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By Terry Audla
It’s hard to read a newspaper without being struck by the results of some new poll telling us which party would form the next government if an election were held today, or asking whether we really need a Family Day long weekend in February (obviously yes).

Often polls tell us a very specific story determined by the outfit sponsoring the survey. To truly understand the results, you need to look at how the sausage was made, which brings us to the topic of polls designed to influence your thinking on Canada’s seal hunt.

Let’s start with how the questions are asked. In 2009, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) paid to include eight questions in an Environics Research Group Canadian public opinion survey called Focus Canada.

This was the first question: “As you may know, there is currently a commercial seal hunt in Canada. Over the past four years more than one million seals have been hunted. Almost all of the seals killed were pups under three months of age. Do you support or oppose the commercial hunting of seals off Canada’s Atlantic coast?”

That’s not exactly a neutral question, so it’s not surprising that 54% of respondents (1,091 out of 2,021 people) said they either strongly or somewhat opposed the hunt. Another 37% either strongly or somewhat supported the hunt. Another 8% didn’t know or didn’t answer.

It makes you wonder what kind of response you would get if you actually sought to find out what people thought, rather than prompting knee-jerk reactions.

A survey conducted in January 2014 by Abacus Data on behalf of the Seals and Sealing Network asked 1,998 respondents which of four statements best described their personal opinion about seal hunting in Canada. Only 22% answered “No form of seal hunting is acceptable.”

Some 70% chose to take a wider view of the hunt, with 5% saying that “All forms of seal hunting are acceptable,” 43% saying “All seal hunters should be allowed to hunt seals, but only if seal populations are not endangered and the animals do not suffer,” and 22% said “Only Inuit and other aboriginal groups should be allowed to hunt seals.” A further 7% didn’t know or didn’t answer.

A 2010 survey conducted by TNS Canadian Facts for the Fur Institute of Canada showed that more Canadians (30%) consider seal hunters to be the most credible source of information on the hunt, compared with animal activists (20%) and the government (21%).

It also asked respondents to estimate the 2010 harp seal population by choosing one of four options. Some 29% guessed the population was 50,000 strong. Another 35% answered 2.1 million, 10% said 4.5 million and nearly 20% admitted they just didn’t know. Only 6% of respondents chose the correct number: 6.9 million.

That reminds me of ITK’s own North Poll, conducted in late 2009 by Ipsos Reid, in which 53% of 1,007 respondents indicated (14% strongly, 39% somewhat) that they were “generally unaware of the realities of life for Inuit in the Canadian Arctic”.

Three quarters of respondents (74%) agreed (24% strongly, 50% somewhat) that they would “like to learn more about the Inuit way of life, culture and people”.

The lesson here: follow the numbers, understand the facts. And where the seal hunt is concerned, aim to find the true experts: working, hunting families. Don’t let the polls determine your thinking. Find out how the sausage was made. If you can, ask your own questions, form your own opinions.