Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Of Politics and Polls

It may be that I’ll lose some Facebook friends for saying that I will, as far as I can see now, vote for Obama in 2012. Actually what will probably tick them off is that I commented that the polls on Facebook, like the one I responded to, are not set up in a way as to actually be fair or unbiased.
I was upset, at first, by the photo image used to attract others to the poll. Here we do not have two pictures of Mr. Obama or a photo that might be non-descript, but one of the now infamous pictures of the president with a cigarette dangling from his lips. It is, of course, quite an unflattering pose. So the implication for many is that a vote for Obama is a vote for a filthy man with a disgusting habit.
Then I thought further. I’m not sure the creator of the poll was trying to use some sort of subliminal message, but I do believe that person chose the image deliberately, quite likely because this person has an image of Barack Obama as a bad man. A person who already has a negative image of a person will likely portray that person in a negative light, even if they do so unaware that their portrayal is such. They may actually believe either that there is no other way to “see” the person they dislike, or that they are actually being fair.
A few weeks ago, I responded to a poll whose language was obviously biased: “Would you like to have the government take your guns or allow criminals to put you in danger?” (This isn’t the exact wording, but it isn’t far off.) In the case above, the wording is not biased, but the image that goes with it.
So the person with negative ideas about a person chooses a negative portrayal to present to others, and then shares that image via a poll, which may appear to be unbiased, as if only looking for information. But who is this person going to be sharing this poll with? Those who, by and large, already agree with him: his Facebook friends, who are most likely to share most of his beliefs about politics. And who is likely to see the results of those friends’ voting? Other friends who mostly share those beliefs.
So it doesn’t surprise me that when I looked at the “results” of the poll up to that point, the “No” votes largely outweighed the “Yes” votes, probably by a three to one margin. A computer tabulates the votes, so that seems unbiased, but the dissemination of the poll in the first place keeps the instrument from being democratic or even honest.
I have largely contended that bias is neither good nor bad, but that it just is what it is. But when we cannot recognize bias in such things as this, we have real bad brewing. Conservatives, from my experience, have spent a long time complaining about “liberal” bias every where they look. This usually means anyone who doesn’t agree with them is 1) a liberal and 2) therefore not to be trusted. And I am well aware that liberals (myself included) have often argued using the same logical fallacies.
If we want to stop trafficking in fear, then let us consider less what people with labels might “do” to us, and think more about what a lack of critical thinking on all sides has been doing to our country. And while we are at it, we might confess the sin of acting on the belief that it is more important to manipulate others toward what we believe is the right end than to seek, with open heart and mind, an honest truth.

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