It’s 8 p.m. on a weekday and your phone rings with an unknown phone number – do you answer or ignore it?
If you live in the Great Lakes basin, you may or may not have answered one of the thousands of calls from Oraclepoll made this past January to collect public opinion data on behalf of the IJC Great Lakes Water Quality Board for its 2021 Great Lakes regional poll. The Water Quality Board conducts these polls to share its findings with the public, decision makers and researchers, and inform the board’s other outreach efforts.
The board recognizes that polling by telephone alone can lead to results that are not necessarily representative of several geographic and demographic dimensions of the Great Lakes basin.
“The Water Quality Board started working towards enhancing representativeness of our poll in 2018 when we oversampled to ensure we had enough responses from Indigenous- and Métis-identifying individuals,” said Kelsey Leonard, co-chair of the board’s poll work group and assistant professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
Individual views on issues like water pollution in local communities significantly vary by race and ethnicity, as demonstrated by a 2020 Morning Consult poll.
“Sure enough, additional analysis of our poll results demonstrated that Indigenous-identifying respondents were significantly more likely than non-Indigenous respondents to agree that the health of the Great Lakes affects public health and the region’s economy,” said Leonard, an expert scholar in water law, policy and science and enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation.
For 2021, the board’s telephone poll oversampled to ensure at least 500 responses from people who self-identified as belonging to a tribal nation, First Nation or the Métis Nation, as well as 100 responses from people that self-identified as residing on a Great Lakes island.
“The board’s phone poll alone is not collecting the opinions of important cohorts like young people, and people directly impacted by water quality impairments,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick, board poll work group member and president of We the People of Detroit.
“However, there isn’t an obvious benchmark – we don’t currently have a complete census snapshot of the Great Lakes basin population to know exactly what our sampling goal should be for every demographic or geographic attribute possible. So, the board’s first step is to use this new online poll tool to help us enhance representation in responses from select target groups who we know we’re not reaching with the telephone poll,” said Lewis-Patrick.
This summer’s IJC Great Lakes Water Quality Board’s online poll will therefore solicit responses to fill in geographic and demographic gaps of the telephone poll. This includes reaching out to people from a diversity of ages, races and Indigenous backgrounds, and members of communities on the frontlines of environmental and climate justice.
The board also is partnering with other researchers in the region to explore the statistical significance in differences of public opinion between various demographic and geographic attributes. Following the release of the results, the board plans additional analysis in 2022 to further enrich the findings and recommendations that flow from this important Great Lakes social survey research.
Updates about the poll will be posted to the Great Lakes Water Quality Board website.
Allison Voglesong Zejnati is public affairs specialist at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.