by Jeff Reynolds, PJ Media:
An article on December 16 in USA Today reported on a poll that showed a large portion of Americans fear losing their rights to free speech and to bear arms. The article then went to great pains to show that if you word the questions differently, the numbers change. In the process, they expose the pitfalls of relying on opinion polling to understand the wishes and desires of American citizens.
“92% of Americans Fear Losing Their Rights!” the headlines blared. Many conservative outlets picked up the story and ran with it. And with good reason — almost half those polled responded that they fear losing their rights to freedom of expression, access to equal justice under the law, and perhaps most significantly, losing their right to bear arms.
On the surface, those numbers ring true, especially to those of us on the center-right of the political spectrum, when examining what our elected officials are doing to the Constitution. If one digs deeper into the poll itself, however, one can’t escape the spin and backtracking by the folks who commissioned the poll in the first place.
The article begins:
Most Americans surveyed – 92% – think their rights are under siege, according to a poll released Monday.
Americans are most concerned that their freedom of speech (48%), right to bear arms (47%) and right to equal justice (41%) are at risk, says the Harris Poll/Purple Project, which surveyed 2,002 people nationwide.
Then the reporter inexplicably quotes an explanation by the CEO of The Harris Poll with a confusing examination of his own company’s polling methods:
“When you frame something as a threat, it creates a bit of a political response, and it creates division and encampments of special interest,” said John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll. That’s why political parties and lobbying groups warn supporters with strident language, he said: It’s easier to drum up backing for a political cause by talking about an issue in terms of “threats.”
Now, that response in itself contains a bunch of clues as to how Gerzema views his own industry and the organizations that contract with his company. He seems to be confessing to the malleability of polls, and their ability to be used maliciously to direct results toward a predetermined outcome. This, of course, has historically caused backlash on both sides of the aisle, as pundits perennially use poll results as a punching bag when they reveal an answer that they either don’t believe or don’t agree with.
Of course, it’s true that if you ask American voters which rights they would miss, the ones they don’t typically use would be high on the list. The crosstabs for the poll would reveal who they polled and who responded. Specifically, the number of gun owners surveyed would seem instructive in this case. After all, the Second Amendment isn’t exactly unpopular — estimates range from one-third to one-half of all American households contain at least one gun.