Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Really, isn't there SOME limit to what can be passed off as a "poll"?


New York State Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-North Buffalo) cast the 33rd and final "yes" vote for marriage equality in Friday's historic late-night Senate session.

by Ken

We all seem them everyday -- those ubiquitous online "polls" that go beyond being unscientific to being just plain silly. It's not hard to see how grossly uninformed the writer of the "poll" is about the issue(s) and person(s) involved, and usually you can see how the stacked questions reflect some combination of ignorance and/or pandering to perceived public prejudices and/or plain old propagandizing. (Any other AOL-ers out there?)

I tend to ignore these things, but silly as they may be, it can be dangerous to just dismiss them, as our friend Adam Bink, director of online programs at the Courage Campaign, points out in connection with a couple of real corkers he's passed along from radio station WBEN, "a popular radio station back home in Western New York," argues: "Poll results like these get reported on-air, mentioned by word-of-mouth, and noted by other news sources, which influences opinion." (Adam hails from the Buffalo area, so what happens in local politics remains on his radar.)

This first WBEN "poll" Adam flagged is bad enough:

At least this one seems actually to be soliciting the respondent's opinion. Note that you get a smorgasbord of choices to express bad feelings "about gay marriage," as against the unitary option of being "OK" with it.

But now, in the wake of the New York State Legislature's historic ratification of marriage equality, comes this truly preposterous . . . well, whatever it is. I don't see how it can be described as a "poll":


As I wrote in a note to Adam, "This isn't a poll, it's a political hit job. Fucking unbelievable."

Here's what Adam had to say in his post on the subject:
This is really ridiculous. Again, I realize these things aren’t scientific, but they aren’t fair either. “What bothers you most” sets the tone from the start, implying that Grisanti acted incorrectly in some way, instead of something like “How would you rate Mark Grisanti’s handling of the same-sex marriage issue?” Any approval poll should have neutral language such as “How would you rate President Obama’s handling of x issue?”

Second, we again have two choices against one instead of a neutral scale. And third, since when did Mark Grisanti refuse to “discuss the issue prior to the vote?”

Here’s a piece from the Buffalo News quoting Grisanti on June 14th discussing his wrestling with the issue and his religious beliefs. Here’s another piece from June 19th where he mentions he will wait to see what changes are made in the bill with respect to religious exemptions. Here’s Sen. Grisanti’s chief of staff discussing his boss’ views. Here’s a piece even documenting how Grisanti sat down with gay and lesbian community leaders in March to discuss the issue. Perhaps WBEN is confusing “refused to state his position” with “refusing to discuss”, but the voting choice is just misleading at best, factually inaccurate at worst.

The reason this matters is because poll results like these get reported on-air, mentioned by word-of-mouth, and noted by other news sources, which influences opinion. As of this post, “they way he voted” is winning with 56% of the vote. The impression here is that Grisanti did something wrong. Let’s correct the record.

As I wrote Adam, "This is so bad, I find myself wondering whether it's rank stupidity or propagandistic cunning. (The line turns out to be surprisingly fine.)" He's suggesting that folks "drop station manager Tim Wenger a line. You might tell him to stop running (and fix) poorly worded, biased polls."

I don't know whether the person who wrote this "poll" was out to foment hysteria about marriage equality, or saw him/herself as point person for a crusade of political retribution against Senator Grisanti, or just is so stupid that he/she is incapable of even the lowest level of thought, let alone fairness, on the subject. Then again, I'm not sure it really matters. In the cacaphony of the great Right-Wing Noise Machine, even the loopiest noisemakers have a part to play.

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