Biased Questions in the ABC Schiavo Poll:
The ABC poll I linked to earlier has been appearing in lots of news stories today in support of the view that most Americans oppose the Schiavo law passed by Congress last night. Reader James Christiansen writes in to point out a major problem with the poll: according to Christiansen, the wording used by the pollsters in the case is obviously biased. After taking a look at the questions, I have to agree. I am no expert in polling, but the questions asked in the ABC poll do seem likely to encourage individuals polled to conclude that the Schiavo law is a bad idea.

  Consider the wording of the key question testing public attitudes about the case — with emphasis added by me:
  Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible. Her husband and her parents disagree about whether she would have wanted to be kept alive. Florida courts have sided with the husband and her feeding tube was removed on Friday.
  What's your opinion on this case - do you support or oppose the decision to remove Schiavo's feeding tube?
  My understanding is that Schiavo's consciousness and the irreversibility of her condition is at the heart of the dispute; settling the matter in the question by indicating that this is what "doctors say" doesn't seem a very good way of measuring public opinion on the case.

  Then there is the wording of the question that addresses whether the federal courts have a role in this matter:
  Florida state courts have heard the Schiavo case. Federal courts have said they don't have jurisdiction because it involves Florida law only. Would you support or oppose a new federal law requiring the federal courts to review the Schiavo case?
  The question is rather leading, it seems to me — it asks whether the federal courts should be "required" to review the case right after saying that the federal courts have said there is no federal issue. It seems to invite the answer that no new law is needed.

  Here is the next question in the poll:
  Regardless of your preferences in the Schiavo case, do you think it is appropriate or inappropriate for Congress to get involved in this way?
  The poll does not say what "this way" is, but the rather dismissive tone follows up on the leading question above in a way that suggests that the right answer is "no." The beginning of the sentence also seems a bit result-oriented: it seems to invite those who favor the law to agree that the method Congress chose was improper.

  Here's the question that comes next:
  Do you think the political leaders who are trying to keep Schiavo alive are more concerned about her and the principles involved, or more concerned about using her case for political advantage?
  Again, the question seems designed to lead to a particular answer. The person being polled has just learned in the preceding questions that Schiavo has no chance of recovery and that Congress is forcing the federal courts to get involved against their will. The person is then asked whether the political leaders are really concerned about Schiavo (how could they be — she has no chance of recovery, and the courts have already made their rulings in the case) or whether they are using the case for political advantage (hint, hint). The poll seems to be looking for a specific answer, namely that the political leaders who are trying to keep Schiavo alive are just using her case for political advantage.

  To be clear, I am sympathetic to the views of whoever wrote the ABC poll. The Schiavo case is a political football, and I don't see any reason for federal court involvement in the case. At the same time, the wording of the questions makes it unlikely that the ABC poll accurately captures public opinion about the case.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Biased Questions in the ABC Schiavo Poll:
  2. ABC Poll on Schiavo Case: