Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I'm No Poll Cat

Often, when one attempts to have a serious discussion about the abortion issue, people who favor the "pro-choice" point of view will argue that opinion polls continue to show what they've always shown: That most Americans favor legalized abortion.

I personally find that claim to be highly suspect. And even if the claim is valid, I question the premise that people in the majority are always right. That's why I like to say that I'm no "poll cat". (A "polecat," for those unfamiliar with the term, is a skunk. And the people I like to call "poll cats" stink every bit as much, metaphorically speaking, in my opinion.)

I have therefore compiled a list of questions to ask when reporters or commentators cite opinion polls allegedly showing that the majority of voters support legalized abortion:

  1. Was the source of the polls disclosed? Did the news organization disclose any possible vested interest the pollsters might have in the results? (Example: Polls on abortion conducted or funded by the Alan Guttmacher Institute lack credibility, because that group has a clearly defined agenda regarding abortion, on account of its well-known connection with Planned Parenthood.)
  2. Was the poll truly a random sampling of Americans, or was it restricted to a particular demographic group (such as the readers of The New York Times or Ms. magazine) known to favor liberal politics and the pro-abortion view?
  3. Have the results of all polls on the subject been released to the public? Or have polling organizations chosen to publish poll results only when those results favor their agendas? How many times did they have to conduct their poll before they finally got the results which were released to the public? (There's no law requiring that polling organizations publish the results of every poll the organization conducts. That fact alone makes all poll results suspect. If Pepsi-Cola ever conducted the "Pepsi Challenge" and found that the people they were polling preferred Coca-Cola, do you honestly think they'd feature the results of that poll in a national TV ad? Of course not. The poll results would be immediately buried and quickly forgotten.)
  4. Of the people who were polled, how many are active in politics? How many of the people polled are politically irrelevant for the simple reason that they usually choose not to vote?
  5. Are people who favor one point of view less likely or more likely than people who favor another point of view to agree to participate in opinion polls, or to be available during the hours when the pollsters typically do their work? How might that conceivably skew the poll results?
  6. What is the "margin of error" for the poll which was cited? How often does the reporter even bother to explain that all polls have a margin of error --- one which, in some cases, can make the difference between making a position the "majority view" or the "minority view," especially in situations where the country is more or less evenly divided on the subject?
  7. How many people were polled? Was the sample large enough to get a good idea of the views of the nation? More to the point, could any random sample be so large as to negate the need to give every single American the opportunity to have a direct voice in the issue? Should we abolish our current system of electing leaders in favor of a system which elects such leaders via random opinion polls? If not, why not? What does your answer to the preceding questions say about the validity and reliability of opinion polls?
  8. When a newscaster says something like, "Polls continue to show that the majority of Americans favor legalized abortion," or "The latest polls show that the majority of Americans favor legalized abortion," implying that such a poll was taken very recently, ask just how recently the most recent poll on that subject was taken. Just because a poll is the most recent one doesn't mean it was taking within the past year, or even within the past decade! If it's been many years since the last poll was conducted on a given subject, then the polls will "continue to show" what they've always shown, just because there are no new polls to contradict them. But that doesn't mean that the last poll on the subject continues to reflect current opinion on that subject.
  9. Ask why news reporters almost never report the actual wording of the questions asked in the poll, or the sequence in which they were asked. It's been proved that the phrasing of poll questions, and the sequence in which they're asked, can produce results which disproportionately favor the biases and agendas of the people asking the questions.
  10. When it's reported that a "majority" of the American people favors legal abortion or some other position, remember that even 51% constitutes a majority, and that 49% of the population is still a huge number of people! When subjective terms such as "overwhelming majority" are used, ask if the reporter's definition of "overwhelming majority" might be influenced by his or her biases on that issue.
  11. If Americans overwhelmingly favor legal abortion, ask why it is that they've voted for outspoken pro-life candidates in the majority of the national elections held during the years since the issue has become a major factor in such elections. The Democrats have only won the Presidential election three times since 1973 (Carter once, and Clinton twice), versus five elections which were won by Republican candidates, all of whom proclaimed their pro-life convictions in a manner which was very clear to the American voters. (Reagan in particular was outspoken in his opposition to abortion, even writing a book on that subject.) Even if Barack Obama wins in 2008, it will still be the case that Republicans have won the presidential election more often than the Democrats have won that election.
  12. If legal abortion is really as popular as liberal Democrats claim that it is, ask why such people are so afraid to put the matter to a popular vote by reversing Roe v. Wade and allowing the voters in each state to decide the matter with a referendum. What do they have to lose?
  13. Ask if it necessarily follows, even if the polls are correct, that the most popular position is invariably the correct position. Ask if there might not be cases in which the majority is clearly wrong. (There's a well-known logical fallacy known as "argumentum ad populum". In my opinion, political liberals, and particularly "pro-choice" people, are frequently guilty of committing that fallacy. That's rather ironic, in light of the fact that such people often use phrases such as "the tyranny of the majority" in order to argue that it's perfectly permissible for the Supreme Court to override the clearly expressed will of the majority of the people, even in cases where the Constitution is virtually silent about the issues which the Supreme Court is addressing.)
  14. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, ask if the constant repetition of the so-called facts pertaining to the popularity of legal abortion is really motivated by an innocent desire to educate and inform, or by an improper desire to persuade and influence people by intimidating those who would otherwise oppose abortion into refraining from doing so by implying that they will be defying popular opinion if they take a principled stand in favor of the sanctity of human life.

No comments: