YDR Insider

Part of the USA Today Network

See you at the poll


You don’t know me, but allow me to introduce myself. I’m the guy who, until a few weeks ago, created most of the daily “Two Cents” polls you used to find on our webpage. That job has been outsourced to a widget that generates its own, broader-based poll, with options for more than yes-or-no answers.

As someone with a background in actual scientific polling, I can’t say I’ll miss the daily grind of coming up with less-than-inane questions for a completely unscientific poll.
But I missed the opportunity to link polls to stories and get at least a small sense of what at least some people were thinking — at least the self-selected group of people who answer online polls. So editorial page editor Scott Fisher has agreed to let me write a weekly poll that will live on the online opinion page (ydr.com/opinion), and we can talk about issues and results on Sundays. This will also give us the opportunity to ask more complex questions and talk about what those answers might or might not mean.
Because when it comes to polling — scientific and otherwise — it all depends on what you ask, how you ask it and what you do with the answers.
Based on our past polls, I could tell you, for example, that twice as many people believe in Bigfoot than think actor Cameron Mitchell ought to have a street named after him in New Freedom.
I’m not sure how many people had a ready opinion on either Sasquatch or some faded TV cowboy, but I phrased the Bigfoot question something like: Do you think a creature like Bigfoot could exist? Sounds almost unreasonable to answer no, so Bigfoot beats out Cameron Mitchell in our online popularity contest.
Professional pollsters know how to ask the right questions to get the answers they want, scientifically valid or not. So they can sow a lot of confusion in the marketplace of ideas. But like guns or computers, polls are just a tool waiting to be used for good or ill.
I hope this weekly focus on polls and public opinion will get us talking about all of this, and we can learn a little more about what we all really think.
This week’s poll, for example, asked readers to choose the statement that best reflected their own views on climate science. With just 31 votes, its hard to tell much, but it is interesting to note a solid majority, 61 percent, agreed that “Man-made climate change is a major challenge facing the world today and it is critical we address it no matter what the cost.”
The poll offered a more middle ground — “I believe the climate is changing, but it is too early to tell how serious a problem it is” — but that got just one vote, just like the answer about not believing in “government scientists.” Sounds like the beginning of a real discussion, if you ask me, rather than the yes-or-no dichotomies that pervade our politics today.
Trouble is, the last option — “I don’t know what to think, so I don’t spend much time thinking about climate change” — received no responses at all. I suspect that has more to do with the kind of folks who voluntarily take online polls. How do we engage the many people who could have honestly answered that way — if they ever bothered to answer public opinion polls?