling, which routinely conducts polling on such issues, asked in September 2017 the following question:

    "Australia Day is celebrated annually on 26 January, which is the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Sydney Cove, New South Wales. Would you support or oppose changing the date on which Australia Day is celebrated?"

    To which, 54% of people were opposed, while 26% were in favour, and 19% had no opinion.

    While on the face of it, polls suggest most are still in favour of retaining Australia's day of recognising the nation on January 26, the preceding questions in each survey from both sides shows how they are attempting to influence the debate.

    Before it got to the date question, the IPA asked people firstly whether they were proud to be Australian (88% said yes) and whether Australia has a history to be proud of (76% said yes).

    Advance Australia asked people if they "feel proud to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January" (78% said yes), and what it meant to them (66% said "coming together as a nation").

    After the question on the date, Advance Australia also asked a bunch of questions on the favoured pet topics of conservatives: Political correctness and troublesome activists.

    Is Australia too politically correct?

    supplied

    Are politicians too concerned about political point scoring?

    supplied

    The Australia Institute's survey had a long run of questions up to asking people's feelings about January 26.

    First asking whether Australia Day had always been held on January 26 (77% incorrectly said yes). Then the organisation asked what historical event happened on that date (38% said First Fleet).

    And then gauged opinion on the changing of the date with a bunch of other statements leaning towards changing the date:

    TAI


    This phenomenon is something psephologist Kevin Bonham told BuzzFeed News was something captured in an episode of the classic BBC TV series Yes, Prime Minister. In the episode, Sir Humphrey Appleby explains how preceding questions can influence the outcome of the question that gets reported.

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    Sir Humphrey: So she starts asking you some questions: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the number of young people without jobs?

    Bernard Woolley: Yes

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?

    Bernard Woolley: Yes.

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline in our Comprehensive Schools?

    Bernard Woolley: Yes.

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some authority and leadership in their lives?

    Bernard Woolley: Yes.

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think they respond to a challenge?

    Bernard Woolley: Yes.

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Would you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?

    Bernard Woolley: Oh, well I suppose I might.

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes or no?

    Bernard Woolley: Yes.

    Sir Humphrey: Of course you would, Bernard. After all you told you can’t say no to that. So they don’t mention the first five questions and they publish the last one.

    Bonham said the IPA's line of questioning starting with whether respondents are proud to be Australian was a classic version of this. He said these preceding questions distort the outcome.

    "The key question should be asked cold, without the preceding questions for the result to be of value," he said.

    Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Josh Taylor at josh.taylor@buzzfeed.com.

    Got a confidential tip? Submit it here