03 February, 2010

A Short, Sharp Lesson in Polls

With DADT repeal on the horizon, the homophobes are in full foaming-at-the-mouth mode.  Poor Sen. Chambliss is afraid it could lead to all kinds of shenanigans, including (wait - you'd better make sure the kiddies leave the room) *gasp* tattoos in the military!!1!11!  And the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins is convinced - convinced, I tell you - that this could mean the return of the draft, because no red-blooded Amurkin Male would serve willingly with teh icky gayz:
On CNN today, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins suggested it could lead to the re-institution of the draft:
PERKINS: Let’s go back to the Military Times in 2008 had a poll of active duty military members. Fifty-eight percent said they were opposed to overturning this policy. And many have said that this will cause them to reconsider whether or not they will stay in the military. And it will have an impact upon recruiting. I mean this is an issue of retention and recruitment for the military and it ultimately could lead back to the imposition of a draft in order to fill the numbers and quotas in the military.
Perkins’ draft claim was echoed in a statement today by Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, who also suggested that repealing DADT could cause earthquakes and other natural disasters

Boy, good thing for Haiti we haven't repealed DADT!  They might've suffered an earthquake or something!  Oh, wait...

Anyway, let's step away from the frothing insanity for a moment and get back to polls.  As it turns out, there's a difference between what macho men say they'll do and what they'll actually do:
Dr. Nathaniel Frank responded to Perkins’ “fear tactics” about military retention — a claim that relies on a “unscientific, self-selective” survey by Military Times of its subscribers, not a random sample of active duty soldiers — by pointing out that “polls show in Canada and Britain that when they asked service members if they would, if they wanted to serve with gays, two-thirds of them refused. Absolutely refused. But when they actually lifted the bans anyway, about 2 people, 2 people, not the thousands predicted by the polls actually left.” 
Considering how many gay servicemembers we've drummed out of the armed forces because of this stupid law, I think we'll have enough volunteers to make up any losses.  Call it a hunch.

This points to a larger lesson: people often say one thing in polls, and then do another.  Polls are a good way to gauge public attitudes, true.  Especially when they're conducted by reputable polling firms, they can be a good tool.  But they're not iron-clad indications of what folks will actually do.  I mean, earlier polls said Massachussets would absolutely never in a million billion trillion years elect the Con, and look what happened when the Dems let that lull them into a false sense of security.

Polls can also be misread.  Such as the polls saying people absolutely hate health care reform.  Well, ask a simple question and get a stupid answer.  Those idiots who assume that people don't support health care reform because it's some horrible leftist takeover of America kind of forget that there's a huge chunk of people who are against health care reform because it's not leftist enough.

So.  When it comes to polls shaping public policy, it's good to keep a little salt handy, and consider the questions not asked.  Such as, "Would you really quit your military career, giving up your entire identity as a warrior, financial stability and all the perks that come with it, to look for a piece-of-shit job in this wretched economy, just because you might eventually be in the same unit as a gay person?  Really?"

Yeah.  I didn't think so.


John Pieret said...

Why does this sound familiar? Oh, right! It's the same argument that was made against integrating blacks into the military. Harry Truman was brave enough to call "bullshit" ...

Cujo359 said...

Polls can't ask people how much they've thought through a decision or an attitude, they can only ask what it is. Experience tells pollsters what sort of questions to steer clear of, I'm sure, but there's no doubt that a high pro or con number doesn't always indicate high enthusiasm for, or resistance to, an idea.