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Religious information

Part 2: How public opinion polls lie,
either intentionally or by accident.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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One example of bias in the design of a public opinion poll (Continued):

Statements by scientists and religious conservatives about an emergency contraceptives like Plan B differed from each other greatly:

  • The statements of conservative para-church groups and other religious conservatives, seem to have evolved over the years:

    • Early statements said that Plan B might prevent implantation. This was a valid statement at the time, because researchers did not know exactly how the pill worked. Accepting the belief that is widely used within the pro-life community that pregnancy begins with conception, preventing implantation would have the effect of terminating a pregnancy that had already begun. In their belief, it would involve the murder by starvation of an actual baby.

    • Later, they said that it would prevent implantation, implying that this was the only mechanism by which EC worked.

    • Recently, they often simply describe the pill as an abortifacient. They are either unaware of the findings of researchers, or they are aware of them but reject them.

  • After research studies on the mechanism by which Plan B actually works, scientists determined that Plan B did not prevent implantation. EC worked only by preventing ovulation or preventing fertilization. They described Plan B as a true contraceptive.

The FRC poll was designed to sample the opinion of likely voters about the Health and Human Services' (HHS) Mandate. This federal government mandate requires insurance companies to make contraceptives, including morning after pills, available to employees at no cost to them. Studies have shown that if women can obtain free contraceptives then the rate of unexpected, unplanned pregnancies are reduced very significantly . Since over 40% of such pregnancies end in abortion, making contraceptives readily available without co-pays would reduce the abortion rate in the country to a fraction of its current value.

The question asked by the polling agency of the adult voters was whether they support or:

"oppose the mandate requiring the coverage of preventive care services for women which includes all FDA approved contraceptives, including drugs that can destroy a human embryo, and sterilization services without a direct cost to the patient." [Emphasis by us]

A human embryo is define by Merriam-Webster as:

"... the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception..." 1

After eight weeks, the embryo is referred to as a fetus.

The question asked in the public opinion survey thus implied that Plan B and similar contraceptives could actually kill an embryo up to 8 weeks, about two months after implantation in the uterus. It is about 10 weeks gestational age. This is a time interval when most abortions are performed. Thus the question is asking whether they approve of health insurance covering free medication that cause an early abortion. All or essentially all pro-life persons who were asked this question by the polling agency would automatically answer no and severely bias the results. If the polling agency had asked a different question: whether they support or:

"... oppose the mandate requiring the coverage of preventive care services for women which includes all FDA approved contraceptives that prevent a pregnancy from starting, and sterilization services without a direct cost to the patient."

the response that they would have received from the public would have been much more positive.

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A second example of bias in the design of a public opinion poll:

This involved two large polls on the topic of same-sex marriage that were conducted in Canada in the early '00's by different polling companies. The results were obtained 3 and 4 years before access to marriage was widened across that country to include loving, committed same-sex couples, in all of Canada's ten provinces and three territories.

bullet 2001-JUN: A Canadian Press / Leger Marketing survey found that 65.4% of Canadian adults supported same-sex marriage rights.

bullet 2002-JUN: Strategic Counsel conducted a poll on behalf of the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family Canada. They found that only 46% of Canadian adults supported same-sex marriage. 2,3,4

National polls in both Canada and the U.S. about same-sex marriage show that public support for same-sex marriage was increasing during that decade by about 1.5 percentage points a year. Why did these two polls show an apparent 20 percentage point drop in support over 12 months?

A major component of the reason may be found in the questions that were asked before the question on SSM:

bullet

In the Canadian Press survey, Question 2 asked:

"In your opinion, should homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals?"

76% of the subjects responded "Yes." There is no record in their report as to the nature of Question 3. However, Question 4 was worded:

"In your opinion, should we grant homosexuals the following legal rights...same-sex marriage?"

Since more than three out of four subjects already said that they were in favor of equal rights for gays and lesbians, many would probably feel pressured to affirm same-sex marriage. Otherwise, they might feel that they would be judged at least inconsistent in their views, and perhaps considered having lied. So this poll probably overestimated support for SSM significantly.


bullet

In the Focus on the Family Canada survey, the two questions (#59 and 60) that preceded the question on same-sex marriage (#60) were whether:

  • "marriage is an outdated institution" and

  • "Is it alright for married people to have sex with people other that their spouse?"

Those questions may have preconditioned the subjects to feel defensively towards marriage just before they were asked about their support for same-sex marriage. This poll probably underestimated support for SSM significantly.

Please note that we are not implying that the bias in these polls was intentional. It may have been the result of incompetence, carelessness, or simply a random effect caused by the way in which the  questions were sorted.

More details on these polls.

The Globe and Mail -- often referred to as Canada's national newspaper -- noted in 2013 that:

"Marriage equality now enjoys clear majority support. When the Environ ics Institute’s Focus Canada survey polled Canadians on the matter in 2010, nearly seven in 10 (68 per cent) said they were in favor of marriage for same-sex couples. 5

In Environ ics social values surveys, the “flexible families” value – which taps attitudes about same-sex couples, common-law unions and the notion that there is only one “real” kind of family – has been among the most strongly growing values in Canada in recent years. 6

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Related essay:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Definition of EMBRYO." Merriam-Webster, undated, at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/
  2. "Canadian Perceptions of Homosexuality," Canadian Press / Leger Marketing, 2001-JUN, at: http://www.legermarketing.com/ This is a PDF file. Survey data: N = 1507. Margin of error is ±2.6%
  3. "U.S. Public opinion polls on same-sex marriage," Marriage Equality New York, at: http://www.marriageequalityny.org/
  4. "Canadian Attitudes on the Family: Complete Report 2002," Focus on the Family Canada at: http://www.fotf.ca/ This is also a PDF file.
  5. "Focus Canada 2010," Environ ics Institute, 2010, at: http://www.environicsinstitute.org/
  6. Michael Adams, "Why do we support gay rights? Because we know each other," The Globe and Mail, 2013-JUL-02, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/

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Copyright © 2011 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JUL-02
Latest update: 2014-MAY-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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