Survey says: Opinion and research group behind Rise Gold survey defends its work
Special to the Sierra Sun
Rise Gold, the company that hopes to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine after its closure over a half century ago, released results this week of a privately conducted public opinion survey that states the majority of Nevada County residents support the business endeavor.
CEO Ben Mossman and Jarryd Gonzales, a public relations representative for the company, said they believe that the numerous opinion pieces published by The Union newspaper as well as the negative public comments at local government meetings offer a microphone to a minority opposition.
“There’s a silent majority,” Mossman said, referring to locals he said support the business venture.
Mossman said Rise Gold hired J Wallin Opinion and Research company to find out what how Nevada County residents who do not show up to public meetings or contribute to the newspaper feel about the potential reopening of the mine.
“Of course, people who don’t like (the idea of reopening the mine) matter and their concerns should be addressed, but they are the minority,” said Justin Wallin, the research company’s CEO. “This is a development project, a mining project, a natural part of progressive California and it’s got a clear majority backing it.”
Wallin said the survey’s final takeaways — 59% in strong support of the mine’s reopening and 34% against — show that the county’s populace is overwhelmingly in favor of the mining project.
“It’s not close,” Wallin said. “It’s a big difference.”
Wallin said elected officials often deal with just the angry, discontent constituents, creating a false image of how the community as a whole feels about particular issues.
“The loudest voice in the room is not the voice that represents everyone else,” Wallin said.
Interviewers contacted 500 Nevada County residents — 100 from each supervisor district — in accordance with the county’s demographic breakdown by age, race and political party to complete the survey, Wallin said. The survey was conducted by real people who took the time to connect and check in with residents about issues beyond the mine itself, even rescheduling interviews when participants were willing.
The survey was composed of three separate series of questions, broken up by the intermittent general ask: “Do you strongly support or oppose reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine?” The first asked participants to prioritize their community concerns overall and the second series asked “more or less likely to support” questions after offering background information on tentative mine operations.
The final series of questions introduced “the opposition’s” opinion by pairing pro- and con- statements from local residents and seeing how those comments would influence public opinion.
Wallin said including language used by “the opposition” is one way to ensure the accuracy of polling results.
“We test those arguments,” Wallin explained. “It doesn’t matter if the opposition’s opinion is based on facts. We test it.”
Wallin said including language used by both sides of a survey pertaining to a specific issue is one way to avoid “push polling,” a concept described by the American Association for Public Opinion Research as political telemarketing or “telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions.”
“A push poll is not a poll at all,” Wallin said. “It’s trying to communicate a message through the guise of being a poll.”
Wallin said interviewing 500 Nevada County residents will not impact public opinion at large.
Wallin paid the county for the voter information used to conduct outreach for survey participants. He said if that public information is not used for the correct purpose, his company could face a hefty fine but said he has faced accusations before of push polling from people who did not like his surveys’ outcomes.
According to his company’s website, Wallin is a “marketing concept” strategist. He’s contributed to the BBC, CNN and Fox News and conducted research for government entities like Health and Human Services and private companies including Shell.
“I sometimes am not the greatest person in the world, but I’m good at what I do and recognized for it,” Wallin said, asserting his professional legitimacy.
Wallin said he has lost clients in the past because the data his company collected did not contain the message they wanted to hear.
Some people aren’t convinced of the survey’s accuracy.
Grass Valley Councilwoman Hilary Hodge said even if she believed that a 500-person survey was an accurate scientific sample for a 90,000-person community, the survey’s outcome “does not pass a smell test” for her.
Hodge said she has not decided personally whether or not the mine should reopen, but asserted that there is ample quantitative evidence already pointing in the opposite direction of Rise Gold’s survey’s conclusions.
“I don’t have an opinion on this one way or the other,” Hodge said. “I want any decision that’s made regarding the mine to be well researched, well thought out and informed as it possibly can be before any vote is made. I also know that the overwhelming public comment is against.”
Hodge said the proof is in the council meeting minutes, all available online.
She said although some community members have been anti-mine for decades, she observed new names expressing serious concerns on the topic.
“In politics we have frequent fliers,” Hodge explained, “people who love to comment at every meeting. The names that come across our desk are not names I’ve seen before, they don’t belong to some sort of contingency that likes to write letters.”
Hodge said there is a new cross-section of democratically engaged individuals who feel concerned about rural quality of life, the natural beauty of the Nevada County community and the preciousness of water — particularly as the region faces drought, fire danger and climate change.
Hodge said Nevada County’s most valuable resource is water — not gold.
Rise Gold pointed to Grady Wilson, a local, when asked for people who support the effort to reopen the mine.
Wilson said he thought more people supported the mine before the survey came out, so was unsurprised by the survey’s results.
Wilson, who supports the mine because his grandfather was a miner, said he is interested in giving Rise Gold the chance to prove itself.
“That’s a world-class mine they’re trying to develop,” Wilson said. “I believe if people want to spend the money to open it, it’s a heavily regulated industry and they don’t use the practices they used to, we could give them the chance.”
Rise Gold’s stock ended the trading day Friday at 52 cents, a rise of 8 cents from the day’s open.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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