The Mid-West Humanists and similar groups and people note that the order of replies to questions in the Census causes bias in how people reply
This applies to the question about a person’s religion, and to some other questions also.
You can read the 2016 Census form on the Central Statistics Office website.
There are 4 questions (of 11 questions) about the household on page 2 of the Census form, that have between 5 and 9 optional answers, with one answer being “none” or a similar word – central heating fuel, source of piped water, destination of sewage, and cars (or vans). Question H6 Central Heating includes “No central heating” as option 1. In the other 3, “none” is the last option.
There are 4 questions (of 34 questions) about each person on later pages of the form, that have between 7 and 11 optional answers, with one answer being “none” or a similar word.
Of these, only in the religion question (Q12) is the “none” option last.
Q19 Mode of travel daily, Q20 Time leaving home in the morning daily, and Q25 Formal Education all have the “none” option first.
So, if your house or other residence has no central heating, or if you do not travel daily to work, school, or college, or if you have never been to any school, you do not have to pore over several irrelevant options before finding the right answer for you (or your residence) at the end.
How putting the “None” option last causes bias
If you glance through 4 to 10 options which are all wrong, and you are a little bothered by filling the form, you may mark a box that is not true.
You may notice so much about the various options, that you do not notice the content of the last option. You may behave as if the set of answers forces you to pick one of the first few options, even though they are not true about you.
On seeing that of these 8 questions, the Central Statistics Office has put the “none” option first in 4 and last in the other 4, I wonder if the CSO thinks that there may sometimes be bias in having a particular option at either the start or the end.
I notice the confusion caused by having to read 4 to 10 options that do not fit yourself, so that you are not concentrating when your eyes reach the last option (which is the right one for you).
How non-religious groups and people have thought that the Census question of the last decades causes bias, and how to improve it
Atheist and humanist organisations have in recent decades said that the presence of several religions as the first few optional replies to the religion question leads to people thinking of a religion to which they subscribed in the past, and marking the box for that.
They have proposed splitting the religion question into 2 parts. First, Do you have a religion? (yes/ no). Second (if you wrote Yes), What is your religion?
It has been difficult to get the CSO to consider changing the question.
If the question does not become divided into 2 parts, to put the “none” option as the first option would a good step. The CSO are clearly not opposed to a “none” option being the first option in a census question.
When the census is complete, the Mid-West Humanists intend to write to the CSO to seek to have the religion question improved.