GUEST COLUMN: Consider entire picture of survey results

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a campaign rally Aug. 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Fla.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a campaign rally Aug. 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Fla.

By Karen Piccirillo Cusato
For The Daily Gazette

Ann Landers (1918 – 2002) was a syndicated advice columnist whose daily column was published in over 1,200 newspapers in the United States and Canada.

One of her columns from 1976 turned into a survey on parenthood.

It seemed like a simple enough survey, and there were many responses, at least 10,000, so the results were believed to be accurate. This survey examined the issue of whether parents, if they had their lives to live over again, would have children. To her surprise, 70% of the respondents said “No.”

Can we assume this response is representative of all parents during that time period?

Of course not. The parents who responded to this survey were influenced by the wording of the question and had strong opinions on the subject.

In regards to the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake survey on future vaccine mandates, even if the majority of parents responding are opposed to future vaccine mandates, this does not mean that the majority of all parents in the district feel the same way.

The parents that responded were more than likely those that have a strong opinion on the subject.

Now, I, like James Shear, do not take a political position on the issue of imposing covid vaccine mandates for children in schools.

I currently have five children attending five different colleges and universities. Tuft’s University, where one of our sons attends school, has required that all students receive not only the updated (bivalent) COVID-19 booster, but also an annual influenza vaccine.

My other four childrens’ schools (Northeastern University, RIT, Siena College, Russell Sage College) have yet to impose the same mandate.

If their colleges were to send out a survey to parents regarding this topic, I may or may not respond.

Other busy parents who do not have a strong opinion on the topic will more than likely disregard the survey as well.

Response bias will adversely affect the accuracy of the results that are obtained.

I appreciate that school boards in their respective districts might want to survey parents and gather information regarding their opinions on important topics.

However, unless the surveys are designed well and the results interpreted correctly then the information obtained is meaningless.

I bring my copy of the The Daily Gazette to school every day and begin each statistics lesson with at least one article that pertains to our current topic.

Around election time each year I show them the article that was printed in The Daily Gazette on November 9, 2016.

The headline on the article by reporter Zachary Matson read: “Siena not far off in year of polling misses: Siena pollsters said they were proud of how their polls measured up against the actual results.”

“When a Siena College poll came out late last month and had Donald Trump as winning the key battleground state of Florida, it was a break with the trend,” the article stated.

“‘Our Florida poll was one of the few polls that had an advantage to Trump in the final days,’ said Don Levy, director of the Siena College poll. ‘When we were coming out with that we were seen as an outlier.’

“But it turns out the outliers that put states like Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania within reach for Donald Trump, now president-elect, weren’t just in the ballpark; they called the ballgame.

“Nationwide and state-by-state polls, polling averages, polling aggregations and models that project electoral outcomes based on polls all gave Hillary Clinton the nod as a heavy favorite to win the presidency. Some projections put the likelihood of a Clinton victory at a near certainty – 98 or 99 percent. …

“The polling environment has been made more difficult by the diffusion of ways to reach voters and the unwillingness of some to respond to surveys, but pollsters are looking for new ways to sample where the public stands, Levy said. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will always get it right.

“‘There are continuing attempts to explore multiple methods of measuring public opinion,’ Levy said. ‘It’s an exciting time to be a pollster, but we may see more errors.’”

Karen Piccirillo Cusato is a math teacher at Clayton A. Bouton High School in Voorheesville, where she teaches AP statistics, geometry and algebra.

Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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