Surveys are like bikinis
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 06:00 am
It is called the Community Satisfaction Survey for a reason: to provide statistics that city council and administration can use to their advantage to show what a great job they are doing.
Not to dampen the high spirits of city hall, but to paraphrase Scottish poet Andrew Lang, statistics can be used ďas a drunken man uses lampposts Ė for support rather than illumination.Ē
Statistics are like political polls: They are interpreted to shine the best light on whoever is paying for it.
So when the city trumpets 99 per cent of participating residents say the overall quality of life in St. Albert is very good or good, consider they neglect to mention the next question on the survey, which shows that 13 per cent say the quality of life has worsened in the last three years.
How do you have 99 per cent saying things are great, when 13 per cent say things have gotten worse?
Itís an excellent example of the definition of statistics: the only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.
Weíre not experts, but itís easy to see how figures can be interpreted different ways, especially when looking at the percentage of people who replied to questions by saying they were neutral, somewhat satisfied or somewhat dissatisfied. Those are people without strong feelings one way or the other so they just shrug and respond, I donít know, put me down as somewhat . . . like the undecided voters in election polls Ė sitting on the fence, uncertain which way to go.
For example, city hall says 60 per cent are satisfied with how the city is run. In fact, only 12 per cent said they were very satisfied, 24 replied neutral and 60 per cent were undecided, somewhat satisfied or somewhat dissatisfied.
There are some other key elements citizens should look at.
Only four per cent of respondents were under the age of 35 and only 14 per cent were under 45. The mean age was 58.
Forty-two per cent earn more than $100,000 and only 10 per cent earn less than $50,000. So itís heavily slanted towards upper middle class adults who are firmly established in their careers and settled in their family life, which makes them less likely to complain about things.
It will be interesting to see how city hall reacts to some of the survey results.
For example, when asked what factors contribute to a low quality of life, eight per cent said governance (poor management, no accountability, lack of direction). Eight per cent isnít much, but it is double the percentage from 2010.
Ten per cent were very satisfied with efforts to attract and support local business but eight per cent were very dissatisfied while the rest were in that undecided territory. And 21 per cent Ė a dramatic jump from six per cent two years ago Ė rank industrial and economic development the most important issue facing city council today.
Only nine per cent agreed strongly that council is effectively planning for the future, down from 13 per cent while 19 per cent disagree, up from 11 per cent.
All of which would seem to suggest a grumbling discontent with the way council and administration is running the city.
But, keep in mind that statistics are like bikinis; what they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital, so itís best to take it all with a grain of salt.