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Pollster says: People are stupid

More than once this blog has highlighted poll results about which I can only shake my head in wonderment. A majority of Mississippi Republican voters think Obama is a Muslim and nearly half think Evolution isn’t true.

I may wonder, but a professional pollster explains these unusual results rather simply:

“The first lesson you learn as a pollster is that people are stupid,” said Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm. “I tell a client trying to make sense of numbers on a poll that are inherently contradictory that at least once a week.”

In an article at Politico.com, Jensen uses this to explain, for example, why the same Americans who like the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), hate the Act itself. Jensen said:

I also think voters are showing a tendency to turn issues that should be factual or non-factual into opinions.

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23 Responses to Pollster says: People are stupid

  1. avatar
    Rickey March 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    It’s true that it can be difficult to make sense of poll numbers at times. Take this example:

    A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted March 7-11 found that only 40% of respondents believe that health insurance through employers should be required to provide birth control coverage and 51% said that employers should be able to opt out if they have religious or moral objections.

    An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted March 7-10 found that 61% of respondents believe that health insurance companies should be required to cover the full cost of birth control while only 35% said that they should not be required to do so.

    WTF?

  2. avatar
    JPotter March 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    And what “those people” will take away from reading this:

    blahblahblah … “people are stupid” said … blahblahblah … a Democratic polling firm.

    Which will quickly become:

    “Democrats think people are stupid!!!”

    Well, bless their sweet little hearts.

    PS: “Keep your gubbamint hands off my Medicare!”

  3. avatar
    Thrifty March 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Mr. Jensen sounds in need of a vacation.

  4. avatar
    bovril March 14, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    And yep, it has come to pass as JPotter forecast…..

    http://obamareleaseyourrecords.blogspot.com/2012/03/politicos-alex-burns-head-still.html

  5. avatar
    misha March 15, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Rickey: A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted March 7-11 found that…51% said that employers should be able to opt out if they have religious or moral objections

    I made a career as a NYS licensed optician. I could not choose who to fit eyeglasses to. Everyone who presented himself at my dispensing table had to be treated with dignity. I would like to add, I met my wife from Kaohsiung, at the dispensing table. She said she had never been treated so well in a store.

    People came in with vouchers from the Whitman-Walker clinic, prisoners were brought in with hand cuffs and leg irons. I could not refuse anyone. Any pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription should lose his license for a minimum of 5 years.

    “51% said that employers should be able to opt out if they have religious or moral objections” Hitchens was right: religion poisons everything. Take religion out of the ME, and watch what happens.

  6. avatar
    John Reilly March 15, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    There’s a line from the West Wing, voiced by Kristin Chenoworth playing a Republican, speaking to one of her Democratic colleagues, that the Democratic colleagues do not like gun owners, not just that they believe in gun control. And gun owners sense that dislike.

    I think Mr. Jensen fits right into that mind set.

  7. avatar
    misha March 15, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    John Reilly: the Democratic colleagues do not like gun owners, not just that they believe in gun control. And gun owners sense that dislike.

    When I was in Israel, I got to be a crack shot with an Uzi. One day at the firing range, someone asked me in English how I was doing. I replied, “I haven’t had so much fun since I shot my ex-wife.”

    BTW, I’m one of those New York Jewish liberals you read about.

  8. avatar
    John Reilly March 15, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    Yes, Misha, you are one of those New York Jewish liberals my Mother warned me about. Fortunately, in my schooling (Catholic schools, then the academy) and career (no assignments in NYC), I have not had much occasion to come into contact with them. And the academy has quite the Christian perspective, as documented by Mikey Weinstein.

    I have met a fair number of Israeli fighter pilots, and been to Israel a number of times on business. Israeli fighter pilots would never be confused with the New York liberal Jews in my Mother’s imagination.

  9. avatar
    Lupin March 15, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    YES MINISTER (or was it YES PM?) had an episode in which Sir Humphrey explained to Bernard how to manipulate a poll. Wonderful stuff!

  10. avatar
    The Magic M March 15, 2012 at 5:59 am #

    Wasn’t the prime example a Wenzel poll for WND where the results were, paraphrasing from memory, that 60+% said “yes” when asked if you need two citizen parents to be NBC and about the same 60+% said “yes” when asked if being born in the country was enough?
    (Maybe it was something slightly different, I don’t quite remember, but it was a result of that “quality”.)

    > why the same Americans who like the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), hate the Act itself

    Which can also simply be due to the fact that people have been “indoctrinated” to hate certain acts (possibly using massively distorted propaganda such as “death panels”) while not really knowing what they actually consist of.
    Then again, that kind of “stupidity” (or willful ignorance) isn’t limited to John Doe – just consider the politicians voting for, or even sponsoring, bills they have never read in their entirety. (Which, in my opinion, is one of the actual gravest dangers for democracy. If our elected representatives don’t even know what they are implementing, who is really in control of the ship?)

    In my country, politicians have often been punked by journalists who asked them about details of the laws they had just voted for, or criticized publicly. It’s quite embarrassing to have to admit in front of a camera that you really have no idea what you just supported or criticized. 🙂

  11. avatar
    aarrgghh March 15, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    The Magic M: In my country, politicians have often been punked by journalists who asked them about details of the laws they had just voted for, or criticized publicly. It’s quite embarrassing to have to admit in front of a camera that you really have no idea what you just supported or criticized.

    one of the benefits of the party system is not having to read any of the bills the party supports …

  12. avatar
    The Magic M March 15, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Because “the party is always right”. 😉

  13. avatar
    Keith March 15, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    The Magic M: In my country, politicians have often been punked by journalists who asked them about details of the laws they had just voted for, or criticized publicly. It’s quite embarrassing to have to admit in front of a camera that you really have no idea what you just supported or criticized

    In Australia, John Hewson lost the ‘unloseable election’ because he couldn’t answer whether or not a birthday cake would be subject to his proposed “Goods and Services Tax”.

  14. avatar
    Scientist March 15, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    The Magic M: Because “the party is always right”.

    Of course the party isn’t always right. But I don’t know how you could have a functioning legislature without parties. How would voters decide whether someone shares their values without party labels that meant something? It would be like buying a bottle of wine that just said “red” or “white”. You would have no way to know if it was any good and whether it was worth $5 or $20 or $100.

    It’s no accident that no country has managed to run itself without parties.

  15. avatar
    The Magic M March 15, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    That’s not what I meant.

    I started out by pointing out many politicians don’t know what they vote on, then replied ironically to “aarrgghh” (not sure if his argument was meant to be irony or not) that politicians can’t delegate that responsibility to “the party” (as in “my party says the bill is OK, so I support it, though having no idea what it actually implements”).

  16. avatar
    Scientist March 15, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    The Magic M: I started out by pointing out many politicians don’t know what they vote on, then replied ironically to “aarrgghh” (not sure if his argument was meant to be irony or not) that politicians can’t delegate that responsibility to “the party” (as in “my party says the bill is OK, so I support it, though having no idea what it actually implements”).

    I suppose in an ideal world, every member of a legislature would have a deep understanding of every matter that comes to a vote, but I don’t really think in a complex world that’s possible. Would it really be possible for every member to know what every line in the budget provides for? Just as we all trust specialists in all manner of things, I think legistators have to trust staff and leadership or nothing would ever get done.

  17. avatar
    Jim F March 15, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Recall the words of Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B. in HMS Pinafore:
    “I always voted at my party’s call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all, I thought so little they rewarded me by making me the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!”

  18. avatar
    red-diaper baby 1942 March 15, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Actually it’s even worse than the article says. Due to the large number of respondents who “weren’t sure”, only 14 % of Alabama respondents and 12 % of those in Mississippi said Obama is a Christian; 26 % in Alabama and 22 % in Mississippi accept evolution (I refuse to use the verb “believe” in this context). That means that just one quarter of Alabama residents and slightly over one fifth of those in Mississippi can be considered to have a sense of reality.

    Here are the figures as reported in the NYT:

    “Asked if they think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, 14 percent of likely primary voters in Alabama said Christian, while 45 percent said Muslim. In Mississippi, 12 percent said Christian, while 52 percent said Muslim.

    Asked if they believe in evolution, 26 percent of respondents in Alabama said yes, while 60 percent said no. In Mississippi, 22 percent said yes, while 66 percent said no.”

  19. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Please keep in mind that those numbers are for Republicans, not residents.

    red-diaper baby 1942: That means that just one quarter of Alabama residents and slightly over one fifth of those in Mississippi can be considered to have a sense of reality.

  20. avatar
    red-diaper baby 1942 March 15, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    You’re right, Doc, mea culpa. But it’s still pretty bad! I know this thread is concerned with distorted narratives about the President, but as a scientist and teacher myself I’m even more concerned about atttitudes toward evolution, climate change and science in general.

  21. avatar
    JPotter March 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Please keep in mind that those numbers are for Republicans, not residents.

    Yes, but Republicans have both governorships, solid majorities in both houses in Mississippi, and massive majorities in Alabama, and a double-digit advantage in party registration in both states.

    It’d be disingenuous to say registered Republicans were a majority …. but they’re not an insignificant minority either.

    Judging by this red state … “conservative, evangelical, anti-intellectual, superstitious rightwinger” and “resident” are essentially interchangeable.

    Have I mentioned the time I wore a Super-Obama t-shirt into a local, suburban Lowe’s on a Saturday morning?

  22. avatar
    Keith March 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    The Magic M:
    That’s not what I meant.

    I started out by pointing out many politicians don’t know what they vote on, then replied ironically to “aarrgghh” (not sure if his argument was meant to be irony or not) that politicians can’t delegate that responsibility to “the party” (as in “my party says the bill is OK, so I support it, though having no idea what it actually implements”).

    That is fundamentally exactly what is expected of a ‘backbencher’ in Australia.

    A ‘backbencher’ is a member of parliament that is not engaged in the day-to-day administration of government policy as a ‘minister’.

    They are expected to vote the party line, whatever it is, ask a ‘Dorothy Dixer’ question every now and again, and cut ribbons at school building and highway bridge openings. Very few have to actually campaign for their seats, the vast majority are ‘safe seats’ for one party or the other, meaning, as a Labor voter in Adelaide once said, “they could run the drover’s dog and I’d vote for him”.

    Representative Government, as we know it in the US, is basically turned on its head in Australia. Members of Parliament don’t really represent the will of the electorate to Government, they represent the will of the Party back to the electorate. They don’t have to understand the Party Policy though. They get in trouble all the time when they try to do that and open their mouths about it.

    Its only the top of hierarchy that gets to make announcements and expound on policy in front of cameras and microphones.

  23. avatar
    aarrgghh March 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    The Magic M: That’s not what I meant.

    I started out by pointing out many politicians don’t know what they vote on, then replied ironically to “aarrgghh” (not sure if his argument was meant to be irony or not) that politicians can’t delegate that responsibility to “the party” (as in “my party says the bill is OK, so I support it, though having no idea what it actually implements”).

    yes, i was being ironic, with tongue firmly in cheek.

    but my quip is still close to the truth. until a congressman or senator gains some measure of seniority, they’re nothing more than a “backbencher” as keith points out. they’re nothing more than a expected party vote, a warm body during roll calls. buck the party too often and they won’t get support for their own bills and projects once they’ve accrued enough power to author them and they won’t get party support for their reelection. so there’s little incentive for freshmen in particular to fuss over the details of bills shoved under their noses. it’s little wonder obama leapt for the gold ring out of the senate. from the backbench, i’m sure the white house looked more exciting.

    interestingly, in unified numbers backbenchers can nontheless make quite a nuisance of themselves, as speaker boehner has been discovering during the last two years …