Monday, December 10, 2007

What's in a Poll?

A Justification to End Democracy

The recently released New York Times/CBS national poll was blandly covered by reporters suggesting that Democrats like their presidential candidates and Republicans don’t. A national poll wasn’t needed for anyone to know that.

However, there was something surprising that the poll revealed: Americans are dumb.

After downloading the entire poll and the historical trends that correspond to the polling it was quite clear Americans are stupid. I often try to shy away from the incendiary, but it just cannot be helped. Hopefully on a few examples can make this position clear:

1) Americans are inherently pessimistic (and oblivious) about the economy.

The national poll has for decades asked Americans: “Do you think the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?” The most recent report was the most pessimistic since the oil supply crisis in the late seventies; only 5% believed the economy was getting better, 53% thought it getting worse, 40% it was staying the same. However, with the recent stocks fluctuations, the drop in the dollar (and strengthen Euro), and subprime mortgage bust this isn’t a woefully pessimistic outlook.

Yet, looking over the past thirty years a different picture emerges. In the past thirty years only a six times have over 30% of Americans responded that the economy was getting better!

However in the past thirty years there have been only five recessions (a recession being two consecutive quarters of stagnant GDP growth. The recession lasted a total of 17 quarters (since 1971) out of last 144 quarters (up to 2007, 09), according to the St. Louis' Federal Reserve Website. The economy, almost as a rule, is always getting better. This reminds me of some unfortunate souls in my classroom who swear that 'the capitalist machine' shall break down and begin rusting within the decade. Thank God we didn't allow the Central Bank reps to be electable positions.

This indicator (public perception of the economy) is even less helpful, because it is often called a ‘lagging’ indicator, meaning only after the (economic) fact does the public realize that there has been a shift in the economy (compared to inflation or interest rate changes, which are usually considered ‘leading’ indicators.

2) The second concern is in what is specifically drawing voters to candidates, for republicans and democrats alike.

Under the question: What specifically is it about [CANDIDATES NAME] that makes you want to support him/her. Then it is followed by a number of attributes or possibly relevant associations.

4% of democrats and 5% of all republicans who were polled, answered, “I like him/her.” Which of course is important if one is voting for a new friend into their life, but not so much for a president.

6% of democrats surveyed admirably answered, “smart/intelligent.’ However, another 13% of democrats answered, “Married to Bill Clinton.” Which is a staggeringly stupid answer; no matter how much someone liked Clinton’s two term presidency. Republicans dis not fare much better. Not even a single republican answered that “smart/intelligent” was a characteristic of a candidate that made them want to support them.

3) Americans are (or at least think they) are racist & sexist.

Some of the final questions gave me the jeepers (and reminded me of the time David Duke ran for office (now I'll get people googling "David Duke" into this site, which is even scarier). Because the polls suggest that Americans are ether racist and sexist, or just think most of the people they know are racist and sexist. Each scenario does not bode well for US citizens: they are either mostly bigots or mostly paranoid, or some large combination of both.

The first question reads, “Do you think most people you know would vote for a presidential candidate who is a woman, or not?
49 would, 40 would not, 12 dk/na.

The second question reads, “Do you think most people you know would vote for a presidential candidate who is black, or not?
60 would, 25 would not, 15 dk/na.

Besides the acute fear I feel that many of my friends may be secretly misogynists, these questions also place clearly into perspective how black men got the vote before women. The Amiercan electorate scare me.

So, besides the AP picking up the new tracking numbers and mundanely reporting that Huckabee’s support continues to steadily increase, they should have instead reported that Americans are both blind and stupid… and recommend they be politically muted.


Hellernot said...

You are certainly correct about this---and it is very scary!
I've long thought we should go back to the beginning on this voting thing with a few updates--but only those who own land should be able to vote. This would help eliminate some 90% of said stupidity.

Tinman said...

* Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Winston Churchill
o Speech in the House of Commons (1947-11-11)
o The Official Report, House of Commons (5th Series), 11 November 1947, vol. 444, cc. 206–07.

Hellernot said...

Churchill 101
But rather depressing tinman. Course I might feel the same if I didnt have a heart!

Mark Koester said...

I'm not sure I would call Americans stupid. I would simply classify Americans as not caring.

Hellernot said...

Huckabee's support increased significantly when he said that he supported Fair Tax.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean U.S. Americans or Americans in general? Are people in Mexico or Canada included in this poll? What about people in South America? Just curious.

The Catholic Atheist said...

Dear Anon,

Not to seem too harsh, but you are supporting my point that Americans (US citizens to make it perfectly clear) are dumb.

I was talking about a national poll that was on the economy and presidential politics? Did you really think there were Mexicans who were being polled on the US presidential race? Were you really confused? Really?

Anonymous said...

I find it par for the course for you to be harsh. I would expect nothing less.

I was just pointing out that the term "American" has been adopted to view only one specific kind of American, particularly U.S. American.

Mark said...

My use or return to the use of the term “American” has a long story behind it. On the most obvious level, I—like most of the European world—use the word “American,” for better or worse, to refer to U.S. Americans. When I moved to France some 3 years ago, I attempted to a personal “coup de grace” in using the term “américain.” For awhile, I tried to using a personal, Spanish-inspired neologism “etats-unisien,” which exists in writing but I have never heard in speech, besides my own. And of course when I said this word “United-Statian,” people were confused by this word and by this foreigner creating a new word. I would also sometimes say that “je viens des états-unis” (I come from the United States). In both cases, what would usually follow immediately was the question “oh you’re American?” Depending on my mood, I then explained to them, in an attempt at raising awareness, that there is a difference between an American (which in normal discourse refers to U.S. Americans) and America as a larger concept including North and South America and their respective people who could be referenced as Americans too. As such, the term “American” shouldn’t “really” be the personal use of U.S. Americans. And while I still agree that “American” is a biased and loaded term, there are at least three reasons why I returned to using “American” and not forcing other words like U.S. American and such.
The first reason is purely aesthetic. In Spanish, especially in Latin America (Spaniards seem in my experience to still use the term “Americano.”), there is no problem in sound or politics in using a word like estadounidense. Unfortunately, the French mouth and the French language are not so welcoming with such a word. Even the French have trouble saying my neologism etats-unisien. Personally, I can’t see myself saying “United Statesian” in English. And being that I rarely speak English with English-speakers these days, I’m not sure what other English-speakers could propose as a replacement to American, especially a replacement that is both easy to say and easy to listen to. Being that I generally only speak English when I teach English, I’m stuck using the word everyone else uses. As a teacher my role is to teach the language as it is used, not as I think it should be used. And in all honesty, it isn’t as though people using the word American are intentionally forgetting the rest of the Americas; they are simply referring to the United States of America when they say American. There are other words for other countries and their respective peoples. For me and for most speakers in French and in English, to say American is to refer to a person from the United States. To refer to someone from Europe or Africa, we can say European or African. Likewise, to refer to someone from North or South America, we can say North American or South American or, if you want, Latino American. We can’t say North American and be referring to U.S. Americans. I suppose the easiest solution in English would be to say U.S. American. This is not a solution in French, because in French you’re stuck with a whole mouthful “un américain des états-unis.”
The second reason is that not all contexts call for a “raising of awareness.” What I mean is that in order to learn about people and what they think when you live abroad as an life-long ethnologist, you have to sometimes put your personal belief aside, at least initially, when you talk to people. Most people don’t know that I’m American when I speak French. I don’t have the typical Anglo-Saxon accent in French and as such, they usually think I’m Spanish, German, Belgian or some other European. I don’t wear a t-shirt saying I’m American either so I’m often privy to hearing some things that other U.S. Americans are not. I’m not hiding the fact that I’m American. It’s just that people don’t recognize me by my clothes or my accent. When I eventually say where, there is a moment of surprise on their part, which is usually followed by a remark on how according to their stereotype or according to their experience “most Americans are like this…” and not like me. In any case, what I’m trying to say is that when I use a term like “united statesian” or U.S. American I’m provoking a political stance, which some people don’t care about. Depending on the context, I prefer to learn about the world and what people think and say than to project on the world simply what I think and believe.
The third reason I returned to using the term “American” is both historical and related to the naming of the United States. As far as I know, the United States is the only country to use America in its official title, United States of America. This refers to the fact that the United States is a federal State, a unification of still semi-independent states. There isn’t a Mexican or Canadian States of America. There is only the United States of America. In forging an independent nation, the founding fathers and mothers chose a name for the country. This name came with the obvious connection to the peoples of that place and lands, peoples of the United States or simply Americans. In conclusion, I’m not saying that there isn’t good reason to critique the use of Americans in the same way we may use a term like Herstory to critique History. Like Herstory and feminism, which makes us reflect on the male-bias in history and literature, the use of alternative terms like U.S. American helps us to better put in context the geopolitical world and its U.S. American-bias. But in terms of ordinary language, Herstory is not going to replace History (the historical origin of the word history has nothing to do with “his” anyways). Likewise, the use of neologisms like U.S. Americans or états-unisien isn’t going to--nor should it--replace the term we use everyday “Americans.”

The Catholic Atheist said...

Thank you Mark;

My reasoning for using the term can be summed up in your third point (though conscious-raising contexts might augment my use, again, depending on the context).

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