VIEWS: 6 PAGES: 22 POSTED ON: 10/20/2011
The problems with words and the people who use them. The Survey as a technique of scientific research Respondent’s ignorance Survey of 1255 adults by New York’s American Museum of Natural History and Harris Co. found that: 77% were interested in plants and trees, but only 39% were interested in botany! 48% were interested in fossils, but only 39% were interested in paleontology! Only 42% were interested in rocks and minerals, but 53% were interested in geology! Affirming the pollster: Part I - race When interviewed by whites, 62% of white respondents agree that “The problems faced by blacks were brought on by blacks themselves.” When interviewed by blacks, only 46% agree. Affirming the pollster Part II - gender When interviewed by a man, 64% of women agree that “abortion is a private matter that should be left to the woman to decide without government interference.” When interviewed by a woman, 84% of women respondents agree. Poorly worded questions ABC News Nightline once asked, “Do you think the United States should or should not end the trade embargo and allow U.S. companies to do business in Cuba and Cuban companies to do business here?” Poorly worded questions, cont’d. 1992 survey showed one out of five Americans doubted that the Holocaust had occurred, while another 12% said they were not sure. Poorly worded, cont’d. “As you know, the term Holocaust usually refers to the killing of millions of Jews in Nazi death camps during World War II. Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?” Clearly worded question “Do you doubt that the Holocaust happened, or not?” Only 9% said they doubted the truth of the Holocaust, and another 4% said they were unsure. Emotionally charged issues and words Shortly after 9/11, question posed, “Do you think the United States should increase spending on foreign aid, decrease spending on foreign aid, or keep it about the same?” 14% favored increase, 32% said it should be decreased, and 49% said it should stay the same Emotionally charged issues and words, cont’d. When “foreign aid” was changed to “humanitarian aid” the numbers shifted noticeably. A different poll asked if they favored “prohibiting abortions” and a majority opposed it. When changed to asking if they favored “protecting the life of an unborn child” more than 20% switched sides. Too many choices 2003 New York Times/CBS poll reported that 55% of those asked favored a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. A Pew Research Center poll taken two months earlier had reported that only 10% of those questioned favored such an amendment. Why such a big difference in responses? Too many choices, cont’d. The Times/CBS poll did not give respondents opposed to gay marriage any option other than a constitutional amendment. “Would you favor or oppose an amendment to the Constitution that would allow marriage ONLY between a man and a woman?” Too many choices, cont’d. The Pew Center asked, “Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?” Those who opposed gay marriage were then asked, “Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban gay marriage, or is it enough to prohibit gay marriage by law without changing the Constitution?” Too many choices, cont’d. What do you consider the most important thing for children to prepare them for life, 62% chose from a list the alternative, “To think for themselves.” However, only 5% gave an answer that could be assigned to this category when no list was presented. Too many choices, cont’d. 1987 Survey: Name “the most important problem facing this country today” only 1% mentioned the quality of public education. When asked “Which of the following do you think is the most important problem facing this country today - the energy shortage, the quality of public schools, legalized abortion, or pollution - or a different problem” 32% said the quality of public schools. The order of questions “Should divorce in this country be easier to obtain, be more difficult to obtain, or stay as it is now?” 23% said easier 36% said more difficult 41% said stay the same The order of questions “Should divorce in this country be easier to obtain, stay as it is now, or be more difficult to obtain?” 26% said easier (23%) 29% said stay the same (41%) 46% said more difficult (36%) The order of questions “Does the country have health care problems, or a health care crisis? 55% say “crisis “Does the country have a health care crisis or health care problems?” 61% say “problems” The order of questions Asked to compare the relative excitement of tennis to soccer, 65% of the respondents say soccer is more exciting (duh!). Asked to compare the relative excitement of soccer to tennis, 77% say tennis is more exciting. The “Worst Poll Question of All Time” 1937 British Gallup Poll question - “Are you in favor of direct retaliatory measures against Franco’s piracy?” The Statistical Assessment Service suggests this short question violated five important rules of question design The “Worst Poll Question of All Time” “Are you in favor of direct retaliatory measures against Franco’s piracy?” 1. It is not balanced. Should be “Do you favor or oppose. . .” 2. It assumes knowledge. Who is “Franco”? 3. It does not use everyday language. What are “retaliatory measures”? The “Worst Poll Question of All Time” “Are you in favor of direct retaliatory measures against Franco’s piracy?” 4. It employs a pejorative. “Piracy” 5. It is vague. Retaliatory measures could range from verbal condemnation to declaring war.
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