Dueling Pipeline Polls: What Lessons for Communicators?

The Vancouver Sun reported on two separate polls about the $5.5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project. The reporter noted that the polls clash sharply.

That there are two completely independent groups out polling on the Northern Gateway shows what a hot button issue it is, and it does raise some questions: Was one or both of the polls flawed? With the wildly different numbers, are all polls worthless?

I think not.

First let’s look at the two polls:

1) NDP MP Kennedy Stewart commissioned the Mustel Group who telephoned 518 British Columbians between March 5 and 19 and asked:

"As you may know, Enbridge is the company leading the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, which is a proposal to build an underground pipeline system between near Edmonton, Alberta, and Kitimat, in northern B.C. One pipeline will transport oil to Kitimat for export by tanker to China and other Asian markets. A second pipeline will be used to import condensate (a product used to thin oil products for pipeline transport) to Alberta. Based on what you know to date, would you say that you generally support or oppose the Northern Gateway pipelines project? Is that strongly or somewhat?"

They found 50.1% were in favour and 41.7% opposed.

2) A group of environmental groups including the Dogwood Initiative, Forest Ethics, Living Oceans Society and West Coast Environmental Law commissioned Justason Market Intelligence to survey via telephone and online 611 British Columbians, between Feb. 24 and March 7. They asked:

"One of the world’s largest oil transport companies, Enbridge, has asked Ottawa to approve a plan to allow crude oil to be transported from Alberta’s oilsands across British Columbia, where it would be loaded onto oil supertankers en route to refineries in Asia. This would bring crude oil supertankers to the coastal inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest for the first time. Have you heard of this plan?"

It then asked: “Up until now, crude oil supertankers have not entered B.C.’s inside coastal passage because of concerns about oil spills. Ottawa is now considering allowing crude oil supertankers to transport crude oil through these waters. Do you support or oppose allowing crude oil supertankers through B.C.’s inside coastal waters?”

With this question, just 22% were in favour and 66% opposed.

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