The Attitudes of Canadians Towards the Existence of Extraterrestrial Life and UFOs

By Geoff Dittman

Introduction

 

For the better part of the fifty-plus year history of UFOs, mainstream science has scoffed at the existence of UFOs. Governments have practically adopted the concept of ridiculing witnesses as official policy (in some cases, they actually did!). But despite this, the possibility of the existence of extra-terrestrial life and their visitation to Earth has captured the public's imagination. Over the years, a consistently large portion of the Canadian population has expressed a belief in UFOs and aliens.

 

In 1997, Robert Durant published an article entitled "Public Opinion Polls and UFOs." In this article, he examined numerous professional opinion polls in the United States in an attempt to discover Americans' attitudes towards the subject. In his research, Durant managed to find eleven professional polls. At that point in time, I was aware of only a single equivalent Canadian public opinion poll. But Durant's success in finding polls, many of which were conducted by organizations that operate in Canada, made me curious as to whether or not more polls had in fact been conducted in Canada.

 

I visited a local university in search of more polls. While I didn't have as much luck as Durant, I did manage to locate four professional polls and an informal survey conducted by ufologists. The first poll goes back to 1974, the last to 1997. For the purposes of this essay I have included, whenever possible, the actual questions used and the breakdown of results.

 

 

A Statistical Primer

 

To better understand the polls, it is a good idea to know something of the procedures and tools used to create them. The goal of such companies as Gallup and Ropers is to obtain the opinion of the population concerning whatever subject is of concern at the time.

 

Of course their ultimate goal is to make money doing this. This fact can generally be ignored for the purposes of this essay except for one thing; this entails keeping costs to a minimum. While there would certainly be no more accurate way to obtain the opinion of the country than by going out and actually talking to each and every individual, the costs of such an action would obviously be prohibitive.

 

Instead, another technique must be used to obtain the opinion of the nation. That technique is the use of sampling. Two definitions are in order: population and sample. A population is the entire body of data being studied. The purpose of statistical studies like polling, is to make inferences about the general population by examining samples from the population. A sample is a subset of this population, selected to help learn the general characteristics of the general population.

 

When designing a survey, one must be very careful to ensure the samples used are representative of the population being studied. If the sample is atypical, then any inferences to the population will be incorrect. To increase the chances of the samples used are representative, various forms of "random sampling" are used. These techniques, of which there are several, ensure that each member of the population has a relatively equal chance of being chosen in the sample. This increases the reliability and accuracy of the survey.

 

One method popular with companies like Roper which must survey across the country, is "cluster" or "multistage" sampling. First, the entire area to be surveyed (e.g. a country) is divided into smaller subregions. Some of these subregions are then randomly selected. These selected subregions are then further subdivided; some of these are then randomly selected. This process continues until the selected subregions are each small enough to be handled by an individual or a team of pollsters.

 

As Gallup Canada conducted most of the polls that will be analyzed in this essay, it would be prudent to describe their particular methods. Unfortunately, Gallup Canada does not go into any detail as to their methods in their publications. Gallup Canada likely uses the same or very similar techniques as Gallup in the United States however. Gallup USA does describe their techniques in its publication, "The Gallup Poll Monthly." The sampling technique they use appears to be a form of cluster sampling, which they describe as a "replicated area probability sample." The sample "goes down to the block level in the case of urban areas and to segments of townships in the case of rural areas. After stratifying the nation geographically and by size of community according to information derived from the most recent census, over 350 different sampling locations are selected on a mathematically random basis from within cities, towns, and counties that have in turn been selected on a mathematically random basis."

 

 

Sample Size and Margin of Error

 

When hearing that a company like Gallup has polled only 1500 people to estimate the opinion of 28 million Canadians, or even 250 million Americans, many people are skeptical of the accuracy of the results. While it is true that the size of the sample does determine the accuracy of the poll, the size of the population is actually irrelevant.

 

Measures of the accuracy of a sample include confidence intervals and confidence levels. These tools indicate to us the accuracy of our estimate and how confident we are of that accuracy. Accuracy is measured with the confidence interval, and takes the form of a "margin of error." The confidence level on the other hand states the probability of a correct estimate, taking into account the margin of error. For example, let’s say that a sample shows a belief in the existence of alien UFOs as being 52%, with a margin of error of 4% and a confidence of 95%. This means that in the long run, the technique used would give us a probability of 95% that the true proportion of the population believing in UFOs as alien spacecraft as being between 48% and 56% (52 +/- 4%).

If we know what our desired accuracy and margin of error is, we can then determine the size of the sample that should be polled to give us that accuracy. Various formulas have been created; one such formula, used for Statistical Random Sampling, is:

 

n=[z*/2m]2

 

where: n = size of sample

 

z* = a measure of confidence

 

m = margin of error

 

For example, let's say you want to be within +/- 4 percentage points with 95% confidence.

 

n=[1.96/2*0.04]2 = [1.96/0.08]2 = 24.502 = 600.25

 

In order to have an answer that is within four percentage points, 95% of the time, at least 601 people will have to be polled. (Notice that our formula does not take into account the size of the population, only desired accuracy.)

 

Proper public opinion polls use more complicated methods than simple Statistical Random Sampling, so the calculation of confidence intervals and sample sizes is much more involved than this; but this formula shows in principle how such surveys are planned. (Generally, public opinion polls range in size from 1000 to 1500 people, with a margin of error of about 3%.)

 

Gallup has created a table that is included with their surveys that shows the margin of error given various sample sizes, response rates, and a 95% confidence level. Along the Y-axis are various potential sample sizes. Along the X-axis are possible sample results. The intersection represents the estimated margin of error. For example, let’s say the sample is of size 1500 people, and 52% of respondents report a belief in extraterrestrial life. One would go to the column "1500" (referring to the size of the sample) and then to the row "percentages near 50" (since the response rate is 52%). According to the table, the given margin of error is 3%. This means that 95 times out of a hundred, the margin of error will be no more than 3% and therefore the true representation will be between 49% and 55% (52% +/- 3%).

 

While the above description of sampling techniques is admittedly simplified, it does provide us with a general understanding of the procedures and tools that are used to create a poll. Given this, it is now time to move on to the various polls on Canadians' beliefs towards extra-terrestrial life and aliens.

 

 

The Polls

 

1974 (Released August 14, 1974)

 

The first poll I was able to locate was conducted by Gallup, and released in 1974. It is interesting that Gallup Canada was so late in conducting a poll on UFOs, considering that its American counterpart did its first UFO poll back in 1947, shortly after the modern portion of the UFO phenomenon began. The fairly high awareness of the public about the phenomenon suggests Gallup should have paid it attention much earlier. However, the phenomenon hasn't been as controversial in Canada as in the US, where UFOs were more likely to be in the media spotlight than in Canada. This probably accounts for the relative lack of interest by Gallup Canada.

 

Why Gallup decided to start polling the public concerning Unidentified Flying Objects in the summer of 1974 isn't stated in their press release. It likely had to do with the American Gallup company conducting a similar survey earlier in the year, which found an incredibly high awareness on the part of the American public concerning UFOs. This find could have startled Gallup Canada into action.

For the survey, 1006 adults across Canada were questioned. The margin of error is +- 4%, 19 times in 20. The questions asked were:

 

   1. "Have you heard or read anything about unidentified flying objects-UFOs?"

   2. "(If yes) Have you, yourself, ever seen anything you thought was a UFO?"

   3. "In your opinion, are they something real, or just people's imagination?"

 

Unfortunately, the questions leave much to be desired. As UFOs are not defined, how the term is interpreted by those surveyed is unclear. As a result, the third question asked is practically meaningless. "Real" could and does encompass many things when following the literal definition of unidentified flying objects. Any object seen in the sky that a witness is unable to identify is by the proper definition, a UFO. But do the respondents understand the true definition? Or do those polled associate UFOs with visiting spaceships from another planet? Gallup, had it been on the ball, would have more accurately defined UFO, and would have, had a respondent answered positively to the question of whether or not UFOs are real, asked follow-up questions enabling us to break down respondents beliefs as to the nature of their belief in the phenomenon. This however they failed to do; likely the result of Gallup itself associating UFOs with spaceships and aliens. Many respondents however, would not make such an erroneous association.

 

 

The Data

 

 

 

AGE GROUP

 

 

National

Under30

30-49

50 & Over

Heard of UFO's

 

 

 

 

Yes

67%

77%

62%

61%

No

33

23

38

39

 

 

 

 

 

Seen a UFO

 

 

 

 

Yes

12%

11%

14%

11%

No

88

89

86

89

 

 

 

 

 

Are They Real

 

 

 

 

Real

53%

69%

49%

38%

People's Imagination

26

14

30

37

Don't Know

21

17

22

25

 

 

 

 

 

                

 

One thing that differentiates this survey from its American counterpart is the relatively low number of respondents who had heard of UFOs: only 67% of people polled responded positively. While this number isn't terribly low for a poll, it is substantially lower than that found in similar American polls. (The poll taken in the US only a few months prior found an incredible 95% positive response!)

 

Not surprisingly, those found to be most familiar with the UFO phenomenon were young adults, with 77% of those polled under 30 having heard of UFOs. Also of no surprise is the finding that those most open to the reality of the phenomenon (whatever that might be) is the under-30 crowd. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those polled age 50 and over were both the least familiar with the phenomenon, and the least willing to believe UFOs to be "real."

 

Probably the most interesting finding of the 1974 Gallup poll is that 12% of respondents claimed to have seen what they thought was a UFO. As will be seen, this percentage is comparable to the findings of other Canadian, as well as American polls when a comparable question was asked. This percentage of 12%, assuming one can extrapolate to the general population, means that as of 1974, approximately 2,600,000 Canadians had seen what they thought was a UFO! (using 1971 census data)

 

Extraterrestrial Life

 

Three days after the release of the poll on UFOs, Gallup publicized a second poll, this one related to extra-terrestrial intelligence. It was not stated whether or not the sample was the same as that for the UFO poll. The question asked was:

 

"Do you think there are people somewhat like ourselves living on other planets, in the universe, or not?"

 

The results showed a very slight majority of Canadians (41%) believed in the existence of extraterrestrial life. A substantial number of people (21%) had no opinion. As in the UFO poll, belief was higher in young adults, where those who responded positively almost double that of the negativists. The results were reversed in the 50 years and over age group.

 

The Data

 

 

Yes

No

Don't Know

 

 

 

 

National

41%

38%

21%

 

 

 

 

18 to 29 Years

57

27

16

30 to 49 Years

39

40

21

50 Yrs. & Over

27

48

26

 

 

 

 

Atlantic Prov.

35

44

21

Quebec

45

39

16

Ontario

39

39

22

Prairies

37

36

27

Br. Columbia

49

32

19

 

 

 

 

Men

47

34

19

Women

35

42

23

 

 

 

 

Prof., executive

49

33

18

Sales, clerical

48

32

21

Labor

41

38

21

Other

31

46

23

 

 

 

 

 

                

One finding that would be of great interest to ufologists is the comparison between the findings of these two polls, namely the belief in extra-terrestrial life and UFOs. While 53% of respondents believed UFOs were "real", only 41% of respondents believed in the existence of extra-terrestrial life. The twelve- percent difference is unlikely to be the result of sampling error. Much more likely, it is the result of many people not equating the existence of UFOs with alien spaceships. Unfortunately, the Gallop organization did not design the questions in such a way as to allow the respondents to explain what they felt accounted for "real" UFOs.

 

 

1978 (Released March 22, 1978)

 

Four years after their first Canadian poll, Gallup conducted their second. While not specifically stated, the likely reason for conducting the poll was because of the increased media attention UFOs had received. A few months earlier, Steven Speilberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released, captivating audiences. The Gallup press release made mention to an "increase in movie and television shows based on interplanetary travel," while an equivalent American poll released six months later made specific reference to the Speilberg movie.

 

The questions asked were the same as in 1974:

 

   1. "Have you ever heard or read anything about unidentified flying objects-UFOs?"

   2. "(If yes) Have you, yourself, ever seen anything you thought was a UFO?"

   3. "In your opinion, are they something real, or just people's imagination?"

 

An interesting finding of this survey was that an increasingly large number of Canadians were aware of the UFO phenomenon. While in 1974 only 67% claimed to have heard of UFOs, four years later this number had increased to 81%! (This number is still significantly below American awareness however.)

 

The results of the second question, on whether or not the respondent had seen a UFO was slightly below the findings of the 1974 poll. This however could be the result of the margin of error.

 

Likewise, there was a slight change in response to the third question as to the nature of UFOs. The number of people who believed UFOs were "real" increased 4.5 points, while those believing UFOs to be the product of people's imagination dropped 3.5 points.

 

Belief in UFOs continued to be most prominent in young adults. Unlike the 1974 poll however, this time more younger Canadians than old also reported having seen a UFO. Why this would be so is unclear. Perhaps because the young are out more at night? But of course the old were young once too, so that doesn't properly explain the difference. What might be a better explanation is that the difference is merely the result of the margin of error.

 

Apparently in 1978 respondents were not questioned on their beliefs related to the existence of extra-terrestrial life.

 

 

The Data

 

 

 

 

 

AGE

 

 

 

 

National

 

18-29

30-49

50 & Over

Seen a UFO

 

 

 

 

 

Yes

 

10%

 

13%

10%

7%

No

 

71

 

72

72

68

Never Heard Of

19

 

15

17

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are They Real

 

 

 

 

 

Real

 

46

 

58

48

33

People's Imagination

18

 

12

19

23

Don't Know

16

 

14

16

19

Never Heard Of

19

 

15

17

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excluding "Never Heard Of" Category

 

 

 

Are They Real

 

 

 

 

 

Real

 

57.5

 

 

 

 

People's Imagination

22.5

 

 

 

 

Don't Know

20.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1988

 

Gallup waited ten more years before conducting its next poll on UFOs. Perhaps the poll was the result of the increased attention focused on UFOs and in particular alien abductions as a result of best-selling books by Whitley Strieber and Budd Hopkins, both published several months prior. No attention was given to alien abductions by Gallup however, which used the same questions concerning UFOs as in the 1974 and 1978 polls.

 

No significant new results were found by the 1988 poll with respect to awareness of the phenomenon and UFO sightings. Of those aware of the phenomenon, skepticism concerning the reality of UFOs increased, jumping five points to 30% from the 1978 findings. Those believing UFOs were "real" dropped slightly (well within the margin of error of four points) to 55% from 57.5% in 1978. Finally, those without an opinion dropped to 15% from 20%.

 

One interesting finding of the 1988 poll was that belief in the reality of UFOs was becoming more widespread. Apparently the young adults of the 1970s retained their belief into the late 1980s. In 1988 the numbers were almost identical for the 18-29 and 30-49 age groups. The 50 and over age group was still more skeptical. The strong difference in the numbers of people in each age category having seen a UFO also continued in the 1988 poll, with 13% of people in the two younger age categories, but only 6% in the older age group having seen a flying object they were unable to identify. The differences in the numbers however is less likely to be the result of the margin of error, given the six percentage point difference, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. Probably a more likely explanation is the correlation between age groups and skepticism. A more skeptical person is less likely to believe they have seen an alien "flying saucer." (At this point it would be good to stress that because respondents answered they believed some UFOs to be "real", does not mean all or even many of them equate UFOs with extraterrestrial spaceships.

 

 

The Data

 

 

 

 

 

 

Age

 

 

National

 

18-29

30-49

50 & Over

Seen A UFO

 

 

 

 

 

Yes

11%

 

13%

13%

6%

No

73

 

72

72

76

Never Heard Of

16

 

15

16

18

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are They Real

 

 

 

 

 

Real

46

 

51

51

36

People's Imagination

25

 

23

20

33

Don't Know

13

 

11

14

13

Never Heard Of

16

 

15

16

18

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excluding "Never Heard Of" Category

 

 

 

Are They Real

 

 

 

 

 

Real

55.0

 

 

 

 

People's Imagination

30.0

 

 

 

 

Don't Know

15.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

                

1996

 

The next poll of interest to us wasn't conducted for another eight years. In 1996 Angus Reid surveyed Canadians' beliefs concerning the existence of extra-terrestrial life and whether or not such life had ever or will ever visit the Earth. A total of 1501 people were polled, and according to AR, the poll had a margin of error of +- 2.5 points 19 times in 20.

 

The driving force behind this poll is pretty obvious; the finding of the alleged "Mars rock" earlier in the year.

 

Unfortunately, the questions are significantly different from the earlier Gallup poll from 1974, thus making any comparisons in the numbers quite difficult. The Gallup poll only allowed two possible answers to the question of whether or not the respondent believed in extra-terrestrial life: yes and no. Angus Reid allowed respondents to respond with one of four answers: definitely, probably, probably not, and definitely not. One can, and I will, create simply two categories from this data, that of possibly, curtailing the "definitely" and "probably" categories of the Angus Reid poll, and that of "not likely", which will cover the "probably not" and "definitely not" categories. These two categories, one could argue, are roughly comparable to the Gallup responses of "yes" and "no." But one can hardly emphasis enough that this method is potentially highly inaccurate, and any conclusions drawn should be taken with a grain of salt.

 

For the other two questions, those concerning whether or not extra-terrestrial life has visited or will in the future visit the planet Earth, a similar method of condensing the four categories down to two will also be done. But not only must one consider the warning mentioned in the previous paragraph, but one must also consider that the questions of the Angus Reid and the earlier Gallup polls are worded entirely differently; the Gallup polls discuss "UFOs" and whether or not they are "real" or "imaginary," whereas Angus Reid describes "extra-terrestrial life" and whether or not they are already or will in the future visit Earth. The significant differences in the wording of the questions make any sort of accurate comparison between the polls more or less impossible.

 

The Questions

 

"Recently, through their analysis of a meteorite from Mars, scientists have discovered what may turn out to be the fossilized remains of ancient micro-organisms. This has led to widespread speculation and renewed debate about the possible existence of life on other planets in the universe-in particular the possibility of intelligent life?"

 

"In your own honest opinion, to what extent do you believe that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe? Do you believe there is definitely, probably, probably not, or definitely not intelligent life on some other planets in the universe?

 

"People sometimes discuss whether or not Earth has ever been visited by intelligent life from another planet. In your honest opinion, do you believe it is very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely that Earth has been visited by intelligent life from some other planet in the universe?"

 

"And how likely do you think it is that Earth will be visited by intelligent life from some other planet in the universe at some point in your lifetime? Do you believe it is very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?"

 

With respect to the question of whether or not there is intelligent life out there, the majority of those polled believe there is, with some 70% stating there definitely is or probably is other life in the universe. Belief was higher in British Columbia and the Prairies. There was a significant difference in opinion by gender, with men more likely to believe than women. Belief also increased slightly with education, with university educated respondents slightly more likely to respond positively than those with less education.

 

As to whether or not we have been visited by extraterrestrial life, either in the past, or sometime in the near future, the differences in opinion between positive and negative respondents decreases significantly. Only 55% of respondents believe we have possibly been visited in the past, as compared to 43% who think it is unlikely. The numbers basically reverse for the question of whether or not we will likely be visited in the near future, with 43% thinking it is very likely or somewhat likely we will be, and 56% who think it somewhat unlikely or very unlikely. For both questions, belief decreases somewhat with education, and with age.

 

Admittedly the ability to accurately compare the results of the Angus Reid poll with the three earlier Gallop polls is quite limited. Both the questions and the means of recording responses were quite different. In particular, AR makes mention of aliens while Gallop only of UFOs. To compare we would have to assume that respondents interpret UFOs as alien spacecraft. As mentioned earlier, it is likely that many didn't. Ignoring this however, a rough comparison between the polls shows that the belief in the visitation of aliens (for those aware of UFOs) had remained the same.

 

Concerning the existence of extra-terrestrial life, there seemed to be a dramatic increase in belief over the twenty-two year period. This however might merely result from the difference in wording of the questions. Gallop added the qualifier "somewhat like ourselves" to the question. Angus Reid never specified humanoid form, or even intelligent life. Many people who responded positively might have been thinking of only bacterial life like was hypothesized in 1996 to have at one time been in existence on Mars.

 

 

The Data

 

Table 1

 

CANADIANS' VIEWS ON THE EXISTENCE OF

INTELLIGENT EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE

AND THE LIKELIHOOD OF PAST AND FUTURE VISITATIONS

 

- BY REGION -

 

 

 

REGION

 

Canada

BC

AB

MB/SK

ON

QU

AT

(Weighted Bases)

(1501)

(%)

(183)

(%)

(135)

(%)

(111)

(%)

(559)

(%)

(386)

(%)

(127)

(%)

IS THERE INTELLIGENT LIFE ELSEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE?:

Definitely

28

33

38

18

25

31

26

Probably

42

41

45

50

42

40

41

Probably not

16

15

12

19

18

13

22

Definitely not

12

9

6

10

12

15

9

(Unsure)

2

2

0

3

2

1

1

LIKELIHOOD THAT EARTH HAS EVER BEEN VISITED BY INTELLIGENT LIFE FROM ANOTHER PLANET:

Very likely

22

26

27

19

21

21

22

Somewhat likely

33

31

40

31

30

35

32

Somewhat unlikely

19

21

16

25

20

19

16

Very unlikely

24

22

17

24

28

23

28

(Unsure)

1

0

0

1

2

2

1

LIKELIHOOD THAT EARTH WILL BE VISITED BY INTELLIGENT LIFE FROM ANOTHER PLANET IN YOUR LIFETIME:

Very likely

14

16

19

9

13

15

12

Somewhat likely

29

26

33

29

25

32

30

Somewhat unlikely

21

17

21

20

19

25

17

Very unlikely

35

39

26

37

40

27

40

(Unsure)

2

2

1

4

2

1

0

 

 

                

 

 

 

Table 2

CANADIANS' VIEWS ON THE EXISTENCE

OF INTELLIGENT EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE

AND THE LIKELIHOOD OF PAST AND FUTURE VISITATIONS

- BY MAJOR SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC SEGMENTS -

 

 

 

GENDER

AGE

 

Canada

Men

Women

18-34

35-54

55+

(Weighted Bases)

(1501)

(%)

(730)

(%)

(771)

(%)

(553)

(%)

(536)

(%)

(409)

(%)

IS THERE INTELLIGENT LIFE ELSEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE?:

Definitely

28

35

22

32

31

18

Probably

42

39

45

44

46

36

Probably not

16

14

19

14

13

24

Definitely not

12

11

12

10

8

19

(Unsure)

2

2

2

1

2

3

LIKELIHOOD THAT EARTH HAS EVER BEEN VISITED BY INTELLIGENT LIFE FROM ANOTHER PLANET:

Very likely

22

24

20

23

25

17

Somewhat likely

33

31

35

35

38

22

Somewhat unlikely

19

18

21

20

18

20

Very unlikely

24

26

23

20

18

39

(Unsure)

1

1

1

1

1

2

LIKELIHOOD THAT EARTH WILL BE VISITED BY INTELLIGENT LIFE FROM ANOTHER PLANET IN YOUR LIFETIME:

Very likely

14

14

14

17

17

6

Somewhat likely

29

28

29

33

30

20

Somewhat unlikely

21

20

21

24

20

17

Very unlikely

35

35

35

26

31

53

(Unsure)

2

2

1

0

2

3

 

 

                

 

 

Table 3

CANADIANS' VIEWS ON THE EXISTENCE

OF INTELLIGENT EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE

AND THE LIKELIHOOD OF PAST AND FUTURE VISITATIONS

- BY MAJOR SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC SEGMENTS -

 

 

 

EDUCATION

 

Canada

<High School

High School

Some Post-Sec.

Complete Univ.

(Weighted Bases)

(1501)

(%)

(216)

(%)

(398)

(%)

(505)

(%)

(380)

(%)

IS THERE INTELLIGENT LIFE ELSEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE?:

Definitely

28

24

28

32

25

Probably

42

38

41

41

47

Probably not

16

17

17

15

16

Definitely not

12

18

12

11

9

(Unsure)

2

3

1

1

3

LIKELIHOOD THAT EARTH HAS EVER BEEN VISITED BY INTELLIGENT LIFE FROM ANOTHER PLANET:

Very likely

22

30

26

23

12

Somewhat likely

33

23

34

35

34

Somewhat unlikely

19

14

15

20

25

Very unlikely

24

31

23

21

27

(Unsure)

1

1

1

1

2

LIKELIHOOD THAT EARTH WILL BE VISITED BY INTELLIGENT LIFE FROM ANOTHER PLANET IN YOUR LIFETIME:

Very likely

14

17

16

16

8

Somewhat likely

29

28

31

30

25

Somewhat unlikely

21

14

19

22

25

Very unlikely

35

37

33

32

40

(Unsure)

2

3

1

1

3

 

 

                

1997

 

In the fall of 1997, several ufologists from around Canada, led by Chris Rutkowski of Ufology Research of Manitoba, surveyed almost 200 Canadians in five cities, asking for their beliefs in UFOs. Having a much better understanding of the phenomenon, they were able to ask more appropriate and meaningful questions than that which were asked by the professional pollsters. Unfortunately they were unable to find enough volunteers from around the country to conduct a proper survey. As such there were problems with the sampling process, increasing the probability of both sampling and nonsampling errors. Primarily, a small sample size chosen from areas representing only part of the country was taken, thereby increasing the probability that the results were not indicative of the general population.

 

The group however did ask several important questions which the professionals had not thought to ask. In particular, they asked respondents who had seen a UFO if they reported this sighting to anyone. Of those individuals who had admitted to seeing a UFO in the past, only 12.5% had reported the sighting. This confirms ufologists' widely held belief that only around 10% of witnesses actually come forward.

 

Another important question asked by the pollsters was: "If you ever saw a UFO, to whom would you report it?"

 

 

 

The results were as follows:

 

No One

14.40%

Friends

4.30%

Family

4.30%

UFO Group

14.40%

Planetarium

2.90%

University

2.90%

Not Sure

14.40%

Police

13.70%

RCMP

4.30%

Military

3.60%

Government

16.50%

Media/Many

4.30%

 

 

 

 

The biggest surprise of the results is that of those who would report their sighting to an outside organization, the majority would not do so to a UFO group. The public is for the most part ignoring the groups whose sole reason for existence are to study UFO reports! This of course suggests a significant public relations problem for ufologists. Either the public: 1) does not know of the existence of these groups; 2) does not know how to contact these groups; or 3) thinks so poorly of the groups that they want nothing to do with them, even preferring to deal with the cold, unsympathetic government bureaucracy to that of dealing with ufologists! Unfortunately the pollsters failed to ask respondents why they chose the organizations or entities that they did. Such a follow-up question might give ufologists a better understanding of Canadians' beliefs and attitudes toward ufologists as well as UFOs.

 

Another interesting note is that only around 23% of respondents reported that they would tell no one outside their immediate circle of family and friends. This contradicts the findings that 81.3% of actual witnesses did not make an official report. People seem to be much more willing to report a sighting until they actually are given the chance to!

 

Other Questions and Results:

 

"Do you believe in the existence of life elsewhere in the universe?"

 

Yes: 78%

Not Sure: 9%

No: 12.60%

This result is roughly consistent with the 1996 Angus Reid poll, but is significantly higher than earlier Roper polls. It should be noted however that Gallop added the qualifier: "people somewhat like ourselves." This might account for the difference. Much like other polls, the percentage expressing belief in extra-terrestrial life declined with the age of respondents.

 

 

"Do you believe that some UFOs are alien spacecraft?"

 

Yes: 52.10%

Not Sure: 22.20%

No: 25.70%

 

These results are similar to the findings of other polls.

 

 

"Have you ever seen a UFO?"

 

Yes: 9.60%

Not Sure: 6.00%

No: 84.40%

 

These results are consistent with the findings of other surveys.

 

 

"Do you believe there is a military or government cover-up regarding the existence of UFOs?"

 

Yes: 57.50%

Not Sure: 9.00%

No: 33.50%

 

Belief in the existence of a cover-up declined with the age of respondents.

 

 

"Has anyone in your family ever seen a UFO?"

 

Yes: 13.30%

Not Sure: 14.50%

No: 72.30%

 

 

Conclusion

 

Despite the fact that governments and mainstream science have treated the subject of UFOs with disdain, a large number of Canadians still believe in their existence. This wedge that has been driven between science and the public should be of concern to us. At the very least, it should be of interest to sociologists and folklorists.

 

There has however been a slight decline in the belief of alien UFOs. This is occurring despite the increase in science fiction movies and other mediums celebrating the possibility of aliens. Belief in the existence of extra-terrestrials however has been increasing.

 

It is a shame that professional polling organizations failed to notice the UFO phenomenon earlier, thereby limiting the study to the last 25 years. It is an even bigger shame that the questions asked for the most part were limited and extremely open to interpretation. Despite this it is quite clear from the polls that the public is aware of the questions surrounding UFOs and alien life but are sharply divided on the answers.

 

Recommended Reading/Sources

 

Anyone interested in reading more about the polls discussed in this essay should visit their local library. The reports are released individually, and as monthly collections. A search for "Gallup Report" and "Gallup Poll Monthly" will likely net results. Then search by year. They usually include information on how they conduct their polling in their published collections. Unfortunately Gallup Canada is not online, but Gallup Inc. can be found at:

 

http://www.gallup.com

 

If you are interested in more information on how Gallup conducts their polling try:

 

http://www.gallup.com/poll/faq/faq000101.asp

 

Angus Reid can be found at:

 

http://www.angusreid.com

 

For information on the American scene, read Robert Durant's "Public Opinion Polls and Ufology." It can be found in:

 

UFO: 1947-1997-Fifty Years of Flying Saucers. Hilary Evans and Dennis Stacy (Ed.) John Brown Publishing Ltd., London, 1997.

 

For more information on statistics, there are many textbooks available on the topic. For this essay, the following were used:

 

Fischer, Frederic E. Fundamental Statistical Concepts. Canfield Press, New York, 1973.

 

Mendenhall, William, and Beaver, Robert. Introduction to Probability and Statistics (8th Ed.). PWS-Kent Publishing Company, Boston, 1991.

 

Moore, David, and McCabe, George. Introduction to the Practice of Statistics (2nd Ed.). W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 1993.