Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Polls are Proof of the existence of Polls

This might be a bit rambling. I'm running late because of a car battery problem, and need to get to work. But I was just reading an article by Bruce Bartlett (on the recent spate of stories on class in America (social class, not the opposite of Paris Hilton Class)) and it reminded me of a particular tick by the right wing. They are constant poll watchers. Read this paragraph.
The American Enterprise Institute compiled a useful compendium of data on this subject a few years ago. According to this study, in 1964 people were first asked what economic class they had grown up in and what class they belonged to today. Pollsters asked this question again in 1978, 1984 and 1996. In every case, there was solid evidence that people were living in a higher economic class than the one in which they were raised.
What I find interesting is that the methodology the Right has adopted to prove that class isn't that big a problem is asking people what class they think they are in.

This methodology is suspect. Would it be possible to measure peoples living space, track their paychecks, track what they are able to spend on food and where they shop, track available credit and from that place them in a class? Yes. Would this method be superior to just asking people what class they think they are? Yes. For one thing, individuals may not wish to admit what class they belong to for a multitude of reasons. For another, they may simply not know.

This is similar to a trick they use in the debate over Media Bias. Empirical studies on Media Bias usually don't show that much bias. Certainly not enough to warrant the claims of a Rush Limbaugh. So they go to surveys that ask whether or not people think there is media bias. And, not surprisingly, all such surveys show that people think there is media bias (which may just prove that if the right wing says something enough times people will buy it).

I've also seen Rush and a few others use this argument on global warming and other environmental issues, although not nearly as much. I suspect they realize that the opinions of a poll really aren't the same as the opinions of trained scienticians.

Anyway something to watch for when you see a stastical argument being presented.

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