CNN produces poll of Americans who exaggerate their political activism

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Feb 17, 2010 at 12:27


CNN polls tea-party activists:

Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative, according to a new national poll.

They should add "overwhelmingly tend to exaggerate their political involvement" to that list of adjectives.  This is because 11% of the country are not tea-party activists:

According to the survey, roughly 11 percent of all Americans say they have actively supported the Tea Party movement, either by donating money, attending a rally, or taking some other active step to support the movement.

The poll surveyed adults aged 18 years and over.  This group makes up 75.7% of the population, according to the Census Buereau. With a national population of 308,703,482, that would make about 26 million tea party activists.

For some perspective on why these numbers are simply wrong, consider than less than ten million  people donated to political campaigns in 2008, and that the largest gathering in the entire history of the United States was the three million people who turned out for the Boston Red Sox victory parade after they won the World Series in 2004.

So, even if tea party activists have magically equaled the record protest when no one noticed, and even if they have more donors than all political campaigns in 2008 combined, and even if none of the people who turned out at these mythical rallies were also political donors, even then they only have half as many activists as this CNN poll claims.

Part of this is a problem with the poll, which vaguely includes people who are "taking some other active step to support the movement," whatever that means.  However, the main problem comes from the tendency for Americans to grossly exaggerate their level of political activism.  Consider:

For example, the current population survey taken by the Census Bureau estimates that total turnout in 2006 was over 96,000,000, even though, as I already pointed out, it was a shade under 86,000,000.

Its not just exaggerations about turning out to events and voting, either.  In late October of 2008, 15% of likely voters had already claimed to have donated to a political campaign. With 132,588,514 voters in 2008, that would mean 20,000,000 donors in the 2008 election cycle, not even counting the wave of donations that usually flood in during the final week of the campaign.  Given that there were about 4,000,000 people donated to President Obama's campaign, the absurdity of the 20,000,000 figure becomes clear

About 5-10% of the American adult population claims to be political active, but actually are not.  Perhaps they feel guilty for not participating and politics, so they tell other people that they participate.  Perhaps they consume a lot of news, and consider that political activism in and of itself.  Perhaps they would like to be political activists, but simply haven't gotten around to it.  Whatever the case, between two and three times as many Americans claim to go to political rallies, donate to campaigns, and take other action (contacting elected officials or members of the media, wearing political paraphernalia, joining a political organization) than actually go to political rallies, donate to campaigns or take other action.

Believe me, I wish that about 20% of the country were political activists.  Not only would it make for a much better democracy in this country, but it would make political punditry and activism of the sort we do here on Open Left a huge, booming business. The truth is, however, that at most 10 million Americans, or about 4% of the adult population, are political activists.  This means that surveys of political activists, like the one conducted by CNN, pretty much just survey the much larger group of faux-activists.  So, I guess we at least get to know what all the posers are like.

Chris Bowers :: CNN produces poll of Americans who exaggerate their political activism

Tags: , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

Really? (0.00 / 0)
In late October of 2008, 15% of likely voters had already claimed to have donated to a political campaign. With 132,588,514 voters in 2008, that would mean 20,000,000 donors in the 2008 election cycle, not even counting the wave of donations that usually flood in during the final week of the campaign.  Given that there were about 4,000,000 people donated to President Obama's campaign, the absurdity of the 20,000,000 figure becomes clear.

There were thousands of political campaigns in the Fall of 2008, from the perhaps apocryphal races for dogcatcher all the way up to President.  That only 4,000,000 people donated to Obama (and, let's say, 2,000,0000 to McCain), does not necessarily preclude 14,000,000 others donating to some other race.  It doesn't mean they did, but there is no evidence whatsoever presented that the 20,000,000 figure is incorrect.


There is plently of evidence (0.00 / 0)
All Senate and House campaigns combined in 2008 raised less than Obama, McCain and Clinton and combined.

Further, congressional campaigns did this with far, far fewer donors, as small donors give far more to Presidential campaigns than to congressional campaigns.

Still further, there was a lot of cross-over between people who donated to Presidential campaigns than to people who donated to congressional campaigns (or state and local campaigns, for that matter).  I don't know how much cross-over, but certainly there was a lot.

What there is no evidence to support is that there were 16,000,000 people who donated to political campaigns in 2008, but didn't donate to President Obama's campaign.  That idea is perposterous.


[ Parent ]
There may be evidence (0.00 / 0)
And you provided some.  

But my point was that the claim being made was not supported by any evidence; it was simply an assertion: because only 4,000,000 people donated to Obama, 20,000,000 people could not have made political donations in 2008.  But to get from that A to that B, you have to understand a lot about Senate and House campaigns, about characteristics of those who donate to local campaigns, etc.  How would I possibly know that millions of people don't give a few bucks to there local Alderman and not give money otherwise?

Assuming these ancillary claims are true, then yes, it does seem the number is hyperbolic.

But how hyperbolic is it?  The 2006 estimate provided as an example in the quote only suggests a 12% exaggeration.

Did more than half of the people surveyed really lie about a donation to a political campaign?  That seems equally absurd.  Or are we talking about perhaps 25% or even 12%,
so that 15 or 17 million people really did donate?


[ Parent ]
Or maybe they call themselves activists (0.00 / 0)
because they read/comment political blogs. Or sometimes click a box to add their name to a petition.

Any data on how many people "sign" online petitions or respond to online polls?


text (0.00 / 0)
"This is because 11% of the country are not tea-party activists"

should that be?

"This is because 11% of the country are tea-party activists"


Define "Politically Active" (0.00 / 0)
Pretty nebulous term. If one makes an effort to learn all they can about issues and the positions of the candidates for various offices, and then votes according to their own interpretation of the information - is that politically active? How about writing checks, or clicking "donate here" boxes? Putting bumper-stickers on the car? Lawn signs? Attending public rallies? Listening to Rush or Beck on a routine basis and talking about it with friends? Possessing unlicensed fire-arms?

I do not find it at all surprising that many people answer "yes" to such a poorly defined, yet vaguely positive, query.


"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


USER MENU

Open Left Campaigns

SEARCH

   

Advanced Search

QUICK HITS
STATE BLOGS
Powered by: SoapBlox