Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lazy Journalism, Lazy Blogging

United Irelander has been making hay (and here) recently over this article in the Irish Examiner. According to a sentence at the bottom of the article,
Since French and Dutch rejection of the Treaty, support [in Ireland] has collapsed to just 15% - it once stood at 78% with Irish voters.
Or, as UI has it,
The figures contained in the latest Eurobaromoter survey show that support for the EU Constitution now stands at just 15% - it once stood at 78% with Irish voters.
I've been a bit confused by this: such huge drops don't tend to happen. So, instead of doing what UI did - ie taking the report at face value - I went to look at the stats to try and find out what the Examiner is on about.

First, I looked in the latest Eurobarometer report (pdf), which was published late last year. Well, the news there is rather positive for supporters of a European Constitution. Strangely enough, in fieldwork last October and November, 60% of Irish respondents expressed support for the idea of a constitution for the EU with only 19% expressing opposition (p. 25). Which is not to say that they support the constitutions as it stands. 22% of European citizens surveyed expressed the opinion that the constitution ought to be re-negotiated with only 13% saying that it ought to be totally dropped (I can't open the Irish country survey for some reason so can't say what it was for the Irish survey).

The Examiner got its line from a more recent (May 2006) and smaller survey (pdf) on 'The Future of Europe,' where the fieldwork was carried out earlier this year. And here's where the Examiner's (and UI's) mistake lies. The 15% figure doesn't refer to support for the constitution. In fact, there's no way that the figure could even be construed as denoting support for the constitution.

The question (p. 154) asked in the survey is 'which two of the following would you consider to be most helpful if anything, for the future of Europe?' Respondents were given six specific options (a common language, well defined external borders for the EU, the introduction of the Euro in all EU countries, comparable living standards, a common army, a common constitution) with the choice of putting in one's own answer, saying nothing would help the future of Europe, or saying that one doesn't know.

Apparently 15% of Irish respondents (according to the discussion from p. 37-9) named a European constitution either as their first or second choice. They were more likely - get this UI - to name the introduction of the Euro across the Union as the thing that would be most helpful.

So there you go, a total mangling of the statistics by the Examiner and United Irelander. For the Examiner it reads just like a piece of lazy misreading. I suppose UI can claim to be the innocent victim of the Examiner's report, but he should recognise that there is, as always, nothing like reading something for yourself.

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