Monday, December 14, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies, and Planned Parenthood Polls

Poll results are easily manipulated by the wording of the question. USA Today gives a perfect example:
In the poll, 46% agreed with the statement: "Heated political rhetoric about Planned Parenthood and abortion bear some of the responsibility for what happened" in the [Colorado Springs] shooting.
In contrast, 36% agreed with the statement: "The event was a random act of violence and not connected to politics."
The rest were undecided.
This is a textbook example of a false dichotomy.

The idea that the shooting was "not connected to politics" is ridiculous. Of course it was. It just doesn't follow that people who talk about those politics "bear some of the responsibility for what happened."

Here are a few of the plausible options not set forth in USA Today's poll:
  • Political rhetoric about Planned Parenthood gets heated, but pro-lifers do not bear any responsibility because Dear is fully responsible. Every year, millions of people engage in extremely contentious abortion debates without shooting a dozen people.
  • Political rhetoric about Planned Parenthood and abortion is truthful and therefore appropriate. Abortion workers sometimes use gruesome language to describe abortion, even calling it "killing," and pro-lifers have every right to amplify those statements.
  • Robert Dear was an extremely disturbed man who drew inspiration from politics in picking Planned Parenthood as his target; therefore it's wrong to say that the shooting was completely unconnected to politics. But if Planned Parenthood had not been in the news, Dear would have committed a shooting somewhere else.
  • "Heated political rhetoric" is an abstract concept that cannot bear responsibility for anything. (Seriously, how bad is the wording of this poll?)
The same USA Today article also claims that a majority of Americans oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, but doesn't mention the wording of that poll question. In light of the number of people who have been wrongly told that "defunding Planned Parenthood" means taking money out of the women's health budget—when in reality, the proposed legislation doesn't take away a dime from women's health (other providers get the money)—I'm willing to bet that number is inflated too. In fact, a recent poll making exactly that distinction found that a majority supported "shifting Planned Parenthood federal funds to community clinics that perform the same services, but do not perform abortions." 

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