Veni, Vidi, Vomiti

I don’t trust public opinion polls, for many reasons. But results from two independent polls this week left me so stunned I needed both hands to lift my jaw from the floor as I staggered into the little room to throw up.
Briefly, here are the results.

A Pew Research Poll found that 58 percent of Republicans (and 19 percent of Democrats) think that our colleges and universities are hurting the country.

Excuse me?

By, like, trying to cure cancer and stuff?

Perhaps by forcing business majors to take a single class in English literature?

The Pew Research Center interviewed 2,504 adults across the country in June for this survey.

But wait. It gets worse.

Eighty-five percent of Republicans believe that “the national news media” (whatever that is) are hurting the county, and so do 46 percent of Democrats.

Democrats should be ashamed of themselves. We know that Republicans have no shame.

And — no surprise here — Republicans think, by a 3-to-2 margin (46 percent to 33 percent), that labor unions hurt the country, compared to cowardly Democrats — excuse me, I mean Democrats — 59 percent of whom support unions, while 22 percent oppose them.

Also in June, a Marist Poll of 1,205 adults, conducted with NPR and PBS NewsHour, found that 25 percent of Republicans (and 5 percent of Democrats) thought our government has “gone too far in expanding the right to vote.”

That’s right. Despite our centuries-long history of racial exclusion, outrage and murder, and the fact that voter suppression outweighs voter fraud by about 1 million to 1, one in four Republicans (and one in 20 Democrats) think we should crack down on people who want to vote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, awaiting trial on fraud charges that could send him to prison for life, went wee-wee in his shorts this week when he found a single person to indict, for casting an absentee ballot for an old lady.

Huzzah! Free at last! Thank God almighty we’re free at last! From voting!

Moving right along, the Marist poll found that 42 percent of Republicans (and 11 percent of Democrats) thought the government has “gone too far” in defending the freedom of the press.

Forty-one percent of Republicans (and 7 percent of Democrats) thought the government has gone too far in defending “the right to protest or criticize the government.”

The Washington Post published these results on Tuesday.

I muzzle myself. For the moment. While I tell you why I do not trust polls.

In the course of my checkered life, it befell me to seek a master’s degree from Northwestern University, for which I had to take a course in statistics. There I learned about standard deviations, margin of error, bias of the sample, theta, beta, meetya later, and so on. That’s why I say, with evidence, that every national opinion poll ever conducted is unreliable, for a number of reasons.

The inherent bias of the sample

For example, the Marist and Pew polls were biased because they were conducted by land-line telephones. How does that “skew”? Are middle class and rich people today more likely to have cellphones but no land lines? Probably. Does that make these poll results inaccurate, skewed in favor of poorer people’s opinions and against the people who actually run our country? Probably. How does that affect the results of the poll? I have no idea. I just took the one course in statistics.

The inherent bias of the questions

Every poll question ever asked has an inherent bias, no matter how conscientious the pollster. “Would you prefer …” “What would you think if …” “Do you believe …” “X said Y and Z said ♪: Which do you prefer?” These are not even questions. They’re packaging. If you don’t believe me, check out the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. But don’t ask me for help with the math.

The lack of alternatives: or, pre-selected answers

Once a pollster asks: “Do you believe this or that?” Or, “Would you be more inclined to say this or that?” the answer has already been decided. It’s either this or that.

But it ain’t necessarily so.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, about anything they like, though I fail to see the point of polling people about things about which they know nothing. Everyone is ignorant about something. Even Albert Einstein, I’m told, knew nothing about skateboarding.

But many people today who are ignorant of a subject insist that theirs is the only opinion that counts, and shout down people who do know something about it, and insult them. Such people are not just ignorant, but arrogant: a bad combination.

Despite all these shortcomings, I believe these two polls have something to tell us: crude, inaccurate and mathematically wayward as they are. They help to explain how we elected a president who is ignorant and arrogant.

Veni! Vidi! Vomiti!

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