Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Increasing Turnout?

Let 17-year-olds vote?  That's the argument here, not a new one.  Similar, in fact, to questions about whether people should be required to vote (as in Australia).  All are designed, in some fashion, to increase political participation (i.e., voting).

Would lowering the voting age have such an effect?  Probably not.  The question above is about municipal elections, not state or national elections, but by adding 17-year-olds to the mix, you've increased the number of eligible voters, which means the percentage that actually votes would probably go down.  Math is funny that way.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Obscure Knowledge

I've written a lot about surveys that tend to demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the sponsor's area of interest (most recently, here).  And now there's another example, this one about as obscure as it gets.
A new study of more than 3,000 UK adults, as conducted by Nissan, revealed the lack of knowledge and experience many motorists have when it comes to towing caravans.

The research found that 40 per cent of towers surveyed had never had training on how to do it safely. 

I may have stumbled across a growth industry, at least in polls.  If you're a survey outfit, pitch to almost anyone a survey that's sure to show how shocking it is how little people know about that vitally important topic.  The topic itself doesn't matter.  People tend to do poorly on pretty much any knowledge survey.  The important thing is to generate "shocking" findings, get a little publicity, and collect a paycheck from the sponsoring group.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Political Trivia -- Comedy Central Style

I have an iPad but I haven't tried this app, but it's a test of your knowledge of political trivia.  When I get time, I'll give it a try.  Hell, it's free.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Who Wins in November?

It's a standard survey question:  who ya gonna vote for?

Less standard:  who ya think is gonna win?

A new WPost/ABC News poll has both questions.  The one getting attention is the tie, at 47 percent apiece, on who people say they're going to vote for in the presidential election.  In fact most people are settled on their candidate (4 percent of Obama supporters say there's a chance they'll change their mind, 8 percent of Romney supporters say so).  Obama's also ahead in the "enthusiasm" scores.

Less attention is going to the question asking people to predict the outcome.  Six-in-10 say Obama wins come November, and only a third predict a Romney victory.  In the scholarly biz, we talk about wishful thinking, which means we tend to predict our preferred candidate will win.  Yes, I've written about this topic on my own blog, in at least one newspaper column, and in my own academic research

It's fascinating that the two candidates are in a tie but there's a significant difference in predictions of who will actually win, leaning heavily toward Obama.  Lemme break this question down a bit more for you.
  • Party ID:  87 percent of Dems predict an Obama victory, while only 60 percent of GOPers predict a Romney victory.  For you budding scholars out there, this supports the wishful thinking hypothesis.  It also demonstrates the softness of Romney's support among Republicans.  Oh, among "independents," 51 percent predict an Obama win and 38 percent predict a Romney victory.
  • Ideology:  Looks like party identification above, with 52 percent of conservatives expecting Romney to win and 86 percent of liberals predicting an Obama victory.
  • Education:  By a small amount, the greater the education, the more likely you are to predict an Obama victory (56 percent predicting Obama at the lowest level of education, 62 percent at the highest level).
  • Region:  Respondents in the Northeast were the most likely to predict an Obama victory (68 percent), while in the South 54 percent predicted an Obama win.  It's interesting that even in solid GOP South, over half expect Obama to win.
  • Income:  No real effect here, ranging from 58 to 62 percent predicting an Obama victory.  I find this fascinating in that it suggests the 1 percent and the 99 percent are about the same, at least in predicting an election outcome.
  • Sex:  No real difference between men and women.
  • Religion:  This gets a bit messy.  Among those with no religious convictions, 77 percent expect Obama to win.  White evangelical protestants are the least likely to say Obama wins (31 percent).  No real surprise if you read this in terms of the results above on party ID.
  • Previous Voting:  Not surprisingly, 86 percent of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 expect him to do it again in 2012.  Among those who say they voted for McCain last time around, 66 percent expect Romney to win.
What's this tell us?   First, it says I need to find another way to spend my summer afternoon.  Second, it tells us that Romney's support is indeed soft, or softer than he'd like.  Third, it tells us that people really do expect outcomes based on preferences.  There's a danger here, or at least theoretically a danger, when you expect one kind of outcome and you get another.  That could possibly lead to less trust in democracy and voting, at least it's a plausible argument, but I've tinkered with this question and have never found this to actually be the case, even in the tortured 2000 U.S. prez election. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fat? Not Me

Fat people think they're healthy.

That's according to a survey, reported here, that finds the following:
Overall, 29% of American respondents were actually obese, with a body mass index of 30 or more. More than half of the obese respondents surveyed (51%) considered themselves to be healthy and 43% thought their diets were good. 

So half of America's fat people think they're doing fine, thank you very much.  Hey, if I'm breathing, I'm healthy.  At least compared to the alternative. Says an expert:
"There is a startling disconnect between what people know about the risk factors associated with diabetes and what they are actually doing to protect themselves from a health and wellness standpoint," said Peter Goldbach, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Health Dialog. 
I've often written here about what people know vs. what people think they know -- the paradox of perceived knowledge vs. actual knowledge -- the above example is more a case of the paradox between what people know about what's risky and how they choose to live. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Where Food Comes From

As I've discussed previously, we often see surveys that bemoan the public's lack of knowledge -- coincidentally, on whatever topic interests the sponsors of the survey.  Doctors bemoan the lack of health knowledge, nutritionists bemoan the lack of knowledge about healthy eating, and so on.

Here's a new one.  Ya gotta love it.  The hed:

Survey Reveals
"Shocking" Lack
of Food Knowledge

Shocking?  Uh oh.  Is mass starvation just around the corner as people forget how to eat?

No, it turns out people (Brits, in this case) apparently are a bit baffled over the sources of their food, or so suggests a survey reported in this story.  It continues:
Of 2,000 16- to 23-year-olds surveyed by One Poll in May, 36% failed to link bacon with pigs, while 12% thought that steak came from wheat or maize, and 7% thought that milk came from wheat or maize. Four in 10 young adults failed to link milk with dairy cows.
The survey sponsor?  Something called Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF).

It's perfectly understandable that 2-out-of-5 Brits don't see milk as related to cows.  Milk comes from cartons and bottles, of course.  And stores.

It's heartening to know Americans aren't the only ones sometimes without a clue.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

This has been reported extensively elsewhere (see here, for example), but lemme point out the Pew findings on who is aware, and unaware, of the recent gigantic health decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Who's clueless?  Survey says: young people. 

See the table below.  Among the youngest adults, 43 percent didn't know what the court decided.  As is the case with most forms of political knowledge, the accuracy somewhat increases with age and certainly the likelihood of saying "don't know" goes down.

Let's acknowledge that younger people are (1) less politically interested and (2) less interested specifically in health care given where they are in their life cycle and (3) are, yes, less politically interested.

Or, perhaps, they're less likely to guess?  There is research that suggests men are more willing to guess at a political knowledge question than women.  No evidence here of that.  Just making note of it.