In an exercise supposedly "aimed at understanding the nature and scope of political polarization in the American public, and how it interrelates with government, society and people’s personal lives," the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has published a 185-page report containing some of the most ridiculous either/or questions I have ever seen in a polling effort. Its mission seems to be to demonize anyone who believes that government aren't particularly good or effective at what they do, and anyone who thinks there are limits on what it can or should do.
One of the most egregious pieces of either/or nonsense caught the attention of liberal-leaning blogger and law professor Ann Althouse. Participants had to choose between the following two statements: "Poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything," or "Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don't go far enough to help them live decently." Pew, which divided voters into different "typologies," reports that a combined 80-plus percent of those who it typed as "conservative went with the "have it easy" choice.
The best question is really, "Who wouldn't tell the survey taker to go pound sand after being given such an inane pair of choices? Predictably, at the New Republic, a report by Danny Vinik which added a large picture of Congressman Paul Ryan for political effect, capitalized on this result as proof that conservatives are soulless, heartless beasts.
TNR is lying again: "80 Percent of Conservatives Think the Poor 'Have It Easy.'"
... If you took the test, you know that you were presented with pairs of statements, both phrased in a fairly extreme and absolute way, and asked, each time, "Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?" You were not allowed to put yourself right in the middle, where I found myself on most questions. You had to tip one way or the other.
... I suspect most people would have trouble with both statements, but to say that your view comes closest to the first statement is not to say that you "think the poor 'have it easy.'" It's just to reveal that your tendency is to think the government's safety net is too big or too soft or perhaps that too many people are losing their incentive to strive because benefits create dependency.
... So let me ask: Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?
- The idiots at The New Republic are too stupid to read and understand the results of the Pew study.
- The hacks at The New Republic deliberately twist whatever they can to make conservatives look bad.
Grammar nitpick (on Pew): There are only two statements, so the question involved, and the others, should be about which statement comes "closer."
My answer to Althouse's New Republic question is, "Both of the above," plus, "anyone who places trust in a survey designed to dishonestly make people who aren't extreme look extreme is playing along with the survey's objectives for political propaganda purposes."
Althouse also had a commenter note the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect of Pew's work:
There is actually a deeper methodological flaw to TNR's analysis. The poll did not identify liberals and conservatives, then ask them this question, then report the results. It used this question as part of the process of determining who was a liberal and who was a conservative.
Of course conservatives answered the way that they did, that was part of Pew's definition of a conservative.
The Pew Survey is really a P-U survey.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.