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									 The problems with
words and the people
   who use them.
   The Survey as a
 technique of scientific
    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
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
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
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
    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
        Clearly worded
“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
 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
 “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
 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
    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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