Thursday, July 7, 2011

Casey Anthony -- What (kinda) People Know

Merely by mentioning Casey Anthony's name will earn me additional hits, but I wanted to briefly discuss not the verdict itself, or even the media saturation coverage of the trial, but rather the remarkable interest the public has shown in this case and its response to the final verdict.  Much of that interest was fed by Nancy Grace and Headline News, and with the public response came more and more coverage.

But what's the public response to the verdict?  We don't have traditional poll data to rely on (yet), but on Twitter the results seem all one way.  Here's an excellent analysis of Twitter traffic that found 64 percent of Twitter users disagreed with the verdict, 35 percent were undecided, and only 1 percent sided with Anthony being found not guilty.  Doubt Twitter as a measure of public sentiment?  You shouldn't.  It's been found in some academic research to be a reasonably good barometer of public opinion.  Not as good as a real poll, but good.

While we don't have any real poll data yet, at least that I can find, there is this stupid Huffington Post "informal poll" that found only 50 percent thought Anthony was guilty.  I'm rather surprised by such a SLOP (self-selected opinion poll, also known in the survey business as complete bullshit).  Usually the angry folks dominate such faux polls, but apparently not in this case.  By the way, 28 percent had her guilty of a lesser charge and 17 percent thought she was not guilty.  Some might argue hey, that's over 13,000 votes.  It's gotta be more accurate than a scientific poll with a carefully drawn sample of 1,000 people.  And then you'd be wrong.  Size doesn't matter, at least when it comes to surveys.  If you doubt this, just look up the infamous Literary Digest poll debacle of 1936.  Over a million folks surveyed.  Results -- way off.  Unless, that is, Alf Landon really was elected president in 1936.  And I'm pretty sure he wasn't.

Of course the various networks, including HLN, saw remarkable increases in their TV or online traffic during the trial and with the announcement of the verdict.  Much of the response can best be described as anger (Grace, especially, has added fuel to this fire).  Negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones.  That's why talk radio and the TV talking heads who sell partisan indignation and disgust do so well.  Taking a position, it sells.

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