Biased frustrations from the MSU may alter student feedback on referendums A poorly-conducted survey may alter feedback on referenda


On Jan. 25, the McMaster Students Union added a new survey to their website as part of a recommendation by the Student Representative Assembly Standing Committee on Bylaws & Procedures. While there are a few different parts to this, including the minimum per cent of population needed to launch a referendum and to reach quorum for a referendum, the focus is on if there should be a minimum time limit before similar questions can be asked at referendum again.

There are a few problems with this survey. The first response to this question is, “One academic year, September through August (including the remainder of the year in which the question was asked)” with options for two or three academic years as well.

opinion_madill_survey_march2This could easily be interpreted as there being no clear option for only the remainder of the academic year. It is unknown at this point whether the remainder of the year is included as one academic year or if it is included seperately in the total time limit. Wording such as, “The rest of the academic year,” and “The rest of the academic year and one additional academic year,” would have helped clear up any ambiguity.

The survey also mentions the 2016 referendum that was conducted twice in the calendar year, but in different academic years. The questionnaire does not mention that this is the MSU Constitutional Referendum about electing vice-presidents at large. The assumption that everyone taking the survey either already knows this or that it is not important to the survey is odd considering that first-year students would be unlikely to know what referendum was conducted twice and upper-year students can easily miss out due to a turnout of 44.5 per cent in the 2016 MSU presidential election when it was first voted on.

Retires shortly after these close calls would be impossible if term limits are introduced, and would limit your ability to advocate on the affirmative side for topics you think would benefit McMaster students.

The only reason for including as little context as possible would be to bias voters towards time limits by emphasizing voter fatigue, de-emphasizing anything that may remind people how close the referendum was and reducing the incentive for responders to do external research. It gives off a fearful impression that attempts to guide people away from how bizarre it would have been to wait a significant amount of time for another round of voting after the first failed by so little in 2016.

This doesn’t even get into the fourth response to this question that reads, “I already said, no.” Not only is this redundant when “No time limit” would have made more sense to the question being asked, but the wording could be interpreted as a more aggressive tone than what is necessary. Second guessing yourself over not wanting to seem hostile is a real possibility, and introduces even more response bias to the survey in favour of time limits.

This survey sucks. It is understandable why there’s bias though. If I were part of the SRA, I wouldn’t want to talk about the vice-president referendum for a while too after dealing with it two times in 12 months, especially after taking neutral and negative stances for the first and second times respectively. A pro-time limit response could allow an extended break if implemented immediately and would guarantee the same status quo internally for years to come.

However, the willingness of the SRA to put a changed version of the Athletics and Recreation Space referendum back up for voting March 28 after failing on Jan. 26 by 10 votes in the second round of voting, one day after publication of the survey, represents a want to change policy based on good feedback without time limits. Retries shortly after these close calls would be impossible if term limits are introduced, and would limit your ability to advocate on the affirmative side for topics you think would benefit McMaster students. Don’t let survey bias dampen the voice of the people.


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Author: Haley Greene

Haley is a fourth year communications and multimedia student working as the Online Editor of the Silhouette. If you can't find her in the office, she is probably searching for the best nap spot on campus or thrifting a new pair of funky pants. Her fun facts include being only three degrees of separation from Queen Elizabeth II and not knowing how to stand up while riding her bike.