Liars, Damn Liars, Statisticians. . . and Pollsters

The old saying, “There are liars, damn liars, and statisticians,” should be amended to include pollsters. The latest exhibit in polling as a “pseudo-event” (an artificial event created by advocates solely to generate a news headline, pace Daniel Boorstin) is an AP-NORC poll just out which the AP advertises with this headline:

Most in US say don’t ban race in college admissions but its role should be small: AP-NORC poll

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Supreme Court decides the fate of affirmative action, most U.S. adults say the court should allow colleges to consider race as part of the admissions process, yet few believe students’ race should ultimately play a major role in decisions, according to a new poll.

The May poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 63% say the Supreme Court should not block colleges from considering race or ethnicity in their admission systems. The poll found little divide along political or racial lines.

The poll reflects general support for affirmative action even as the future of the practice remains in doubt. [Emphasis added.]

This finding conflicts with nearly every other poll going back several years that find a substantial majority—sometimes over 70 percent—expressing opposition to race-based admissions to colleges and universities. And above all, it doesn’t square with what economists like to call “revealed preferences,” that is, what people actually think or choose when offered a real opportunity, versus what they might tell a pollster. Every time affirmative action has been placed on the ballot—in California (twice), Washington (twice) and Michigan—it has been rejected by voters.

How did this heterodox result come to be? It is case study in “push-polling,” that is poll construction designed to elicit certain responses. A simple example of a push-poll might be: “Given that Donald Trump is a proven liar who is under indictment, would you support his re-election to the presidency in 2024?” Pretty sure how that poll result would come out.

In the case of this AP-NORC poll, a hint at the subtle construction comes from its own headline that includes the phrase, “but its [race-conscious admissions] role should be small.”

How small? The survey doesn’t even try to evaluate this question, but the set-up question that reveals this mildly contradictory result is as follows:

And here’s the next question, which tees up the Supreme Court decision:

I suspect that if the Supreme Court question had been asked in the absence of the prior question which asks respondents to choose from among a complicated battery, the result would likely have been quite different, and more in line with all the other polls.  But this subtle poll generated the headline the race-mongers want.

Incidentally, another of the poll’s set up questions asks for attitudes about major American institutions. Here’s the trend in the AP-NORC poll about the Supreme Court—notice the highlighted column showing that negative confidence in the Supreme Court has more than doubled since February.

As everyone knows, the left is currently engaged in a coordinated, determined campaign to delegitimize the Supreme Court, hoping to intimidate the Court into upholding affirmative action and swerving away from its current more conservative course. This poll suggests the campaign is making some headway. But then the left and the media—is it necessary to make this repetition any more?—will wrong their hands over “gridlock” and “polarization” and wonder why American confidence in government continues to fall. Their mirrors must be broken.

Chaser—a primer on how AP conducted its poll, from a reliable source:

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.