Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Pew, Part Two

I had a lot of family stuff to take care of this weekend. Meanwhile, I had time to articulate in my brain the reason why the Pew survey--at least the "home game" version that you can take on their site--seemed wrong to me.

The way it's set up is, on the left-hand side of the screen, there's a statement, and then to the right, you select "Strongly agree" or "Agree." Then on the opposite side of the screen, there's an "opposing" statement, and to the right, the same two choices: "Agree" and "Strongly agree."

The problem with this is that often, I agreed with neither of these statements and just chose the one that was the less obnoxious or that would seem to me to result in less harm. This cumulatively had the effect of pushing me further to the left than I actually am. Sort of a microcosm of the past two and a half years.

For example:

One statement is "Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without having to do anything in return" and the opposite statement is "Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don't go far enough to help them live decently." I would imagine that it can never be "easy" being poor, even with government safety nets that didn't exist years ago. And having the government throw money at the poor is only a band-aid. The deeper wounds are not healable by any one thing, and the causes can be as many as there are poor people.

And "The Poor" is such a loaded phrase anyway, bringing to mind hollow-eyed children for some people and bling-toting welfare queens for others. The phrase has long seemed to me to be a smokescreen used by politicians: "Looky over there...The Poor!" rather than their dealing with the reality in this country today, which is that most Americans are busting their butts and barely getting by and are often a paycheck or two from disaster. People are more inclined to help The Poor when they're not in immediate danger of joining their ranks.

Obviously, no survey or poll I can think of would be comprised solely of essay questions, or they would be tabulating the results until the Bush Twins are running for president against Chelsea Clinton. But most surveys and polls I've taken give you a choice between "Agree" and "Disagree," or "Agree strongly, Agree, Agree somewhat, Disagree somewhat," etc.

I don't know if the actual surveys given by Pew were set up the same way. I can't imagine why they would be different in form from the online one, although I could see the online one being composed of fewer questions. The structure of this survey reminds me of the "false choices" of the liberals and conservatives in E.J. Dionne's Why Americans Hate Politics. The only people who would fit one set of statements or another would be Archie Bunker and Ronald Kuby, and at least one of these is a fictitious character.

So what I want to know is, was someone at Pew lazy, or was there some sort of agenda behind structuring the survey in this way? And is it only the online one that's structured this way?

Until I find out some answers, I'm busy reading Barry Sussman's What Americans Really Think, a book which we've happened to have around the house for the past 15 years because the author is my husband's cousin. We saw him on Sunday and I mentioned the Pew survey to him and he didn't think it seemed right, either.

The commenter named Kevin on Reason's "Hit and Run" noticed this, as well:

My personal opinion, backed up by one undergraduate course on public opinion and polling, is that the typology survey's design is awful. Making a participant choose between two sometimes equally rotten alternatives isn't the way I was taught to do it.

Likewise, on RNC Webmaster Patrick Ruffini's blog, the commenter named Sean P. said:

All told, I skipped five answers (3, 4, 9, 17, 25) because I disagreed with both statements. Plus, one at least one of the questions dealing with immigration, I found I partially agreed with both choices, and had to pick the choice I though to be "more" true. I think Pew needs to go back to the drawing board on this one.

You mean you were allowed to skip answers? It never would have entered my mind. That must mean I'm Catholic.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

nyc bloggers map