Friday, April 8, 2011

Turned Around

In the latest news from Mississippi, "46 percent of GOP voters in the state think interracial marriage should be illegal." While the AOL News story describes this as "startling," who's really surprised by this? After all, we all know that Mississippians are so backwards that we're not expecting them to reach the 10th Century for another couple hundred years.

Except for the fact that it turns out that this 46% percent number is actually 184 people out of "400 usual Mississippi Republican primary voters" that bothered to pick up the phone when some outfit named "Public Policy Polling" called them and started asking questions. Questions like: "Would you describe yourself as very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, or very conservative?" When 8% of "hardcore Republican voters" in Mississippi self-identify as somewhat to very liberal, you know that something's fishy.

I, for my part, am not a fan of Mississippi. I've spent more time there than I care to think about and my primary impression of the place is that it's a hot, humid, miserable way to die. And there are backwards people there. (Why should Mississippi be spared its share of yahoos?) But it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to realize the issues with self-selection in a survey like this. ("Other factors, such as refusal to be interviewed and weighting, may introduce additional error that is more difficult to quantify," as the survey puts it.) And the presumption that everyone answered the survey with what was in their heart of hearts, and not with what they thought would be a funny answer seems a bit of a stretch. Unfortunately, they didn't ask any other questions that lend themselves to be checked for joking at the interviewer's expense. Which may also be part of the problem. If you're answering fairly normal questions about politics, "what do you think of this-or-that candidate" and "who would you vote for here" kind of things, and then you're asked an out-of-the-blue question about a racially-sensitive topic, but one that hasn't been even remotely relevant for about the past 40 years, you might be tempted to say something outrageous.

Well, the city slickers at AOL may be startled, but I think I'm laughing with the rednecks on this one.

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