Paul Little on polls

Paul Little writes in the HoS:

Family First got market research outfit Curia to survey attitudes on assaulting children – or “smacking” as they call it – as part of its perpetual campaign to have the law forbidding this overturned.

Whenever someone refers to smacking as assault, it isn’t hard to guess their views on the issue.

Family First appears to believe that not being smacked is the single most important issue facing our children. A “whopping” 77 per cent of those polled, FF claimed, wanted the law changed to bring back the bash.

Obviously, results on a question like this will depend on how it is framed. In this case, the 1000 respondents were asked whether the law should be changed so that “parents who give their children a smack that is reasonable and for the purpose of correction are not breaking the law”.

In other words, it was saying, “Do you believe something that is reasonable is reasonable?”

Critiquing of questions is always welcome. I do it myself to other polls, and it is important people understand the exact question asked.

In this case though what Mr Little overlooks is that the use of the term “reasonable” is not invented by Curia. It is the term that was in the law prior to 2007, and is the term used in the amendment that was put up by John Boscawen (and previously Chester Borrows), and is a term still in the law today. It is a term that was at the heart of the two year debate on the law.

“Should the law be changed so that it is legal to hit children when it is not legal to hit adults, or should there be one law for all?”

That would have got a different result. But it wouldn’t have been a very useful question to find out the answer to the question about whether people want the law to allow correctional smacking that uses reasonable force (as the law used to allow). I would also point out that the term reasonable force is still in the Crimes Act (s59) as parents can use reasonable force for:

  • preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person
  • preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour
  • performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting

So I think the use of “reasonable” is entirely reasonable considering the current law.

Two other questions in the survey were equally absurd. Seventy-seven per cent said the new law had had no effect on child abuse. All credit to Curia for finding 1000 people who were up to speed with the latest data in that field.

Mr Little seems to be suggesting that people can’t have opinions on an issue, unless they are an expert on the field. I presume he also decries polls that ask people if they think fracking is unsafe and should be banned?

It is absolutely valid to find out if people think a law change has worked. What isn’t valid is to take the results of the poll as meaning the law has not worked. This is about finding out what people think.

The official crime stats should that NZ has less violent crime than in the past. But I don’t think this means it is wrong to ask people whether they think NZ is safer than in the past.

I blogged today on a poll regarding safety of nuclear powered ships by UMR. Does Mr Little think UMR were wrong to ask non-experts on whether they think nuclear powered ships are safe?

For the problem with Question 3 – “Would you still smack your child if you thought it was reasonable … despite the current law?” – see Question 1, above.

Mr Little misses the point of this question. Apart from the fact that the term “reasonable” is used because it is in the former (and current) law, this question is about finding out if people will obey the law, even if they disagree with it. An overwhelming majority say they will ignore the law and do correctional smacking even though it is explicitly illegal. That is a quite extraordinary to have so many people say they will break the law.

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