Plastic polls

Occasionally, a writer will use the results of a public opinion poll to bolster an argument or support an opinion. While the publication of these poll results was most likely intended to do just that, such use is a logical fallacy. While appealing to an expert opinion is sometimes an acceptable argument, appealing to uninformed opinion never is.

Only a weak mind is convinced of the truth of something by citing the opinion of a majority. Majorities are often wrong. Don’t follow the masses, because sometimes the “m” is silent.

This error is compounded by the fact that these polls are not scientific. Anyone who believes that these polls are scientific need look no further than the polls taken prior to the 2016 election. Those who bought into the accuracy of these polls made bold statements about the impossibility of Trump winning the election.

It turned out that these polls missed by sometimes double digits.

There are two reasons for the inaccuracy. The first is that they do not have either a random or representative sample. Part of this is by design, because most of these polling institutions have a bias. The other part is that it is impossible to get a random or representative sample when those polled have the option to decline participation, or to give deceptive answers.

The other way pollsters try to shape public opinion rather than test it is through the use of leading questions. A poll question might go like this, “If it were proved that President Trump had colluded with the Russians to interfere in the election, would you favor impeachment?” The result would then be reported as, “75% of all Americans favor impeaching Trump over Russian collusion.” Notice, the conclusion left out the qualifying “IF”.

Few people will read the poll, but will read a press summary of the pollster’s abstract of the poll. What our friends writing letters are reporting is a fourth hand account.

What makes this use of polling data more ridiculous is that the writers themselves would not be convinced if they saw a poll they disagreed with. Can you imagine one of our liberal friends deciding that Trump was a great president because of a poll showing he had an approval rating of 80 percent. They would just think Americans had lost their minds.

The only thing I care less about than public opinion is unsupported opinion. If you want to convince people you are right, you need facts. Not fake news or biased opinion, but facts with logical, well-reasoned conclusions.

Paul Rinker