Tuesday, July 27, 2004
FCC and Media Deception
Dear Ms. Abernathy,
Please examine the following excerpt from a Crossfire show aired on CNN, July 12, 2004
Aired July 12, 2004 - 16:30 ET
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.A brand spanking new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup shows that Ralph Nader only has 2 percent support among likely voters, down from 5 percent in early June. Today, in the CROSSFIRE, we will ask Mr. Nader why he is suddenly the darling of far right fund-raisers and Pat Buchanan's old political party.
NOVAK: Democrats keep whining that Ralph Nader will be the spoiler in the presidential race. But a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll that came out only an hour ago shows Nader has a long way to go before he spoils anything. The poll of likely voters shows John Kerry 50 percent, President Bush 45, Ralph Nader only 2 percent. Who knows? Maybe Nader will have a better chance of spoiling things if more people read his new book, "The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap."
What CNN and every other news broadcast does not include is the following:
Results for likely voters are based on the subsample of 706 survey respondents deemed most likely to vote in the November 2004 General Election, according to a series of questions measuring current voting intentions and past voting behavior. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. The likely voter model assumes a turnout of 50% of national adults, consistent with recent presidential elections. The likely voter sample is weighted down to match this assumption.
This means that the results reported were based on 353 likely voters.
Kerry’s 50% = 177
Bush’s 45% = 159
Nader’s 2% = 7
How many of the 140 million potential voters in this country do you think know that these percentages, reported as the trend in the American public, are based on such small samples. In fact if you check with the major polling organizations you will find that most of the polls conducted have sample sizes of between 1,000 and 2,000 participants.
If this were a commercial product, I am sure your agency might take a close look for false advertising and you would most likely require a disclaimer. It seems clear to me that the news media is well aware of the impact of using percentatges as opposed to actual numbers when reporting results. I strongly believe that your agency should investigate and take corrective action. I realize that by requiring them to report either actual numbers or at least state the total sample size it will lessen the impact of the results. I believe that since most Americans have limited knowledge about statistics it is your job to protect them from any conscious attempts to mislead them.
Joachim F Van Ells
Feel free to email Commissioner Abernathy: Kathleen.Abernathy@fcc.gov with other examples.