LSAT Logic: Interpreting Survey Data | Polls

LSAT Blog LSAT Logic Interpreting Survey Data Polls
LSAT Blog reader Rachel wrote the following LSAT-style analysis of survey data on abortion and gay marriage. Please feel free to discuss her analysis, and the surveys themselves, in the comments.

If you'd like to write a post for LSAT Blog with your own analysis of any real-world situation, please email me. I'd love to feature you!


In a recent Washington Post article, Jennifer Rubin makes the argument that Americans are complex-minded and able to think outside of usual party lines.

Rubin uses evidence from two separate polls, a Gallup poll which indicates that there are fewer people that are pro-choice than there were a year ago, and an ABC News-Post poll which indicates that more people think gay marriage should be legal than ever have before.

She concludes from this that there must be a sizable portion of people who are both in support of gay marriage and against abortion. But how could that be, Rubin asks rhetorically. One of these positions is liberal and one is conservative! Rubin concludes that Americans must not be as simple as they seem.

Is Rubin right about this? Do these two polls, when taken together, necessarily indicate that there are a significant number of people who really believe in gay rights, but are against abortion? The answer, as you have probably guessed, is no. Although that could very well be the case (as anything really could be the case), these polls do not directly indicate this.

Here are two other things they could indicate:

1) Polling is inaccurate.

These two polls were done by two completely different organizations. Each polling organization uses a different method when picking population samples to use. Perhaps the Gallup poll accidentally had a sample that was more conservative than the general population. Perhaps the ABC News-Post poll had a sample that was more liberal than the general population.

2) More people are unsure about their position on abortion than their position on gay rights.

Rubin mentions the percentage of people that are for the legalization of gay marriage, and the percentage of people that are against it. But she mentions the percentage of people who are pro-choice without mentioning any statistic about those who are pro-life. In the poll about gay marriage, 8% of the sampled population gives no answer of whether gay marriage should be legalized or not. They simply do not express an opinion.

Shouldn’t it be assumed that a similar percentage of people would have no opinion about abortion According to the exact percentages Rubin gives, at least 12% of people are for gay marriage but not pro-choice. Rubin apparently draws the conclusion that this 12% are explicitly pro life and in support of gay marriage. But this is most definitely not the case. Probably most of that 12% is in support of gay marriage and merely undecided on the issue of abortion.
And so, it is clear, that just because two separate polls show one liberal view point on the rise, and the other on a downward slope, it does not mean that Americans are adopting more complex view points that mix together traditionally liberal thought with traditionally conservative thought. It could mean this, but if could also mean that polling is inaccurate and that people these days are just more confused than they used to be.

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