Wrong Question (OR Reasons to not believe polls)

If you’ve been paying attention to the political news lately, you’ve probably heard something like “a majority of americans think we should be doing more drilling for oil” or similar, highly disturbing, poll data.

Personally, every time I hear such gibberish, I am discouraged about the state of this country and its populace. Then I read blog posts like this.

Notably, a Gallup poll widely cited by the press beginning in June – precisely the time President Bush, Senator John McCain, and Governor Charlie Crist of Florida all began advocating for more drilling – did not ask respondents to choose from alternatives. It simply asked if they would favor or oppose drilling to “attempt to reduce the price of gasoline.”


Some polls, though, do show nuance when they ask multi-part questions. Keith Johnson, a longtime energy reporter who now writes the Environmental Capital blog for The Wall Street Journal, said in an e-mail interview that survey questions should be parsed carefully:

    In polls in which the question is something like, “Do you prefer more drilling or more investment in alternative energy?,” alternative energy usually comes out ahead.


Progress Illinois’s Josh Kalven notes that in “a July poll by Belden Russonello & Stewart, 76 percent of respondents said that ‘investing in new energy technology including renewable fuels and more efficient automobiles’ was a more important government priority than ‘expanding exploration and drilling for more oil’

It’s a nice reminder that polls are, in some ways, worse than statistics (which are, or course, worse than lies and damn lies). Bottom line, data like this is one more indication that all this “drill here, drill now” talk is distracting us from Al Gore’s admirable challenge.

One Response to Wrong Question (OR Reasons to not believe polls)

  1. I’m glad someone else noticed.

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