Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Complete Delusion on ID Cards

"Harding is a moron, Harding is a moron, nana na na, nana na nah!"
OK, now that we have dispensed with the childish insults, let's get down to business.

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.

So...

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?

A: 73% only know "just a little" or less. Fully one third know absolutely nothing about it.
How do you support something if you know nothing (or even "just a little" about it? Not exactly an informed choice really...

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?

A: 31% not nore than £25. And a stonking 48% would not be prepared to pay anything.
So the MORI poll can be summarised as follows: 80% support the plans for ID cards..... given that:
  • 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.
I would say that those are important caveats. In that they destroy the validity of the trumpetted result...

Let's go back to the moron Neil Harding:
... 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?

A: 45% in favour, 42% opposed, 13% don't know
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....

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?

A: Would probably be disruption and inconvenience: 84%
That doesn't bode well.

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?

A: 66% thinks this money should not be spent on ID cards
Does this feel like 80% public support, Neil?

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?

A: 81% thinks this money should not be spent on ID 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?

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.


Let's recap:
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 ...

4 comments:

Devil's Kitchen said...

Excellent post, P-G! You rock, sir! Except...

As any fule know, giving the news report of research is not a link to the research itself.

Hoisted by your own petard, methinks...?

DK

Neil Harding said...

I've answered this on my blog.

All the polls that ask the neutral question 'do you want ID cards or not' come back with more in favour.

Is this not true, yes or no?

Obviously if you feed people negatives about the technology and cost and NONE of the benefits, you will reduce the number in favour. That's hardly a unbiased survey though is it?

When the congestion charge in London was proposed, most Londoners were opposed and didn't want to pay a penny towards it. Now they can see the benefits it brings of less pollution and less congestion and better public transport, they are in favour.

The same will happen with ID cards, that is why opponents have to win their case BEFORE it happens. Once people get the scheme and it works, they will see the benefits and will support it.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Neil,

Thank you for your response: I did see it on your blog but not had a chance to reply - busy weekend.

"All the polls that ask the neutral question 'do you want ID cards or not' come back with more in favour.

Is this not true, yes or no?"


Yes. This is not true. (Thanks for the nicely ambiguous double negative - have you stopped beating your wife yet Neil), because (yawn - read my post)...

1) You quote two polls: MORI did not ask a neutral question. YouGov was 45% Yes, 42% No. On a purely literal interpretation of your question, I am struggling to infer that one poll whose "don't Know" was 4 times larger than the difference between yes and no constitutes "ALL polls being in favour".

2) Your insistence on taking one question out of context is just crap Neil.

"Obviously if you feed people negatives about the technology and cost and NONE of the benefits, you will reduce the number in favour. That's hardly a unbiased survey though is it?"

Really?

MORI is a very interesting example here. This used a ridiculously biased question in the first instance, but the remainder was pretty anodyne. It asked respondents to suggest what they thought the benefits were likely to be (so that deals wtih your "no benefits" tosh) and what they thought should be on the card as regards technology. This is not "feeding people negatives".

The cost question was also completely unbiased: It asked:

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?

I agree that YouGov aks a leading question, but MORI does not and neither does the Home Office.

Which ever way you slice it, 79% do not want to fork out for an ID card. This is not strong public support.

This is the whole point. You ask:

"All the polls that ask the neutral question 'do you want ID cards or not' come back with more in favour.

Is this not true, yes or no?"


But even if it were true, (which it isn't - come on Neil - "ALL the polls"? you must be joking) it would be irrelevant. This question is meaningless in a poll to the general public without qualifiers to gauge real opinion in the light of costs and benefits. That is why there is more than one question in the poll. That is why your use of the news reports of these polls is so reprehensible: your 80% figure from MORI is the most ludicrous number to take out of context.

To do so suggests one of two things: either you are just lazy or you actively wish to deceive. It could also be that you know that the support is not there, but this conflicts with 1) your worldview and 2) your political masters so denial takes over.

I shall be charitable so I shall assume that you are just lazy.

Akaky said...

Your last question is, of course, the whole point of the exercise, all the more dangerous in a basically unitary state like the UK (from what I have seen, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly do not and will never have the same power and responsibilities as American states or Canadian provinces)where the law can basically change at the will and whim of whatever party happens to control the House of Commons. If ID cards do come to pass, then the British people will have to dust off some old political terminology: they will cease being citizens and become subjects once again.