Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Why I hate polls

And what's the powerful social science tool of survey research up to over at the Most Trusted Name in News?

Of all the newspaper headlines covering the death of Osama bin Laden, the most provocative may have been the New York Daily News.

And I care because ...?

Their "Rot in Hell" Monday headline, with a full front-page photo of bin Laden, was mentioned by the cable news networks and generated buzz on the on-line social networks.

Oh, come on. It isn't even that original. "Burn in Hell" was in the News's frontpage hed for the February 2008 decision on a capital trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Your point is ...?

So do Americans think that the founder and leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network is now in hell?

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday, 61 percent of the public says yes, with one in ten saying no and nearly a quarter unsure.

"Not all Americans believe in hell - a point of view reflected in the relatively large number of 'don't know' responses - and many religions don't include punishment in an afterlife as part of their teachings," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Nonetheless, the six in ten who say bin Laden is in hell reflects how strongly many Americans feel that bin Laden was an evil figure."

Oh, stop it. If you're going to report the proportions as if you had asked a real question, at least have the decency not to fabricate stuff about public opinion that isn't reflected in your data.

"This is one question on which there is little partisan division - at least six in ten Democrats, independents and Republicans all believe bin Laden is in hell," adds Holland.

Speaking of hell? Quoting your own polling director and shirttailing your deputy political editor both in an eight-graf story leaves you teetering on brink of same. Is there anything that could push you over?

Seven-hundred national adults were questioned by telephone for the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Oops. The maximum margin of sampling error at 95% confidence for a sample of 700 is +/- 3.7 points, not 3.5. Send us a sulfur-encrusted postcard from your next vacation stop, CNN!



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I have to ask: Seven-hundred national adults?

First, why the hyphen?

Second, wtf is a "national adult"? Is that different from an "adult American" somehow?

4:41 PM, May 05, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the polling director was interested in knowing how many people thought bin Laden was evil, you'd think he'd ask that instead of conflating the results with a belief in hell. But that wouldn't give them a shiny headline.

3:40 PM, May 07, 2011  

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