In this extraordinary post, Neil Harding cannot understand why everyone with a brain is agin ID cards and yet, amazingly, he is not.
This made me think of two scenarios, either I am totally deluded in supporting ID cards or there is something unrepresentative about bloggers (remember opinion polls find a majority of the population in favour of ID cards).I respectfully suggested that - because the research is not there to support his thesis - he is, indeed, completely deluded. I also suggested that he read the Register post on this topic. You can read it here. It is thorough and a jolly good read.
Neil then responded.
A MORI poll in April found 80% in favour of ID cards, admittedly a YouGov poll in July found only 45% in favour, but this still suggests that the 99% of bloggers in opposition to ID cards are unrepresentative.Ah bless. As any fule know, giving the news report of research is not a link to the research itself.
Why? Because looking at the actual research (you know, doing some actual hard work and thinking and things) gives you the CONTEXT in which a question was asked.
The MORI Poll:
This was released in April 2004, not 2005. You can read the survey questions here. Does it show 80% support for ID cards? No. It shows 80% support for ID cards given that the Government are going to introduce them. These are not even close to being the same thing.
Let's look a little more closely:
Q1 How much, if anything, do you know about the Government's proposals to introduce a national identity card scheme for all UK citizens?How do you support something if you know nothing (or even "just a little" about it? Not exactly an informed choice really...
A: 73% only know "just a little" or less. Fully one third know absolutely nothing about it.
The interviewer then explains the background:
Let me tell you a little bit about it. The Government is planning to bring in a national identity card scheme so that every person in the UK is uniquely identifiable. Current proposals are to start issuing cards in 2007/08. The Government says that cards will be phased in, with cards issued to people as and when other documents are issued such as new or replacement driving licences or passports. [my emphasis]This is the preface to the support question. It is clear that ID cards are being presented as a fait accompli, which rather negates the whole purpose of the survey: the public is not being presented with a choice.
The kicker for me, though is the last question:
Q11 The Government is thinking of making the public pay for their ID cards much as we already do for passports and driving licences. How much, if anything, would you be prepared to pay for a national identity card?So the MORI poll can be summarised as follows: 80% support the plans for ID cards..... given that:
A: 31% not nore than £25. And a stonking 48% would not be prepared to pay anything.
- 73% of those sampled know little or nothing about those plans and...
- half do not want to pay at all and...
- 79% do not want to pay the £30 that the safety elephant wants to charge.
Let's go back to
... admittedly a YouGov poll in July found only 45% in favour ...But Neil? How can this be? The public must be right, surely? MORI says 80% in favour, and yet YouGov finds only 45%. How odd.
What could be causing this extraordinary change in public opinion? Let's find out what YouGov actually says:
Q: Are you in favour of, or opposed to, the introduction of a system of national identity cards in Britain?No persiflage, no "given that ID cards are going to be introduced, what do you think about...", just the straight unadulterated question. My, my - a different answer....
A: 45% in favour, 42% opposed, 13% don't know
Of course, we don't know the level of prior knowledge of the YouGov sample, but it strikes me that the crucial question in YouGov lacks the obvious bias in the MORI poll. In fact, the bias in the MORI question is so outrageous as to make it completely and entirely meaningless.
This is interesting as well:
Q: Do you think that, if [my emphasis] the government sets out to introduce identity cards, it can do so smoothly and efficiently, or would the introduction cause a lot of disruption and inconvenience?That doesn't bode well.
A: Would probably be disruption and inconvenience: 84%
And so is this:
Q: The government has estimated that the total cost of introducing a system of national identity cards would be around £6 Billion. Do you believe that this amount of money should, or should not, be spent on introducing identity cards?Does this feel like 80% public support, Neil?
A: 66% thinks this money should not be spent on ID cards
And it gets worse:
Q: Another estimate of the total cost of introducing a system of national identity cards is higher: between £10 billion and £19 billion. Do you believe that this larger amount of money should, or should not, be spent on introducing identity cards?81% against. Just think about that for a moment. 81% of the population thinks that the ID card scheme is not a good way to spend OUR money. Hardly a vote winner, eh Neil?
A: 81% thinks this money should not be spent on ID cards
For good measure, let's have a look at what the Home Office thinks. Full pdf here (469k download)
This report is fascinating, mostly because of the way that it is constructed. Only the BME part of the study that actually looked at whether or not there was support for the cards per se. The UK population peice only looked at uses and costs.
Again this survey is ludicrously biased. Appendix 2 gives the interview script, which starts:
Q.1 As you may already know, the Government will be introducing national identity cards. Identity cards are likely to be coming in in a few years time, so what type of information do you think should appear on them?Read: ID cards are coming. You have no choice.
Q2 then asks whether the interviewee has heard of the term "biometric information": fully 71% of the sample said "no". [Chart 12, page 31] This suggests to me that the sample doesn't know much about the ID card debate....
Never mind, let's press on and look at costs. The sample here was divided in two. Half were asked:
Q.7a A 10 year passport currently costs £42. If a combined passport ID card lasted for the same time, approximately how much would you be prepared to pay for it?The respondents had to give a number for what they would pay. 69% said that [Chart 21, page 41] would pay the same or less for the combined passport/ID card than they currently pay for a passport.
The other half were asked:
Q.7b A 10 year passport currently costs £42. If a combined passport ID card lasted for the same time, would you be prepared to pay the same as this, more than this or less than this?The respondents to this simpler question were considerably clearer: 89% [Chart 22, page 42] would only pay the same or less for the combined ID card and passport.
Let me rephrase that to be completely clear. 89% think that adding an ID card either adds no value or actually subtracts value from a passport.
MORI: 80% support, given that three quarters of the sample know little about them and the sample has been told prior to the question that they are going to happen anyway, declining to 21% who are prepared to fork out the actual cash that Charlie wants to extract from you for the pleasure of allowing the state to declare that you exist.
YouGov: 45% support on a properly constructed unbiased question, declining to 19% support for this use of the actual sum of money likely to be extracted from taxpayers. 84% think the government will stuff it up. If nothing else, this last figure at least gives us confidence that the sample is reasonably compos mentis.
Home Office: Can't actually bring themselves to ask about support in the clear. Somewhere between 69% and 89% [either way a comfortable majority] do not see that it would be worth paying more for an ID card to be bundled with a passport.
80% support Neil? Do you really believe that? If so, don't let the identity register find out about your mind altering substance consumption...
So, Neil's 80% is shaky at best and declines sharply towards 20% support when the actual (or even out-of-pocket) costs become clear. But we are still some way away from the "99% against" of the blogosphere.
I suspect that we have a number of factors to consider here. Firstly demographics: bloggers are not representative of the population at large. They think about things a bit more. They are better informed (because they do things like finding the original research rather than relying on news reports) and are likely to have suffered a bit more education.
Secondly, it is just possible - crazy idea here, but I shall float it anyway - that ID cards are a bit like the EU constitution: the more you know about it, the more you begin to see that you don't like it...
YouGov supports this:
Do you support the introduction of ID cards? 42% No
Is it worth spending £6B on their introduction? 66% No
Is it worth spending £19B on their introduction (a more realistic figure)? 81% No
Do you have any confidence that this will not be an inconvenience? 84% No
Bloggers have looked at it more carefully than the population at large (remember your MORI poll with the 80% support? you know, the one where 73% said they knew little or nothing about ID cards) so their view is more likely to concur with the response levels once all information is taken into account.
Just one last thing: I suspect further that if a pollster were to ask:
ID cards reverse the relationship between the citizen and the state. Do you think this a good thing?and I think you will see that the view of the general public might be uncannily close to that of the bloggers ...