Thursday, April 23, 2009
Polls are easily manipulated
According to an article in The State newspaper, 43 percent of African Americans surveyed in a poll conducted by a group funded by Howard Rich wanted government funded tuition scholarships for private schools. It seems like significant news. But, is it?
First, let's discuss the illusion of such polls. Often questions are tailored for a certain result. Indeed, if you poll folks who usually want big government to do something for them and ask them in general terms if government should pay for something for them, they will agree. Further, leaving out the details can also give the poll taker the results desired.
Suppose the poll question is "do you want government to pay for you kid to go to private school?" Chances are those who typically favor big government will be in favor. But, if you get into the details and say something along the lines of "Private school tuition is around $12,000 per year, do you favor a plan to give a $3,500 tax credit to parents who can afford to send their children to private schools?" The result would be entirely different.
Such manipulation of polling has went on for years in South Carolina. If a poll asked, "if you could get your child out of a failing school would you?" Who in their right mind would answer "no?" The other side does it as well, with questions like, " would you take money away from public schools to fund private schools?" Again, most would answer "no."
Manipulating a poll and then presenting its results as the will of the people is one of the oldest political tricks in the trade, so to speak. Results never tell the true tale of a political poll. The people called, the time that they were called, the questions asked, how the questions were asked, in what order, and such are far more important to understanding what is going on in the public then simple results.
For example, a polling firm could be hired to find out the popularity of President Obama. However, since that firm was paid to poll by a pro-Obama group, it might phrase questions and weigh its sampling accordingly to give the folks paying the bill what they want.
The same could be true of the school choice poll The State reports on. So, forgive VUI for not really believing the spin on the poll that seemed timed just right for the Senate debate on school choice. When someone independent of both sides of the education debate funds a poll and makes public its questions and methods, VUI will take those results seriously. Otherwise, it is just more political illusion from those paid well to manipulate the scene.