Omar Khadr: How Has Public Opinion Influenced Public Policy?

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POSC 3350 Public Opinion

Omar Khadr: How has Public Opinion influenced Public Policy?

Choose an issue- for example: gay rights, abortion, foreign policy , the death, penalty, taxes, and so on- and write a paper discussing the nature of the public opinion about this issue, and how/ why it may have changed over time.

Alyson Kwan


Dr. Amanda Bittner

November 18th 2010

The case of Omar Khadr has been a political hot potato since 2002. When captured by US forces in Afghanistan in July 2002 he was 15 years old. The last 8 years for Omar Khadr have been spent in captivity at the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, where he has endured interrogation, segregation and what many also believe to be torture. Today he is the only remaining western citizen or NATO ally still incarcerated. All others have returned to their countries of origin. While his story might be commonplace in some third world countries, it is one that has received much attention in Canada, for Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen. His imprisonment has garnered worldwide criticism from human and legal rights groups. Although there has been much printed in the daily press, discussed in the media and in Parliament, the majority of Canadians have shown little passion for his plight or the potential ramifications on Canadian democracy. Angus Reid Public Opinion has done at least a dozen surveys over the past 4 years. All support the stance that Canadians have been consistently divided on the fate of Omar Khadr. Canadians have remained in one of two camps, right wing Conservatives versus left wing liberals : those who see Omar Khadr as a murdering jihadist and those who see him as a victim of the Afghanistan war. The results of the surveys reflect public opinion and thus should be a significant independent influence over public policy. The reality in this case is that the divided polls have not provided solid direction to the government. Thus public policy has been stifled. This demonstrates that public opinion does have an effect on public policy. This paper will follow Angus Reid poll results from 2007 to present, highlighting the many opportunities Canadians have had to alter their opinions. Despite all, Canadians have chosen to remain true to their original convictions and the Canadian government remained unchanged.

Russell Renka, in his paper “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Public Opinion Polls” reminds readers that public opinion polls are everywhere today and cover a wide topic area from consumer acceptance to political popularity. They have become indispensable in deciding what toaster to purchase or in judging the success rate of each political party platform. They are constantly in the public’s view and most adults have been contacted by a pollster seeking an opinion. The trick is to be able to discern which polls supply credible information. Renka writes that a good poll must have three characteristics; one it must be worded clearly and without bias, second the sample subjects must be randomly selected and thirdly that the sampling error is ‘reasonably’ small. Along with these three golden rules, the details must be available for scrutiny. Renka also cautions that the primary polling source be reviewed rather that a reliance on media interpretation. (2010: 1-15)

Angus Reid Public Opinion is a large Canadian company, well respected in its field. Its surveys incorporate Renka’s three characteristics of a good poll. The primary source surveys are readily available on their website. The results are often brought forward by the media for critique and follow up. Angus Reid has completed a dozen or more public opinion polls covering the past four years the Omar Khadr has been in the public light. They have followed the progression of public opinion on Omar Khadr’s incarceration and trial. All were conducted using online interviews with Canadian adults with the results statistically weighted according to the most current...
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