The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Taking the pulse of a province: most comprehensive public poll in a decade caps off with forum

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The Social Science Research Lab at the U of S conducted a poll of 1,750 Saskatchewan residents and teamed up with local media outlets to help share the results.

A provincewide public opinion poll concluded Oct. 29 with a town hall at the University of Saskatchewan. About 100 attendees gathered to share their thoughts on the results with the researchers and journalists who worked on the survey.

Students, faculty and members of the public at the forum were shown a handful of questions from the survey on the lecture theatre’s projection screen. Those participating submitted their own answers using digital clickers, with the results tallied immediately and compared with the rest of the province.

The event was co-hosted by news anchors Costa Maragos and Jill Smith from CBC Saskatchewan.

The “Taking the Pulse of Saskatchewan” survey was the first of its kind in the province since 2001 and polled 1,750 residents over the age of 18 from all corners of the province. The survey was administered through 15-minute phone interviews over three weeks in March.

The survey examined a widespread range of topics including resource development, crime, the economy, aboriginal issues, immigration, health, and moral issues, such as abortion and assisted suicide.

Merelda Fiddler reported on the “Taking the Pulse” survey for CBC Saskatchewan. She focused on narrowing down the immense amount of polling data and finding people in the community who reflect those results.

“It was really interesting to take a survey and turn it into programming and say, ‘Here are the real stories of the people,’ ” she said. “We met some amazing people who told us some amazing stories.”

Fiddler is from Saskatchewan and has reported for the CBC for 12 years. She feels the survey indicates Saskatchewan residents are becoming comfortable in their own skin and realizing that there are opportunities in the province for mostly everyone.

“But I think [the survey] also shows us we have a long way to go,” she said. “I’m Métis myself, and it shows we have a long way to go for aboriginal people to have the same opportunities as the rest of the population.”

The Social Science Research Laboratory at the U of S directed the project and employed 32 faculty members from across the social science departments to craft the questions. Students worked during the evenings in teams of roughly 15 making cold calls and conducting interviews in the survey lab on the second floor of the Arts Building.

The StarPhoenix, the Leader-Post and CBC Saskatchewan worked in close partnership with the SSRL to provide the public with extensive coverage of the results for two weeks beginning Oct. 16.

“I think it’s entirely unprecedented in the country,” Peter Stoicheff, the arts and science dean, said at the public forum. “I don’t think anywhere in the country has seen such a collaboration between so many news outlets and a university.”

Saskatchewan residents agreed to take the poll 34.3 per cent of the time. In Canada, telephone polls average a response rate closer to 20 per cent.

“I think people generally felt more inclined to do the survey over the telephone with a student rather than someone else from the general public,” SSRL Director Jason Disano said. “I think that really contributed to the high response rate that we see.”

Disano has more than 10 years of research management experience in both the public and private sector. He has noticed a clear-cut shift in the public opinion of the province since 2001, when the last major survey was done.

“Particularly on social issues,” he said. “People have become more liberal-leaning. For example on things like abortion, assisted suicide and marijuana use.”

Disano chalked the shift up to the province’s population increasingly becoming more urban, along with a sharp spike in immigration.

Since the conclusion of “Taking the Pulse,” the SSRL has conducted smaller polls on topics such as the quality of life in Saskatoon and city residents’ views on co-operatives.

“It’s actually a great opportunity for students to get practical, hands-on experience in collecting and conducting research,” Disano said. “It looks fantastic for these students on a resume.”

Marie Dumont recently received a political studies degree from the U of S and was a pollster for the SSRL in March. She found it difficult to make first impressions on the phone and said that a lot of people were reluctant to share their opinions.

“It really made me question the sampling technique used. It’s just tough to get people at a proper time when they are willing to do such a survey,” she said.

The results of the “Taking the Pulse” survey can be found on the SSRL’s website at ssrl.usask.ca.


Photo: Daryl Hofmann/The Sheaf

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