Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Major Flaw with Daily Kos Poll on Republican Ideology: No Context

Daily Kos has released a poll conducted by Research 2000 that purports to show extremist ideology among self-identified Republicans. The polling questions ask Republican voters to identify their positions on several social issues. Here are the results:
Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not?

Yes 39
No 32
Not Sure 29

Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?

Yes 63
No 21
Not Sure 16

Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States, or not?

Yes 42
No 36
Not Sure 22

Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?

Yes 24
No 43
Not Sure 33

Do you believe ACORN stole the 2008 election?

Yes 21
No 24
Not Sure 55

Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?

Yes 53
No 14
Not Sure 33

Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people?

Yes 31
No 36
Not Sure 33

Do you believe your state should secede from the United States?

Yes 23
No 58
Not Sure 19

Should Congress make it easier for workers to form and join labor unions?

Yes 7
No 68
Not Sure 25

Would you favor or oppose giving illegal immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and learn English?

Favor 26
Oppose 59
Not Sure 15

Do you support the death penalty?

Yes 91
No 4
Not Sure 5

Should openly gay men and women be allowed to serve in the military?

Yes 26
No 55
Not Sure 19

Should same sex couples be allowed to marry?

Yes 7
No 77
Not Sure 16

Should gay couples receive any state or federal benefits?

Yes 11
No 68
Not Sure 21

Should openly gay men and women be allowed to teach in public schools?

Yes 8
No 73
Not Sure 19

Should sex education be taught in the public schools?

Yes 42
No 51
Not Sure 7

Should public school students be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world?

Yes 77
No 15
Not Sure 8

Are marrigiages equal partnerships, or are men the leaders of their households?

Men 13
Equal 76
Not Sure 11

Should women work outside the home?

Yes 86
No 4
Not Sure 10

Should contraceptive use be outlawed?

Yes 31
No 56
Not Sure 13

Do you believe the birth control pill is abortion?

Yes 34
No 48
Not Sure 18

Do you consider abortion to be murder?

Yes 76
No 8
Not Sure 16

Do you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is though Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith?

Christ 67
Other 15
Not Sure 18
In a post laced with editorial commentary, Markos Moulitsas says that the poll results are "nothing short of startling." Kos also concludes that:
Ultimately, these results explain why it is impossible for elected Republicans to work with Democrats to improve our country. Their base are conspiracy mongers who don't believe Obama was born in the United States, that he is the second coming of Lenin, and that he is racist against white people. They already want to impeach him despite the glaringly obvious lack of high crimes or misdemeanors. If any Republican strays and decides to do the right thing and try to work in a bipartisan fashion, they suffer primaries and attacks. Even the Maine twins have quit cooperating out of fear of their homegrown teabaggers.
Major Problem With the Poll: Lack of Context
The poll, however, suffers in one tremendous respect: It does not provide comparative results for self-identified Democrats and Independents. So, while Kos and many Daily Kos readers believe that the poll proves the extremism among Republicans, it is difficult to make this conclusion without comparative data. At a minimum, comparative data would allow readers to understand the degree to which Republican viewpoints deviate from mainstream political thought.

Some Context
Polling data from other sources indicate that even though Republicans are more conservative, their views do not differ too dramatically from the rest of the population as Kos suggests. For example, the Daily Kos poll finds that 77% of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage. A May 2009 Gallup Poll, however, finds that nearly 60% of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage. A similar poll by Pew found that 54% of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. The Pew study found that an identical 77% of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage and that 41% of Democrats oppose it. In addition, the Pew study found that 55% of Independents opposed same-sex marriage, while only 34% supported it. Accordingly, while Republican views are predictably more conservative than Democrats, their views are not as extreme when compared with the attitudes of political independents.

In addition, the Daily Kos poll finds that 91% of Republicans support the death penalty. According to an October 2009 Gallup poll, a similarly high percentage of Republicans (81%) support the death penalty. Gallup, however, also finds that 2/3 of Americans support the death penalty, which means that Republican support does not differ dramatically from the general population. In the same Gallup survey, 67% of Independents and 47% of Democrats expressed support for the death penalty. Interestingly, when given a third option, such as life without parole (something that the Daily Kos poll does not provide), overall public support for the death penalty drops to 48%.

Finally, the Daily Kos poll finds that 76% of Republicans believe that abortion is murder. Generally, Republicans are typically pro-life rather than pro-choice. According to Gallup, 28% of Republicans versus 62% of Democrats are pro-choice. Generally, however, Americans are roughly divided in the "choice" and "life" camps (46% versus 47%). Nevertheless, only 21% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal regardless of the circumstances, which means that a significant number of "pro-choice" people accept the imposition of abortion restraints -- whether or not this same group would describe abortion as murder. Attitudes concerning abortion policy ultimately matter more than the label people use to describe the procedure. Also, Democratic support for abortion (at 62%) could support the argument that Democrats (in addition to Republicans) are "extreme."

Final Word: Although I concede that Republicans are more conservative, I also believe that the general population is more conservative than many liberals care to admit. This fact simply means that progressive political battles are difficult -- but not impossible -- to achieve. I hope that Daily Kos will supplement its interesting survey with data concerning Independents and Democrats.


LETICIA said...

Sadly, context is a rare bird in today's politics.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Indeed. I am actually surprised by this. Providing context could go very far in proving their claim that Republicans are extremist OR it could prove that Democrats are extremists....

Anonymous said...

What i thought was interesting is that the poll pointed out that 77% of republicans believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Well that makes sense if these people are Christians. Since that is what the bible actually says. How is it extreme to believe what your faith says? The last question is about persecution of christians for their beliefs. Also some other faiths don't have a conceopt of heaven but believe in I think they would be upset if christians believed that they would go to heaven when they want to be reincarnated. Besides who wants to serve a God who is wishy-washy. The rules are the rules and they are better then we deserve because if you actually read the bible it says (keep in mind i am paraphrasing) All people should go to hell but God offers us salvation through faith in christ. So if there is another way then why did Jesus have to die? Was that just a joke by God. Oh my bad I i know i sent my son to be sacrificed but if you believe in Budha you can go to heaven too. the whole thing is stupid and anyone who believes that there is another way is denying the truth of the bible and is saying that Jesus and God are both liars.

Anonymous said...

sorry let me rephrase that i meant to say any christian who believes there is another way. Obviously people from other faiths have different beliefs and it would be ridiculous to expect them to believe that Christ was the only way , I imagine Muslims, Jews and other non Christians believe that their way is the only way too. Any christian who believes Jesus is not the only way needs to take a hard look at their faith and actually read the bible for the answers.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Jason. Although I do believe that Christians have a range of beliefs on this and other matters, I also believe that a lot of Democrats who are Christian probably feel the same way. I considered looking for polling data on this question, but it seems like a very bizarre question in the first place because, as you point out, it is basically isolating an individual's faith, rather than "extremism." A smaller percentage of the public is probably atheist. Is that group "extreme"?

Alessandro Machi said...

Once Hillary Clinton was excluded from polling in the 2008 election, it may have opened the door for targeted polling that becomes somewhat pointless because it is targeted. In 2008 I blogged for months begging the media or rich Hillary Clinton supporters to fund their own polls comparing Hillary Clinton to both John McCain and Barack Obama, but nobody stepped up.

Excellent analysis on your part for reminding us that pollsters can aim incorrectly.

Hippi Chicki Niki said...

More than just the lack of a control group - which is the researchers' title for what you call "context," there are some issues with the way the questions are phrased a complete lack of questions to check for reliability and other problems which people well-versed in research methods and statistics (as one would presume Research 2000 should be) would know to correct in any research done with self-report data in a survey like this.

The Christianity question is just strange and not really relevant to the topic. Considering the fact that more than 67% of Americans are Christians those results actually would demonstrate the opposite of extremism and goes to show that the common belief that Conservative = Christian and vice versa is not accurate.

Yes, Moulitsas's analysis of the results is faulty. However, that is not surprising as Moulitsas is not a researcher. Why is he the one drawing conclusions? And, given what you point out and what I said above, why does it appear that Research 200 had a undergrad freshman stats major design his poll?

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