Using a “subliminal” technique, a new survey discloses how widely we and our leaders differ on several vital issues

BLAIR FRASER January 23 1965


Using a “subliminal” technique, a new survey discloses how widely we and our leaders differ on several vital issues

BLAIR FRASER January 23 1965


Using a “subliminal” technique, a new survey discloses how widely we and our leaders differ on several vital issues

CANADIANS HAVE A mental picture of themselves as the great mediators in world affairs. We see ourselves leading the march toward peace, stalwart and loyal supporters of the United Nations, conscientious objectors to nuclear weapons, generous donors of aid to less-favored nations, standard-bearers in any movement toward disarmament and peaceful co-existence.

In fact, every one of these flattering notions is wrong, according to a survey recently completed and analyzed by the Canadian Peace Research Institute, a private organization supported by twenty-five thousand contributors. The aim of CPRI is to use scientific methods to re-examine the causes of war and help develop practical peacekeeping methods that could be applied by the United Nations. The survey, so shattering to the self-image of so many Canadians, was conducted by a psychologist. Jerome Laulicht, who was experienced in this type of research. Working on the answers to a forty-six-point questionnaire, he has spent the past two years feeding the material through computers to determine what are the attitudes of various groups of Canadians toward the principal issues of foreign policy.

He finds a majority of Canadians differ sharply from the majority of politicians, regardless of party. On some questions where an allparty sample of political leaders voted “yes” by up to eighty-eight percent, less than a third of Canadians agree and strong minorities are violently opposed.

One example is support for the United Nations, generally assumed by political speakers to be as automatic and unanimous as support for motherhood. The survey shows fewer than half of all Canadians in favor of measures to strengthen the United Nations; one quarter are solidly against them, with the rest (almost a third) lukewarm.

Foreign aid is another of the conventional pieties of Canadian politics. In parliamentary debates on foreign affairs it is customary

for Opposition speakers to urge the government to increase overseas aid; when the government does this, it’s reproached for not giving even more.

Only about one in eight Canadian voters would agree with this attitude, according to the survey. An additional one in five would be willing to increase aid if disarmament could be achieved, by devoting to this use some of the money saved from the defense budget. About a third don’t object to the present aid program but consider it sufficient (the survey was taken before the most recent increase). One quarter would like to see the aid program reduced; a small handful would abolish it altogether.

For more foreign aid now

Public Politicians

12% 73%

Most startling of all are the attitudes toward nuclear weapons, and toward “co-existence” as opposed to “hard-line” policies against the Communist bloc. Politicians and political journalists have been convinced, perhaps by talking to each other, that the vast majority of Canadians are in favor of co-existence policies and strongly opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons, especially to Canada.

The survey indicates that this appraisal of public opinion is illfounded. More than forty percent of the electorate would favor a hard-line or “victory” policy against Communism. Only thirty-three percent favor co-existence and the rest — about one quarter — arc equivocal. On nuclear weapons it’s true that a majority is opposed to further spread of the weapons and to their acquisition by Canada, but the majority is only fifty-five percent; the other forty-five percent favor nuclear weapons for Canada and express no alarm about the

spread of them.

These figures are all raw averages from a representative national sample. More significant, and even more interesting, are the trends of opinion among particular groups. On most policy questions the views of business leaders, labor leaders and especially political leaders are more influential than those of the whole population. It’s customary to suppose that the better-educated or better-informed voter will have different and more “enlightened” views than those of hoi polloi and since minorities tend to vote more solidly together than majority groups do, it’s important to know the views of important minorities, particularly the big French-Canadian minority, and to recognize when they agree with the majority and when and to what extent they disagree.

In the Peace Research survey the national sample was made up of fifty-eight percent English-speaking, twenty-eight percent French and fourteen percent other. This division by mother tongue, not ethnic origin, corresponds to that of the population by the 1961 census. In addition to the national sample of one thousand adults, the pollsters questioned smaller groups from certain sections. One hundred and fifty teenagers were interviewed separately, with slightly different questions to the same general effect. Leading businessmen, leading trade unionists and leading politicians — forty-eight from each group — also got a slightly modified but substantially identical questionnaire. The politicians were front-benchers, members of the External Affairs Committee or for some other reason selected for their special interest in the questions; they represented all parties in the House of Commons, approximately according to their elected strength. The pollsters interviewed about two hundred of the contributors to the Canadian Peace Research Institute. Their answers, too, were kept in a separate category.

For nuclear arms for Canada

Public Politicians

45% 27%

Finally, a test was run on so-called “informed” opinion, with a questionnaire that included eight factual questions, ranging in difficulty from, “Who is the premier of the USSR?” (Khrushchov was then the right answer, but two percent didn’t get it), to, “About how big is the UN budget?” (Even among political and business leaders, who had the best scores on this question, only one out of four was right. In all other groups at least ninety percent got it wrong.) To winnow out the “informed” segment, the analysts gave each respondent a score for education, added his score on the eight factual

of the day. The result reveals unsuspected cracks in our image of ourselves


questions, then creamed off the top twenty percent of combined totals.

One surprise in their results was to find how little difference there is between “informed” and “general” opinion on many issues. Here, for instance, is the breakdown on nuclear weapons for Canada: Strongly Strongly

Pro-Nuclear Pro-Nuclear Against Against

“Informed”...........22%........15%.....27%.... 36%

National .............22%........23%.....23%....32%


French...............19%........34%.....15% . . . .32%

Labor ...............10%........17%.....23%----50%

Contributors.......... 8%........17%.....27%....48%

Business ............. 6%........33%.....48%.... 12%

Politicians............ 4%........23%.....17% . . . .56%

All these people were asked whether they were alarmed by the possibility of nuclear weapons spreading to other nations. The ones who “strongly favored” nuclear arms for Canada said they were not alarmed, and those “strongly against” said they were. Those in the middle had varying views.

In this table the striking thing is the enormous gap between the politicians and public opinion. Evidently only two of the forty-eight political spokesmen “strongly favored” nuclear arms for Canada and felt no alarm about their spread. But in every section of general opinion, French or English, “informed” or ignorant, this extreme pro-nuclear view is held by one person in every four or five. More than half the French Canadians tend to favor rather than oppose nuclear weapons for Canada — another surprise. Even among the contributors to the Peace Research Institute, presumably more con-

concerned with keeping the peace than most citizens, as many as eight percent are “strongly in favor” of nuclear weapons.

The same contrast is even sharper in the breakdown of opinion between a hard-line “victory” policy toward the Communist bloc, and a policy of “co-existence.” Omitting those in all groups whose views were uncertain or mixed, and who varied from one seventh to one quarter of each group, the division between “victory” policy and co-existence was:

For a “hard line” against Communism

Public Politicians

; 4%


Strong for Strong for

“Victory” For Victory Co-existence Co-existence

National ......20%......21%........19%........14%

“Informed” . . . .20%......19%........20%........16%


French .......19%......25%........19%........13%

Contributors ... 0%...... 5%........29%........46%

Businessmen ... 0%...... 6%........42%........35%

Labor........ 2%...... 2%........35%........46%

Politicians..... 0%...... 4%........40%........33%

Again all sections of the general public opinion are in complete agreement. Again the “leadership” groups — businessmen, labor leaders, politicians — hold entirely different views, and again it’s the

politicians who are the farthest removed from general opinion.

In a group of only fortyeight men. two percent means one man. Thus only one labor man and nobody else in the “leadership” group voted for an extreme "hard-line" policy; one more trade unionist, two politicians and about ten of the contributors wanted a moderately "hard line.” But in the general sample, more than four hundred of the thousand respondents were “hardline” advocates. The number who “didn’t know” or who gave equivocal answers was also higher than in the “leadership” groups.

Only in the group of questions about “strengthening" the United Nations do the leadership groups and the general public come fairly close together, and even here there are some sharp variations among the various groups of electors. Again leaving out those who don’t know or don’t care, we get:

For Strengthening Against

Labor leaders....................72%..............14%

"Informed” group.................59%..............16%

Politicians ......................55 %..............20%

English.........................52%..............21 %

National average..................46%..............25%

Businessmen ....................31%..............50%


But in this table the notable contrast is not so much between any one group and another, as between these figures and the usual results of single-question polls. The last check on public attitudes toward the United Nations was made by the Canadian Institute Of Public Opinion in a Gallup Poll in 1961. The question asked was, “Do you think the United Nations does a good job?” The answers were: Yes —fifty-four percent; Fair—thirty-two percent; Poor—six percent; No opinion — eight percent. What accounts for the difference between the eighty-six percent vote of full or qualified approval and the fourteen percent who disapproved or were indifferent?

According to psychologist Jerome Laulicht, who designed the Peace Research survey, it’s the difference between single-question polls and a planned comprehensive questionnaire. It’s impossible to frame a question that will, by itself, give a clear indication of a man’s general attitude. Ask, “Are you in favor of the United Nations?” and you would get, in Canada at least, almost one hundred percent “yes.” Neither the question nor the answer would mean much, because it blankets so many different shades of opinion.

The Peace Research poll asked for forty-six questions, a few of which were answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” but most equipped with four or five choices of answer.

continued on page 40

When most vote “yes,” says the expert, it’s meaningless


continued from page 19

Eight of them were tests of the respondent’s knowledge of foreign affairs; the other thirty-eight invited his opinions on foreign policy issues from the recognition of Communist China to the probability of nuclear war.

Not one question asked, “Are you in favor of strengthening the United Nations?” or, “Do you think Canada should have nuclear arms?” Opinions about the UN were inferred from six different questions, three of which had three possible answers apiece. On nuclear arms there were four separate questions, one offering a choice among five answers and another among three.

Laulicht, now analyzing the survey he designed and supervised, is a New Yorker in his late thirties, who took his doctorate in sociology at the University of Kentucky, taught at various American institutions and is now teaching part-time at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. He’s had about eight years experience in this type of research, including considerable work with computer analyses.

A layman’s criticism of his questionnaire, at first glance, is that it’s too remote from reality. None of the questions, apart from a few chestnuts like recognition of China, had any bearing on the real policy decisions facing the Canadian government. Many could not be answered seriously, except by such rejoinders as, “That depends on circumstances.”

Question 10, for example, offered two opposing statements, and respondents were asked to choose the one that “comes closest to the way you yourself feel”:

A. / think a strong. permanent UN

army would he a real danger to our national freedom.

B. 1 think a strong, permanent UN army would protect, rather than endanger, our national freedom.

Obviously, neither statement makes much sense. It is most unlikely that a “strong, permanent UN army” would affect our “national freedom” one way or the other. Whether it would do good or harm to the general cause of peace would depend on how it was controlled and commanded. If it were controlled by a simple majority of the UN General Assembly, and commanded by a Ghanaian or even an Indian general, quite possibly its first assignment would be to invade South Africa.

But although both statements are absurd, the second is so much less absurd than the first that four out of five people chose it. Only half the remainder chose the first; the rest would not answer, or didn’t know.

Actually, Laulicht discarded this question entirely when analyzing the results. He says an eighty percent “yes” vote in the general sample is so overwhelming that it’s meaningless — it’s not discriminating enough, includes too many variations of opinion, like a vote in favor of peace or against the man-eating shark.

However, the psychologist does point out that a question does not have to he realistic to be useful. The questionnaire was not designed as an examination in political science. It’s an attempt to discover the attitude of the public toward various foreign policies and international institutions. For this purpose, Laulicht argues, hypothetical questions are almost as good as real ones, and better in some cases.

On certain issues, opinion is so nearly unanimous that the survey adds nothing to common knowledge. Disarmament is one. All Western coun-

tries are committed to disarmament, provided a safe inspection system can be devised and accepted. The Soviet Union won’t hear of an acceptable kind of inspection, so the result is deadlock. According to the survey, ondy a small minority in any group would favor giving up the inspection demand and starting disarmament anyway. In other words, an overwhelming majority approves the present disarmament policy of the West, and so the answers to other questions on disarmament are purely academic.

On some other matters, though, the survey offers interesting guidelines. For example, nearly half the national sample and a slight majority of English Canadians favor measures to “strengthen” the United Nations — increase of its budget, more authority for the International Court, expansion of peace-keeping activity and so on. But there would be substantial resistance to such policies among French Canadians (thirty-eight percent) and a strong minority against them in all groups. The obvious conclusion is that the Canadian government could follow a pro-UN policy in matters that don't involve the public directly, but would have trouble getting support for any policy that would cause an increase in taxes, or call for a major recruiting campaign, or even rouse serious controversy (as Suez did, for example).

Another set of conclusions that are interesting if true, but that seem to me to rest on rather shaky foundations, have to do with the relationship between policy opinions and certain other characteristics. It is not surprising, but it is mildly interesting, to note that a high score for “information” is linked with a favorable attitude toward foreign aid and, in most groups, toward the United Nations in general.

More surprising is the apparent link between religion and a “hard-line" policy.

According to this survey it is not the people who consider themselves “good" Christians who favor a loveyour-neighbor, turn-the-other-cheek attitude toward the Communist bloc. On the contrary, it’s the most active church-goer in the most dogmatic communions — Roman Catholic or fundamentalist Protestant — who is the strongest for a hard-line “victory” policy, who favors nuclear weapons for Canada and is least alarmed about spreading them, who wants bigger and stronger defense forces, and who is most distrustful of “co-existence.”

These conclusions are drawn from rather crude data. Every respondent was asked for his church affiliation, if any, and was questioned about frequency of church attendance, interest in church activities, etc. But the classification of “dogmatic” sects was somewhat arbitrary, and no attempt was made to probe individual beliefs.

On the other hand, the conclusions are supported by results of other surveys in other countries, on related subjects. They, too, seem to indicate that the militantly religious are also the militant in other ways.

This is a rather melancholy reflection, in a season when the Christians have been celebrating a birth of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” ★