Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Problem with Polls

Posted in politics by Kathy on October 21, 2008

I’m signed up to do online polls, and usually they’re about different companies (do I have a positive or negative opinion of companies like T.J. Maxx or Budweiser; have I heard something positive or negative in the last week about FedEx or Starbucks; that sort of thing), but recently they’ve mostly been about politics.

One thing that bothers me about some of these questions — and it’s bothered me when I’ve heard poll results given in the past — is that there just aren’t enough choices given — there just isn’t enough information gleaned from the questions, usually.

There can be loaded questions like, “Is Barack Obama’s campaign more positive than most Presidential campaigns or about the same?” Well, what if you think it’s more negative?

Or, “Should abortion be completely illegal, or should there be some allowances?” Most if not all people think that there should be allowances to save the mother’s life (if the baby is too young to survive), and many other people think that there should be exceptions for pregnancies due to rape or incest, so to choose between the two would lead most if not all people to say that abortion should be legal. Of course, that doesn’t answer whether or not these people think it should be legal without any restrictions, such as the Freedom of Choice Act would guarantee, without any exceptions for parental consent, or viability, which Barack Obama has promised to sign should he become President.

If the question were asked, “Should abortion be legal without any restrictions?”, undoubtedly some people would agree with that statement, but most people think that there should be restrictions, for instance, laws concerning minors, or crossing state lines, or statutory rape, or viability. That’s why there should be plenty of options in these polls, otherwise they’re meaningless.

Also, sometimes the results are presented in a way that is confusing at best and down-right deceptive at worst. I remember reading that some advertising campaign (Levi’s 501 Jeans, back in the ’80s) said that “80% of college kids say that Levi’s 501 jeans are ‘the thing to wear’ on campus.” Well, the only options they had were 501 jeans and something like “skirts” or some other generic term. Another ad campaign said that “most people said that [X] beer was as good as or better than [Y] beer.” The deception? 50% of people said that the two beers were equal; 20% said that X was better; and 30% said that Y was better. The company combined the “as good as” as well as the “better” to come up with 70%; but actually, more people preferred Y to X.

Frequently — but more frequently during election times — there will be polls presented to the public that ask and answer the question, “Do you agree with the direction the country is taking?” or sometimes it’s more specifically about Congress or the President or whatever. That question is just simply too vague. I say that most people will answer “no” to that, but their reasoning will be vastly different. I’m on a few different email lists, and keep up with lots of people’s blogs. While most of the people I know in real life range from conservative to very conservative, my computer friends range from very conservative to very liberal, so I get to see a wide range of views this way. I don’t know a single person who thinks this country is heading in the right direction. Many people think it’s becoming too liberal, while many other people think it’s not becoming liberal enough. To hear the pro-abortion people talk, they won’t be happy until FOCA is signed; while to hear the pro-life people talk, they won’t be happy until Roe is overturned. So, if things remain as they are, as long as abortion is a vital issue to them, they will probably answer the question (is the country heading in the right direction?) in the negative. Other people may answer the question primarily on the economy, or terrorism, or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how “green” we are, or this, or that, or the other.

So, no, I don’t think the country is heading in the right direction — I wish it were more like it was in my childhood (under Reagan), or in the 50s (except for the racism). When I think of how much child porn there is and other forms of porn and sexual deviancy that is not just tolerated but promoted, I can’t think this country is heading in the right direction. But that doesn’t mean that I think Obama is going to be the savior of the country! — far from it! I think he’ll take us even further from my desire. I just read the Dr. Seuss story And to Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street to my kids, and it starts off with the little boy (Marco) walking “all the long way to school and the long way back” by himself. I wish we could go back to the time where we could send our kids out to play all day, or walk to school by themselves, without worry that something might happen. I hear stories of children who left their homes in the morning, and didn’t come back until supper or nightfall, and their parents never worried about them. I know that kidnapping is rare, as is pedophilia, and most of those happen in familial situations (ex-husbands taking the kids, or Uncle Joe touching his nieces), but I can’t take that chance.



One Response

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  1. hoh said, on October 23, 2008 at 9:30 am

    i agree with you about not enough options!
    i wanted to answer yr poll – but the option i would have selected wasn’t there!
    Which proves yr point!
    what i would have selected had it been there is
    lets see who yr next president is – if its obama – yes moving to liberal
    if its mccain – noooo super conservative
    i have to say that i can’t believe the majority of american have had a paradigm shift, seen a dim light, in the past 4 yrs – when a people re elect the likes of bush!
    i actually feel sorry for him but miffed at the american people! sorry administration
    cause and effect – one just can’t escape it – oh for the american election to be over
    it’s sooo bleeping boaring for us outside the states – like my comment! 🙂
    cape town

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