A MARGIN OF ERROR
I don't trust polls and surveys. If I hear on the news that
93 percent of Americans would choose to spend the evening
with their families, how do I know what the question was?
Maybe they asked, "Which would you rather do: spend an
evening with your family or spend it on your roof during a
Of course, the best surveys tell us the exact questions that
were asked and the methods used to reach the conclusions.
But often, we are just told the statistics and expected to
Last week, I heard that 82 percent of Iraqis oppose the United
States occupation. Previously, I learned that Americans have
more sex than Canadians, and less sex than the French. 44
percent of Indy League racing fans own an electric cordless
drill. I read the other day that 17% of Americans believe
the end of the world will occur in their lifetime (there was
no data about how many of these people own cordless drills).
We get statistics like these thrown at us every day.
A few years ago, we were told that a woman over 30 is more
likely to get struck by lightning than find a husband. Then
we were told that it really wasn't true. Of course, nobody
showed us proof for either of those announcements, so I don't
know which of them is true. I've often heard that more people
watch television in one night than have seen live performances
of Shakespeare over the past 400 years. Who did the research
on that one?
This brings me back to the "82 percent of Iraqis oppose
our being there" statistic. I don't doubt that most of
them aren't thrilled that we are there. Who would want to
have a bunch of foreigners with guns roaming around their
country? But how did they get this exact figure? Did they
go door to door and say, "Listen, before we start shooting
at each other, could you please tell me if you like our being
here or not?"
Another annoyance is right when you think you're learning
an actual fact, you read the fine print and see there is a
"margin of error." I'll bet there is. And some surveys
are about meaningless hypotheticals like, "If the election
were held today,..." And I could live a full life without
reading statistics like, "Golf is the favorite sport
of 14% of people who live in Montana."
Many people have their doubts about surveys, because they’re
never asked to participate in them. You'll often hear, "They
didn't ask me before they canceled that show" or "Nobody
asked me if I'm mad at the French." Others complain that
the only time they are asked to participate is when a researcher
calls them during dinnertime.
Well, I'm asking you now. I'm asking you to participate in
the first Garver Poll. You'll see exactly how the questions
are worded, they will be about the really important questions
of our day, and you won't have to answer them while your dinner
is getting cold.
1. If the Presidential election were held today, would you
be more likely to:
__________vote for one of the major party candidates?
__________ask, "Why am I voting today instead of in
2. Which do you think might actually be connected to something:
__________that button you push to supposedly make the red
light change to green faster?
__________the voting machine where you cast your ballot?
3.What do you think is the bigger "whopper?"
_________”Barry Bonds has never knowingly taken steroids?”
________President Bush saying, “Donald Rumsfield has
been a superb Secretary of Defense?"
4.Which would put you to sleep faster:
________an explanation of the new tax forms?
________listening to a John Kerry speech?
5. This summer, which are you more likely to spend $25 on?
_______Bill Clinton's new autobiography?
_________a gallon of gas?
6. When you are a guest at someone's house for the first
time, are you more likely to:
_________try to figure out how they could possibly afford
_________go through their medicine cabinet?
7. Right after a job promotion, would you rather run into:
__________that ex-lover who said you'd never succeed?
_________that old teacher who said you'd never succeed?
8. Now that "Friends" is over, do you care...
_____more than words could describe?
_____slightly less than when I learned that zip codes were
going to add four more digits?
Thanks for helping us all get a better picture of how Americans
think. As soon as all the data is in, I will report back to
you with 100% accuracy. Well, maybe 99% because I could accidentally
count the same answer twice. Better make that closer to 80%
if there's a major internet virus or worm. 60% if... let's
just say there may be a margin of error.
Send your answers to: email@example.com