Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Confederate Symbols and Polls

Confederate symbols have been in the news lately, for good reason. So my nearby major newspaper, the AJC, asked readers in a poll what should be done with the ones scattered around Atlanta. The South rises, the paper says, in defense of Confederate art.
Preliminary results show that those voting are hot to keep the collection as is. Of the 19,500 votes cast, 81 percent voted to keep the statues and paintings with no further historical context. Fewer than 14 percent wanted them moved and just 5 percent wanted more information placed alongside them.
Wow, 81 percent. That's a helluva result. Given the hed, given these number, this must truly represent the feelings of all the folks out there. Or perhaps not.

Three graphs later, they tell us:
The poll is not scientific, but it has been popular, particularly with the Southern heritage movement online. Several Facebook pages posted the poll and urged its subscribers to vote to keep their heroes in the Capitol.
When you see "the poll is not scientific," that should come with a footnote or a caveat that says "this poll is meaningless bullshit, but we're gonna run it anyway because it's fun, and then we'll bury the graph that says it's meaningless bullshit deep in the story." In the public opinion biz we call this a SLOP, a self-selected opinion poll. In other words, those most pissed about something, those who get the word out best via social media, they're the ones over-represented in the results.

In other words, meaningless bullshit.

Don't get me wrong. I love an entertaining SLOP as much as the next guy. Usually you find them on web sites asking your favorite pick for the Oscars, or something else equally trivial. Harmless fun, especially if it's labeled as such. What I don't like, however, is when a SLOP finds its way into the news. Now this is a blog post, not a straight news story, so the AJC deserves a little leeway, but my URL shows it as investigations.blogs, ajc, etc etc. Makes me nervous to see a poll reported this way.

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