May 18, 2006
How to Fake a Poll
Lots of buzz about the Rasmussen poll that many -- Hugh Hewitt, for one notable example -- are touting as showing that Americans just want a border-enforcement bill only, with no guest-worker program or normalization of illegals already here.
It's possible, I suppose, that such sentiment is indeed sweeping the country, undetected by any other polling company; but you sure can't conclude that from this garbage.
The problem is twofold:
Rasmussen does not tell us the methodology of the poll; we don't even know whether the poll was by telephone, e-mail, or an online, internet poll (like Zogby often uses). We don't know the margin of error, which would be different for each state (and in a state like California could be quite substantial).
Methodology makes a huge difference; it can make or break a poll. Perhaps this information is available to "premium subscribers;" I don't know, because I'm not willing to spend $349 to find out. But most polling firms actually put the methodology on the poll itself for release to the general public.
Much more important, however, is that the questions Rasmussen asked are biased, and the question order is calculated to move opinion rather than measure it. I would go so far as to call this a "push poll."
It's actually shameful that a respected company like Rasmussen would resort to such tricks; I wish they had just done a straight poll, since I would really be interested in the answers to properly framed questions.
For starters, let's look at the issue whose response is being seized upon for political purposes: the border security "stick" versus the guest-worker and normalization "carrot." Here is a fair series of questions to ask, were I writing a poll instead of Rasmussen:
As you know, an immigration bill is being debated in the Senate right now. A number of elements are being considered, including securing the border with several hundred miles of fence and vehicle barriers, allowing some number of non-citizen "guest workers" to enter the country for a limited time period to work, and offering a path to citizenship for the approximately 8 million people who have already lived here without permission for more than two years.
1. Which of the following elements should be in this bill? (Choose up to four.)
A. Secure the border with several hundred miles of fencing.
B. Guest-worker program.
C. A path to citizenship for those who have lived here without permission more than two years.
D. Harsher sanctions on employers who hire illegals.
2. If you could only get border security with a fence by accepting a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship, would you be willing to accept that deal?
A. Yes, the fence is important enough to accept the other elements.
B. No, I would not accept the other elements even to get a fence.
3. If you could only get a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship by accepting several hundred miles of border fence, would you be willing to accept that deal?
A. Yes, those elements are important enough to accept a fence.
B. No, I would not accept a fence even to get the other elements.
4. Would you support a bill that authorized the fence and harsher employer sanctions but did not include either a guest-worker program or a path to citizenship?
A. Yes, without hesitation.
B. No, under no circumstances.
C. Yes, but only if no other bill could make it through Congress.
This would be a very fair way to gauge what people really want. Note, for example, that I avoid both the biased terms "illegal alien" and "undocumented worker": the first skews the sample against them, while the second skews the sample towards them. I use the very neutral term "lived here without permission."
These questions would have told us a lot, especially for those who did not pick either B or C in question 1 but nevertheless picked A in question 2: people who didn't want a guest-worker program or path to citizenship but were willing to accept it as part of a deal (and the corresponding scenario on the other side).
Question 4 would test whether those supporting the "carrots" consider them absolutely necessary to gain their support, or whether, if nothing else could pass, they could still accept a border-enforcement only bill.
These would be fair questions that would actually tell us something about what the public wanted -- and also what they would be willing to settle for. But that's not what Rasmussen asked. Here is the actual question:
3. Some people say it makes no sense to debate new rules for immigration until we can control our borders and enforce the existing laws. Do you agree or disagree?
What the heck does that mean? New rules for immigration? I would have no idea whether that meant a guest-worker program or different criteria for who is admitted under the legal immigration policy. Heck, for that matter, doesn't 400 miles of fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers also constitute "new rules for immigration?"
Does "control our borders and enforce the existing laws" mean build a fence first, or just that we should, right now, today, enforce existing law better -- while we continue to debate building a fence and having a guest-worker program and path to citizenship?
This is an incredibly poorly written question. Some of the respondents will take it one way, others will take it another, still others will hear it a third or fourth way. We cannot tell anything about the opinion of Americans from this stupid question.
Worse, it's question three in a series of questions; immediately preceding it is a question which sets a decidedly negative tone against immigrants in general, and especially those here illegally:
2. Some people believe that the goal of immigration policy should be to keep out national security threats, criminals, and those who would come here to live off our welfare system. Beyond that, all immigrants would be welcome. Do you agree or disagree with that goal for immigration policy?
3. Some people say it makes no sense to debate new rules for immigration until we can control our borders and enforce the existing laws. Do you agree or disagree?
Question 2 first clearly plants the idea that immigrants are coming here to suck up welfare, join criminal gangs, and commit acts of terrorism against the United States. Only then does Rasmussen ask their crappy question 3. You think the first might possibly influence response on the second?
Also, as a general rule, a question that begins "some people say" practically begs the respondent to agree. It conjures the image of some vast sea of people all saying the same thing... do you want to go with the flow, or be some kind of an oddball?
The penultimate question, despite following these two, throws the "conventional wisdom" interpretation of question 3 into a cocked hat:
4. There are currently 11 million illegal aliens living in the United States. Most have lived here for more than five years. Should the United States forcibly require all 11 million illegal aliens to leave this country?
In not a single state does a majority answer Yes to this question. Not one. Alabama had a plurality of 50% saying yes, 29% no; seven other states (Arkansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming) had pluralities saying Yes, ranging from 49-31 in TN to 41-40 in AK -- which clearly is within any likely margin of error for a poll of 500 people.
Contrariwise, in the 25 states where a plurality said No, we should not "forcibly require all 11 million illegal aliens to leave this country," five states had a clear majority opposed, while another four have a plurality of 50%. All of the states that actually border Mexico that were polled came down against deportations (New Mexico was not polled for some reason).
The mean split among those states with a plurality saying Yes, deport is 44.6 to 36.3, for a spread of 8.4%. The mean split among those with a plurality saying No, don't deport, is 47.0 to 35.0, for a spread of 12.0%. The No-deport states are very significantly firmer in their position than the Yes-deport states. This does not particularly sound like a pool of respondents who are in the Rep. Tom Tancredo camp.
Is it really too much to ask to get an honest, legitimate poll on what people want in the bill, what they'll accept as part of a Grand Deal, and what they absolutely wouldn't take under any circumstances... rather than a biased push-poll whose purpose is to spook the herd and scuttle the deal?
It's too bad that so many in the blogosphere are quite capable of seeing the gaping flaws in some bad poll that is against their position... but will seize upon any poll that supports them, no matter how many warning signs there are that it simply isn't serious.
By the way, here are my own positions, so you can take into account my biases. I've put them behind the "slither on" vehicle barrier....
- I support a fence, but I think it won't work without a "spillway" to siphon off those people trying to come here for legitimate reasons.
A guest-worker program could be that spillway; but so could an increase in the number of actual legal immigrants we accept -- those wishing to live here permanently.
Given my druthers, I would rather the latter than the former, as I think Mark Steyn makes a very good point that "guest workers" are disturbingly similar to what so many European countries have done to very bad effect.
Tied for most urgent task, fully as important as "securing the border," is rationalizing the legal immigration policy so that would-be Americans have a clear "path to citizenship" (a phrase I have used for years): they would know exactly what they had to do to become permanent residents and then citizens, and about how long it would take.
The path must be mandatory, not subject to the caprice or vindictiveness of Immigration workers. At any point, the immigrant must know what he has accomplished, what is still left to do, and how to go about completing the path to his swearing-in ceremony.
So long as enough guest workers or new immigrants (whichever we choose) are let into the country to satisfy the labor needs, I don't object to very harsh legal sanctions, including prison time, for employers who still hire illegals.
If insufficient numbers are allowed in and employers simply cannot fill the jobs with legals, then I think it grossly unfair to turn the law into a business suicide pact.
- I have no particular position on the legalization of those already here, save that it's a bad idea to allow a huge permanent underclass of resentful criminals to remain. If we cannot find a way to make them leave -- and it appears we cannot -- then it's probably marginally better to find a way to legalize them. But I'm much less concerned about this point than the others above.
- Finally, I believe that if the GOP-controlled Congress and the Republican president do not make some significant changes to the immigration status quo, we'll be massacred on November 6th. Or at least it will be a whole heck of a lot harder.
Make of it what you will.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 18, 2006, at the time of 5:39 PM
TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/766
The following hissed in response by: LiveFreeOrDie
So "illegal alien" is biased, and the study should have used "here without permission", but "new rules for immigration" is so amorphous that it could include in its meaning a border wall?
I'm really not a poll expert, but I don't see it.
As far as your positions:
I agree with the fence and spillway. I agree with more legal citizens, and not temporary workers. I agree that if we can get the situation stabilized, it is then ok to move those here toward citizenship.
But none of your bureaucratic fixes are going to happen. The system will not get streamlined. It will be undermined from all angles as soon as we are not looking. We need to press for as much physical barrier as possible. Trade fast track to citizenship for a barrier for all I care, but get a barrier up.
Also, I don't get your business suicide pact. There is no problem with rising labor costs if its driven by market mechanisms. ( excluding demographic and government spending issues ).
The following hissed in response by: tkubiak
Members of congress have shown us time and again that they are incapable of meaningful, focused action for the resolution of key issues in any ethical or intelligent way. You are well aware of the issues; immigration, energy, welfare, Social Security and Medicare, a tax system that is overly complicated and filled with inequities, and a budget that is grossly inflated with pork.
Immigration and naturalization issues are a good example of poor performance by Congress. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States, gives Congress and Congress alone, the power to establish the rules, laws, and procedures to straighten out immigration and naturalization issues. The laws that are on the books need to be enforced, and funding provided to support security of our country and its borders. It seems to me, and I think you will agree, that the will of the citizens of our country is fairly obvious, illegal marchers not withstanding. Yet all I see is vacillation, procrastination, and subterfuge in the political ways of our senators and representatives. No one seems willing to actually do something, anything—other than spend our money of course.
Energy, Medicare, Social Security, our tax system, pork politics, and welfare are among other major issues that need congressional action and resolution before they become an overwhelming weight on our resources and security. If lasting solutions are not found, we shall slowly but surely sink into a national peat bog, from which, it may take generations to recover.
The foregoing is an extract from my letter to Bill O'Reilly last week. Nothing has changed. I see where my Senator voted with another 15 against an Immigration amendment. I intend to tell him I do not like to be compared to Nazis or Pol Pot's thugs at the voting booth.
Very Respectfully,Tom Kubiak, Colonel, USAF (Retired)
The following hissed in response by: levi from queens
The tradition of the English Common Law is to make legal what people are already doing. Think the end of Prohibition. Some way to give the mass of illegals a path (no matter how tortuous) to legality with sufficient penalties for variance to re-create a real border seems to me to be the reasonable end goal.
We also always need more smart people to think of cool new things to drive the economy. Aliens can provide an additional edge here and should be preferentially admitted if there is some reason to believe they can assist.
The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman
2* Some people believe that the goal of immigration policy should be to keep out national security threats, criminals, and those who would come here to live off our welfare system. Beyond that, all immigrants would be welcome. Do you agree or disagree with that goal for immigration policy?
I wonder how many would answer yes to the above if you point out it means anyone who wants to and is not a criminal or a security threat gets to come in?
As to "path to citizenship" for Illegal Aliens inside our borders?
Between 1980 and 2003 we naturalised about 9 Million new citizens. What justice is served by allowing those who entered Illegally all 12 million jump ahead to the citizenship track in front of many in other countries who have waited years just to enter?
" have no particular position on the legalization of those already here, save that it's a bad idea to allow a huge permanent underclass of resentful criminals to remain. If we cannot find a way to make them leave -- and it appears we cannot -- then it's probably marginally better to find a way to legalize them"
We may not choose to but the word cannot implies it is physically impossible. I don't believe that.
Dry up the well of illegal employment, deny them welfare benifits, let them know being caught out of status will result in deportation and a permanent bar to re-entry, for them and anyone aiding them who holds a green card. That might reduce the ranks of the illegal.
I would support Draconian punishment for Aiding and Abetting and include knowingly employ in that category.
The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman at May 18, 2006 8:00 PM
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
It seems to me, and I think you will agree, that the will of the citizens of our country is fairly obvious, illegal marchers not withstanding.
No, Colonel, it's not at all obvious to me.
I want to see good, solid, unbiased polling on the subject before I would pronounce what the people want. So far, there has been very little.
We may not choose to but the word cannot implies it is physically impossible.
No it doesn't. If I were to say "we certainly can't solve the prison overcrowding problem by machine-gunning all the inmates," you would understand that I meant a nation like American cannot morally or politically do such a thing... not that the machine-guns wouldn't fire or that the bullets would just bounce off the prisoners' chests.
We cannot remove all 11 million because the only mechanisms by which that would be physically possible are so morally and politically repugnant that any president who tried would be impeached and removed, and any Congress that voted for it would be removed from office at the next election.
Do you think we could even do something like Manzanar today? I don't. 1940s America is an alien species to 2006. And even Manzanar is just a tiny fraction of what we would need to expel the illegals.
Some pretend that "all we have to do" is cut off all the welfare, and they would all leave. But most of those illegals are not on welfare, and even those that were might not leave, even if it were taken away.
Others baldly assert that if we made employer sanctions draconian enough -- life in prison for all corporate officers of any company that hired an illegal alien, say -- that would cut off all their jobs, so they would all go back home.
More errant nonsense: first, that is politically impossible. Second, if we did it, the hysteria caused within the corporate world would cause a 1929-style market crash, crippling our country far worse than the aliens themselves do.
Third, the obvious response would be a huge increase in forged papers. Are we to throw people in jail because they couldn't distinguish a good forgery from the real McCoy? That would be unconstitutional.
Fourth, suppose we overcame all hurdles: the consequence of suddenly rendering so many millions unemployed would create a situation a desperation, and the resulting crime wave would beggar the imagination... and would result in the swift removal of the president, Congress, or both at the next election.
It is politically, economically, and morally impossible to attempt the mass deportation of millions of people. It will not happen, no matter how many times the Vengenistas shout that it must. If America were capable of that -- then we would no longer be America.
The best we can do is increase the number of legal immigrants and rationalize the system, so that future border crossers will do so legally; make the border itself tremendously more difficult to cross illegally; and normalize those already here illegally -- not all in a lump, as in 1986, but slowly, by making them go through a process... and by gradually increasing the carrots for regularizing and the sticks for staying illegal.
The more I think about guest workers, in light of the Steyn Syllogism, the more I convince myself I was wrong to support that; I would rather see an increase in the number of new immigrants we take than a European-style, permanent underclass of hewers of water and carriers of wood.
Let the new immigrants harvest strawberries for a few years until they learn English; then they can move on to better jobs, and the next wave of immigrants can pick the blasted berries.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at May 19, 2006 1:09 AM
The following hissed in response by: Terrye
I did a post on this over at my blog and I agree with Dafydd, something is fishy here.
CNN has the president's plan winning 67% approval among the people polled after the speech. Zogby has 47% and Rasmussen has less than that.
I went over to Gallup and they had a piece in which they stated that Bush picked the most popular stand among Americans when he made the plan in his speech and wondered in the article if this had been intentional.
According to Gallup, 62% believe we can get control of the border, 74% believe that controlling the border is most important and 71% believe developing a plan to deal with the people already here is most important. Narrowing it they stated that by 52% to 43% the people polled believed that halting the flow was more important than dealing with the aliens here. Only 21% believe that all should be deported and 61% support a path to citizenship.
Now what does that tell us? The polls are all over the place and obviously they can not all be right. I tend to go with Gallup however, because that poll was done before the speech and I also tend to agree with the CNN poll because it verifies the Gallup poll. In other words they show a trend.
Zogby and Rasmussen are out there doing their thing, pushing their positions. Zogby is attacking the president and Rasmussen is supporting hardline GOP.
I guess you have to look at polls with a certain degree of doubt, they are just snapshots, but I do believe that Bush would have done his own polling before he did the speech.
And if any president tried to round up all these people and haul them off, the fall out would be disastrous. Katrina x 1000.
The above hissed in response by: Terrye at May 19, 2006 4:28 AM
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