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1.

INTRODUCTION
On 19 January 2015, the Liquor Control Bill was introduced in Parliament. In order to gauge
reaction to the Bill, the government feedback unit REACH conducted a telephone survey
from 20 to 26 January 2015 to better understand Singapore Residents views towards the new
Liquor Control Bill.
On 28 January 2015, REACH released the results of the poll. This was reported by Today
(Overwhelming support for liquor laws: Poll), the same article as used in Group Project 1.
2. ARTICLE REVIEW
In this project, we critically evaluate the news report based on Utts (2005)s seven steps in
Getting the Big Picture.
Step 1: Determine if the research was a sample survey, an experiment, an observational
study, a combination, or based on anecdotes.
This was a telephone survey because a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) was
conducted from 20 to 26 January 2015.
Step 2: Consider the Seven Critical Components to familiarise yourself with the details
of the research.
Refer to Project 1 report.
Step 3: Review the difficulties and disasters inherent in that type of research and
determine if any of them apply.
Many pitfalls can be encountered when asking questions in a telephone survey: deliberate
bias; unintentional bias; desire to please; asking the uninformed; unnecessary complexity;
ordering of questions; confidentiality and anonymity.
The telephone poll was very likely to be conducted to support the Liquor Control Bill which
was due to be debated in Parliament, and questions may be deliberately worded in a biased
manner. Appropriate wording should not indicate a desired answer. For instance, instead of
asking Do you support the new alcohol restrictions?, the question should have been
rephrased as Do you support or not support the new alcohol restrictions? so that the
question does not indicate which answer is preferable.
The problem of unintentional bias is less applicable here as the words in the question are
simple and their meanings are unlikely to be misinterpreted by the respondents. For similar
reasons, the problem of unnecessary complexity is not present in the paper too. However, it is
not known whether the telephone poll included non-English speaking respondents. If so, the
translation of the survey questions to other languages such as Chinese, Malay or Tamil could
possibly affect the interpretation and responses.
Most survey respondents have a desire to please the person who is asking the question. This
is especially pertinent in this study, as the study was commissioned by the government
feedback unit REACH. Some participants, upon realisation that this was a poll conducted by
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REACH, might not give their honest feedback for fear of negative repercussions from
offending the government.
The problem of asking the uninformed is applicable here. Although the news article reported
that awareness of the Bill was high (92%), on closer inspection, 92% of respondents
indicated that they had at least read or heard a little about this issue. Of this 92%, only 39%
have read or heard about the issue in detail, whereas the remainder have only heard or read a
little about this issue. This means that the overwhelming support found in the poll is
questionable; after all, how can one show support if he or she is only a little familiar with the
Liquor Control Bill, given that his or her knowledge may be incomplete or even inaccurate?
The media release suggests that the respondents were asked about their support for the liquor
control bill first. Hence, the ordering of questions is unlikely to bias the result for this finding.
However, other results (e.g. whether public drunkenness is a serious issue that needs to be
addressed) may be affected by the ordering used in this survey.
Confidentiality and anonymity is unlikely to be a problem as the Liquor Control Bill is not as
sensitive as personal issues like sexual behaviour or income. However, the question on
whether my lifestyle and activities will be affected by the new regulations may be
potentially sensitive, as a positive response implies that the respondent drinks alcohol. Since,
alcohol consumption is arguably frowned upon, the results for this question may be skewed.
Telephone surveys tend to reach a disproportionate number of women because they are more
likely to answer the phone. However, in this study, this problem was overcome by weighting
the sample to be demographically representative of the national population in terms of
gender, age and race.
Step 4: Is the information complete?
Most of the necessary information is available in the news article. Additional information is
available in the REACH media release, which gives the detailed poll findings.
As the survey was a telephone poll, the time of day when the survey is conducted should be
given. Depending on when the survey is conducted, it may not capture key population
groups, causing the results to be biased. For example, if the survey takes place during early
evening, those working in the evening or frequent liquor establishments may be
underrepresented.
Similarly, the frequency of respondents alcohol consumption was not surveyed. This is
especially important since it is more likely that those who consume alcohol in public will
oppose the bill. Without this information, we cannot know if the fraction of drinkers in this
sample is representative of the population as a whole.
Step 5: Do the results make sense in the larger scope of things?
The author did not attempt to justify the results from the survey. Given the information
available, most of the published results make sense. For instance, as the new bill was widely
discussed after the Little India riot, having a large percentage of the respondents familiar with
the survey is normal.
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The finding that young adults between 15 and 29 years old showed the weakest support made
sense as well. This is possible since this age range covers the period when most youngsters
start to drink. This is backed up by the 2004 National Health Survey conducted by the
Ministry of Health1, which found that young adults aged between 18 and 29 years old were
most likely to binge-drink.
Due to the controversial findings in this poll, there have been several attempts to show that
this poll is inaccurate. In particular, The Straits Times conducted an online poll2, and found
that 78% of the respondents (n > 9000) did not support the new alcohol restrictions. However,
The Straits Times poll was done on a voluntary basis, which is likely to introduce bias as
respondents with strong opinions would be more inclined to express their unhappiness. Due
to this effect, the sample in The Straits Times survey is likely to suffer from sample selection
bias, likely leading to skewed results that are not representative of the entire population.
Thus, we believe that the REACH survey is credible and fits into existing knowledge.
Step 6: Is there an alternative explanation for the results?
As mentioned in step 5, the recent Little India riot may have affected how the public feels
about alcoholic consumption. Such an event may be a possible confounding variable to the
research. This shocking development might cause Singaporeans to be more temporarily
supportive of alcohol restrictions in order to prevent similar issues from occurring, causing a
temporary rise in people supporting the Bill. Perhaps given enough time the public may be
willing to allow public alcohol consumption and oppose the bill, therefore the timing of such
a survey conducted may be critical to the outcome.
Also, as REACH is the government feedback unit, it may be perceived as linked to the
government. Hence, there is a risk of the respondents having the desire to please and thus
resulting in large apparent support for the bill.
3. CONCLUSION
Step 7: Are the results are meaningful enough to encourage you to change your lifestyle,
attitudes, or beliefs on the basis of the research?
Prior to this poll, our group thought that the Liquor Control Bill was unpopular. This belief
largely stemmed from anecdotes, as well as statements of strong opposition in various public
avenues. However, after conducting an analysis of this poll, we have revised our opinions
about the unpopularity of this poll. It is likely that the previous comments we have heard may
suffer from sample selection bias: those that were highly against this bill were more likely to
make their opinions heard.
1
https://www.moh.gov.sg/content/dam/moh_web/Publications/Reports/2005/1/NHS_2004%28Part5%2
9.pdf
2 http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/majority-st-readersdisagree-proposed-new-alcohol-restri
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In conclusion, despite several problems in this survey, overall the results here have caused us
to revise our opinions on the popularity of alcohol restrictions in general, and this Bill in
particular.