by Howard Fienberg
USA Todays Snapshots feature demonstrates the advantages in graphical displays of data, but it is not always discriminating in its data sources. A case in point came May 7, headlined Boomers target foreign aid. Reporting on a Del-Webb survey, it said that baby boomers believe that aid to foreign countries should be eliminated to reduce taxes. It then showed the responses: Aid to foreign countries: 66%, Welfare: 14%, Military: 10% and Social Security: 3%.
Was the survey representative? It sampled 37 year-olds and 55 year-olds. Even Del-Webbs executive summary noted that it did not represent baby boomers as a whole, as the USA Today led its readers to believe.
Was the question well-conceived? It asked, To reduce taxes, if you had to eliminate one of the following, which would you choose? The four responses listed in USA Today were the only options available. Presenting a limited number of options, three of which most people would deem unthinkable, guarantees a majority against foreign aid.
Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, expressed further surprise at the poll. If there is a news story here, it is that an extraordinary 27 percent of respondents were so committed to foreign aid that they would prefer to eliminate the military, welfare or social security.
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