05 February 2013

The Importance of Framing #nlpoli

What you see depends on what people show you.

Take a news story that ran on Monday trumpeting the fact that 30% of motor vehicle accidents involving deaths investigated by the RCMP in the province were caused by drunk driving.


Holy crap.

What should we do about it, the Ceeb asked.

They interviewed someone from Mother’s Against Drunk Driving who talked about putting breath analysing devices on cars to stop drunks from driving.  She talked about copying British Columbia where the government impounds cars for people who blow point zero five on the breathalyser.

Tough stuff. 

Then somewhere in the middle of the story that aired after 6:00 PM, the reporter let slip that of the 27 fatal car accidents, seven of them involved drunks.


Does that change your perspective on the scourge of drunk driving causing death?

Just a bit.

And that’s without even noting that seven is not 30% of 27.

So what about about those other 20 fatal crashes?  No mention of what caused them.

A preventable death is a tragedy and seven preventable deaths are seven tragedies we didn’t need to have.  Yes, we should collectively do something about the problem of drunk and impaired driving. But seven out of 27 comes across to people very different from the way 30 percent strikes them.

And frankly, if the other 70% of those fatal accidents were caused by carelessness or moose or lack of proper car maintenance or crappy roads – all preventable like boozing – then there’d be way more reasons to do something about those other things than drunk driving alone.

It all depends on how people with the information present it to you, complete with the mathematical mistake an all.

Another example:  MQO’s presentation to the Board of Trade last week.

Take a look at the slides showing how people rated the provincial government’s performance.  The bottom of the scale is zero:  that makes sense.  The top of the chart is seven.

Bit of an odd number, in more ways than one, but okay.


rating performance

When you look at the chart, there is the line showing how people rated the provincial government.  It’s up near the top and there’s all that white space down the bottom.

Great for the government.


People rate them very highly.

Small problem:  the question posed to the survey respondents didn’t rate the government out of seven.

The top of the scale was 10.

Now look at a chart with more detail.  This gives the respondents’ rating of the government by category.

Not quite as good-looking, is it?  Especially at the end, there, which is January.  Overall, people rank government’s performance at around a five and a half out of 10.  Everything else is less than that.  Openness and accountability is around four.

performance by category

What you see depends on how the people with the information show it to you.

It’s called a frame.

And every picture comes with one.