Saturday, December 29, 2012

Numbers and real truth

NZ’s extremist religious right just can’t stop using phoney numbers to fight marriage equality. That’s because the numbers aren’t on their side—they’ve lost the fight and they know it.

The spokesperson for the radical right “Christian” “group” “Protect [sic] Marriage NZ”, Bob McCoskrie, posted to their blog earlier this month a piece he titled “Support for redefining marriage continues slide in polls” (my long-standing policy is that I don’t link to far right sites, so to read it yourself, you’ll have to copy and paste this link: http://bit.ly/W9Ecg8). There’s not even a grain of truth in that headline.

His post’s headline referred to a screengrab of a “poll”, which he credited as “From the TVNZ website” (he provided no link for verification). The “poll” was, in fact, an online poll that many sites—including this blog—have used. They have absolutely no scientific validity whatsoever.

Bob wasn’t done, however, and also posted a screengrab of an online “poll” from Yahoo! News. Bob again provided no link, except to a six-month old post on his own blog. Like the “poll” on the TVNZ site, it has no scientific credibility whatsoever.

He also posted yet another online poll, this one from “NZ Herald in August” (yet again, he provided no link to the source). Like the “poll” on the TVNZ site and the Yahoo! News article, the Herald “poll” has no scientific credibility whatsoever.

This has been a trend among our opponents on the right: Using online polls as if they’re real polls. Personally, I would never refer to such polls unless it was to point out how utterly irrelevant they are, or to point out some thing interesting about it, like when the usually conservative NZ Herald’s online “polls” produce results that are not conservative, as was the case with that “poll” Bob posted.

The reason these polls are irrelevant is because of what’s called “self-selection bias”, which skews results and makes them unrepresentative, and that makes the “poll” useless for anything other than entertainment. Social scientists call such polls, appropriately, SLOP, which is derived from “self-selecting opinion polls”. But don’t take my word for it: Here’s a Google search of academic articles about the problem of self-selection bias.

Bob actually did refer to one legitimate poll—but it’s from September, and the results of that poll didn’t say anything close to what he claimed they did. I discussed this at the time (and yes, that’s a link to a three-month old post on this blog, but it has links to the poll in question, as well as other polling data, and the reasons why Bob is wrong in what he says about that poll’s results).

As I’ve made clear many times, I’m a stickler for accuracy in political debate, and in this case, that means using real polls numbers accurately, and avoiding quoting rubbish non-polls from a website. Bob is not in any way unique in using phoney numbers to try and make his case—I’ve seen plenty of people, both left and right, do the same. But because he’s fighting against me and my right to be a full and equal citizen, you can bet I’m going to call him on it—and anyone else doing it.

Bob also referred to what he called “a patsy interview (with no balancing opinion)” on TVNZ’s now-defunct Close Up. That was with TVNZ’s Matt McLean, who delivered a submission to the Parliament Select Committee considering the marriage equality bill. TVNZ has long talked to on-air staff who are doing things outside of their role at TVNZ, so it was nothing new. The interview was less about the marriage equality bill than it was about what led Matt to make a submission and what it was like to do so. Host Mark Sainsbury also asked about a journalist doing that. All of which is of interest, especially because most New Zealanders have never made a submission to Parliament on anything.

Of course, I could be churlish and point out that there simply are no similarly interesting anti-equality TVNZ people, but it would be unkind to point that out. There was no need to “balance” the interview because it wasn’t about the bill but about one person’s experience. The interview was fair, with opposing views mentioned. If Bob really feels it was unbalanced, he can always complain to the BSA about it. And, by the way, “patsy” means something different from what Bob thinks it does.

Bob next condemned what he called “free marketing by their Breakfast programme for Tamati Coffey’s plug for the bill”. He was referring to their interview of Coffey on release of New Zealand’s Campaign for Marriage Equality campaign video, “Marriage Equality Matters” (I blogged about the video at the time). TVNZ’s Tamati Coffey was a driving force behind that video. Again, this was TVNZ talking about an interesting thing one of their staff was doing. It was less about the bill than the making of the video, something we’d never have heard about otherwise.

Finally, Bob referred to what he called a “stacked” interview between Bob “and Nigel Latta (ably supported by the interviewer)”. Apparently, this is the reason for Bob playing with numbers: It's personal. Bob did very badly in that debate, as I said here yesterday, and before that on Facebook and Google+. It seems to me that Bob is trying to explain away his poor performance by attacking "the interviewer" (Rawdon Christie is the interviewer Bob wouldn’t mention by name).

My back and forth with Bob isn’t at all personal for me; in fact, he seems like an affable enough guy—wrong about pretty much everything, often laughably so (from my perspective), but certainly not evil. While I wish he’d truly advocate for families, and not against mine, I nevertheless expect him to at least fight his fight honestly, with real evidence and real facts, not things that are made up or distorted.

But hey, two can play this game. At right is a screengrab I made today, of an online NZ Herald “poll”, but one in which supporters outnumber opponents. Unlike Bob, I’ll tell you it was from this article—an article about how only older people (65+) oppose marriage equality in New Zealand. Not exactly good news for Bob’s fight, but he promoted it on Twitter, anyway, because he’s desperate for any good polling news, and this is all he’s got.

While Bob trumpeted the results showing that older people oppose marriage equality, that same poll shows that overall, 59% of Kiwis support marriage equality, with 38% opposed. Support has increased from 54% in favour and 41% opposed in a similar poll last June. That means we now have a 21-point margin of support, as opposed to a 13-point margin of support back then (a digest of the poll is in the graphic in the upper left of this post, or follow the article link).

So, let’s correct Bob’s blog post title for him: “Support for marriage equality continues growth in polls.” This is the fact: Real polls show that support for marriage equality is growing in New Zealand (as in so many other places). By continuing to use phoney numbers and misrepresenting real ones, our far right religious opponents aren’t making their case—they’re just making themselves look desperate.

And that’s the real truth.

The graphic at the upper left of this post is by the New Zealand Herald, used in the story linked to, and is provided for purposes of clarity, public discussion and education. The graphic in the lower right is a screengrab of the online "poll" contained in the same linked article, and taken 2012-12-29 at 10.34.59 AM.

No comments: