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Chicago Tribune and Polling Distortion


Chicago Chicago Tribune Poll and Article Illustration
(note article layout and dimensions changed for spacing purposes)

People pay attention to polls and a good poll is a useful source of information about public opinion. However, polls can be very easily manipulated by those conducting them. In the category of what I’ll generously call sloppy methodology, the Chicago Tribune wins the prize for a recent article they did regarding a poll they conducted on the public’s attitude as to who is to blame for the unfunded pension liability mess the state of Illinois is in.

In a Chicago Tribune 10/17/2012 headline that proclaims Most blaming pols, not unions for pension crisis, we see a wonderful example of how the question being asked and the possible answer categories can utterly distort the results of the poll.

According to the article, in a poll of likely Illinois voters, the question that was asked was

Who is most to blame for the unfunded pension system:

and the possible answers are

  • public workers
  • state politicians
  • both
  • neither

What is glaringly obvious is that public sector unions is not an answer option – thus making it impossible for the poll respondents to blame the unions. While I have heard many people blame the unions and read various editorials that blame the unions, nowhere have I seen or heard accounts of people blaming the workers themselves – which is the answer option provided in this poll. Therefore the validity of this poll is worthless for the context in which it is being used. Obviously it is not just the wording of poll questions that can produce biased and skewed results, bias is also found in the wording of the answers and in what answer options are provided.

My one unanswered question is this: was this done deliberately with a political objective in mind or was it done foolishly on the part of the reporter?

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