The Crap CNN Passes for Reporting

5 Feb

Can you pick up how many ways CNN reports statistics in this one story?

Posted: February 5th, 2010 08:40 AM ET
 
A new poll out Friday takes a look at the public’s view of the Tea Party and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) – One third of Americans have a favorable view of the Tea Party movement, but a plurality have no opinion at all, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicates that 26 percent of the public has an unfavorable view of the Tea Party movement and that four in ten have never heard of the movement or don’t know enough to form an opinion. The poll’s Friday morning release comes as what’s being billed as the first national Tea Party convention begins its first full day of meetings Nashville, Tennessee.

“The Tea Party movement is a blank slate to many Americans, which is not surprising for a political movement that is only about a year old,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Not surprisingly, opinion breaks along partisan and ideological lines.”

According to the survey, Democrats by a two-to-one margin have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party movement; Republicans like it by a three-to-one margin. Among Independents, 35 percent of Independents holding a positive view and 24 percent a negative view.

Seriously, are they trying to confuse people on purpose?  First they use flat-out percentages.  Then they say four in 10.  Then they use 3-to-one-margins.  Why in sweet Jesus’ name would they use all these different types of ways to use percentages in one single story?  Presenting statistics is one of the things that we do a lot in public health.  If I presented stats in the way CNN does no one would know what the prevalence rate of anything was. 

I remember when I took my first statistics course our professor showed us that you can basically make any point with statistics, as long as you present it in a way that is favorable to what you want to say.  I’m not a “Tea Party” person or anything remotely to it, but it almost appears as if CNN is trying to confuse people on purpose as to what its poll says.  Why not simply use straight percentages?  Or use straight “1 out of 10” type of breakdown?  That way people can compare apples to apples and it makes for much simpler reading and hence accessible to everyone.  CNN constantly releases their polls in this manner and it bugs the hell out of me.

On a related side note, there was this one marketing person that I worked with on a campaign that would constantly communicate “when we polled teens we found almost 7 out of 10 teens don’t drink, but the teens thought that 90% of teens do drink.”  I kept asking her not to use that because it was confusing, and I could see the teen’s faces when she would explain it that they  said in the back of their head “????!!” I would explain it saying “teens thought that only about 1 out of 10 teens don’t drink, but in reality almost 7 out of 10 teens don’t drink.”   You could clearly see they got that.  This CNN story totally reminds me of that.

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