Why it’s useless to listen to statistics from a politician.

100% of the readers of the is blog find it to be the most prominent source of political information in the Universe! Well that’s pretty good. Unless I’m the only one reading my blog which from the stats isn’t too far off the mark. We hope to change that one day but for now let’s talk stats.

Recently a law passed in my state call SB1070 maybe you have heard of it? It has to do with allowing police officers to ask people who may look like they are in the country illegally to prove their immigration status. It has caused a lot of controversy. When the bill first came out Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce who in these parts is known for his creative use of statistical information, said that he had the support of 74% of the voting population. Well the actual support of his bill may have been much less than that 55% at best however he cited the percentage that a recent vote for Propositions in 2006 regarding various issues having to do with immigration in Arizona as his support for a law that was crafted by the Privatized Prison lobby to create more business.

This is a common tool used by those who want to push public policy. Make an unpopular policy a reality.

The truth about these polls is not many people considered to be your average everyday kind of person with average or better intelligence actually answer the phone to an unmarked or (888) number at dinnertime, even fewer go through the actual practice of answering the survey questions. If you are ever in the position to answer one of these polls I strongly suggest that you do. There needs to be more representation from “the rest of us” this is one of the effective ways of changing things for the better is to tell the powers that be what you actually think while they are asking. Springboard America is a survey site that often asks policy questions to get a feel for what America is thinking. I recommend becoming a part of these types of sites and weighing in on the discussion to dilute the opinions of those who quite frankly don’t seem to know enough about the topics to give an informed opinion, yet because they are answering the surveys their opinions are being counted as poll results.

The questions themselves are often loaded and misleading and to add on to it all the interpretation of what the answers mean can be manipulated to support the opinion of the politician. For example in a survey I was asked in Arizona “Do you approve of the job your elected officials are doing?” Well that’s an unfair question. I have a lot of elected officials. My Mesa City Council happens to be doing a wonderful job yet at the same time I was in the district who bore Russell Pearce, Mr. SB1070. So I took the good guys down (sorry City Council) because the bad outweighed the good in the question so I felt I must say no I wasn’t happy with elected officials of Mesa at the time.

In many cases the questions are crafted a certain way and the list of people being polled is created in such a way as to achieve a specific result.The special interest group or politician need a statistic they can use to sell a policy choice to the rest of the public. Sure if I went to a convention of people who liked the color red and asked what the best color in the world was there’s a real good chance red might win. Does that mean red’s the best color? Well maybe or maybe not but I am asking a very condensed and specific group of people who love red enough to go to a convention for it. So is that a realistic poll?

If I ask people questions like “Does the Immigration system need reform?” many would answer yes. However the devil is in the details. What it fails to ask is what does that reform look like? What are we willing to do for that reform? Are we willing to let go of civil rights for some in the name of determining someone’s immigration status? What about the various consequences dealing with the web of cause and effect each decision makes? This addresses the complexity of an issue which is difficult to address in a poll.

This goes back to a theme on this blog that real policy solutions don’t fit on a bumper sticker.

Why it’s useless to listen to statistics from a politician is because the stats are loaded, the results can be and often are misinterpreted. Who asked the questions? Who did they ask them to? How many people did they ask them to? Was it a diverse group? Is the group who created the poll reputable and mainstream or is it merely an obscure reference not respected by those who are experts on the subject? Does it pass the common sense test? These are all questions that need to be asked when considering a statistic as support of a policy decision.

When taking in information from polls it is important to ask these questions as a consumer of news and data. A reader must compare the findings with other sources and common sense. The findings of polls are a support of a larger debate yet the information must be taken in context. Statistics can be a powerful decision-making tool. When used irresponsibly statistics can be a horrible propaganda weapon! Do the research and decide.

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