A Local Example of Bad Polling
Many moons ago, my high school US Government teacher would constantly stress to always check the source of any information. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that the source matters immensely. In fact, it’s become commonplace to find think tanks and lobbying groups simply parroting the talking points of contributing members. You’ll often find the same thing happening with a poll or research study; the group paying for it almost invariably gets the result they were seeking. It’s almost become expected to immediately look at the source of information for whatever obvious bias exists.
Here in Utah, it’s happened to us yet again with a new study claiming pervasive and widespread discrimination against sexual minorities. Unsurprisingly, the study was commissioned by Equality Utah, a gay rights group. What’s truly surprising, though, it that the group doing the study openly disclosed its own shoddy methods. They admitedly depended exclusively on self-selection for the survey results, a method rife with bias as only those who feel most strongly are likely to respond, skewing the results heavily. What’s also telling is that it depends on those who sought to respond to report if they had personally been on the receiving end of discrimination, but there’s no methodology to verify the actual occurrence of said discrimination. In short, the only thing that the “study” confirms is that sexual minorities feel that they are discriminated against, but it makes no effort to confirm or quantify that perception. Instead, it just gives in to the all-too-human tendency towards victimhood (which, I would stress, no group is immune from).
Look, I’m not saying that the discrimination doesn’t exist, nor am I claiming that nothing ever need be done about it. (I’m personally ambivalent on anti-discrimination ordinances falling slighting in the ‘against’ camp.) What I am saying is that if you’re going to attempt to quantify it, do it right. Making such an obviously biased survey in a ham-fisted attempt to garner sympathy only retrenches the opponents and turns off anyone on the fence with your martyr complex. Reacting to this questioning of the methodology with mocking and hostility also isn’t going to help your case. Being honest will earn you respect and influence, probably more than you would lose if the data is against you.