One constant refrain in media coverage of papal visits is the insistence that the Pope is out of touch with American Catholics. The front page of Tuesday's Washington Post promsied a story on how "Pope Benedict XVI will confront a sense among some Catholics that the Roman Catholic Church is not in sync with their views." A bar graph showed a poll result:
Q. In general do you think the Roman Catholic Church is in touch the views of Catholics in America today, or out of touch? (Among Catholics)
NOW: In touch 34 % / Out of touch 62 %
APRIL 2005: In touch 44 % / Out of touch 52 %
But you'd have to turn to the 14th and very last paragraph of Jon Cohen's story on Page A-6 to learn this poll has a whopping margin of error of six points plus or minus:
The poll was conducted by telephone April 10 to13 among a random sample of 1,197 adults, including additional interviews with randomly selected Catholics. The margin of sampling error for the full poll is plus or minus three percentage points; it is six points for the sample of 292 Catholic respondents.
For students of polling, this means that the graphic impression on the front page of the Post -- alleging a ten-point increase in Catholic feelings the Church is out of touch -- is entirely within the poll's margin of error. But for readers just scanning the front page, there was no mention of those facts there.
The same sample size was employed in April 2005. A report in the April 26, 2005 newspaper reported: "A total of 284 self-described Catholics were interviewed April 21 to 24 for this survey. Margin of sampling error for the results is plus or minus six percentage points."
Couldn't the Post afford polling 1,200 Catholics to gain a better, more reliable poll? They're just pulling the Catholics out of a poll they've already paid for, which is lazy and cheap. Is a poll with this vast a margin of error worth touting on the front page?
File photo of Pope Benedict XVI by AP via FoxNews.com