push polls

Researchers use citizen poll rather than science to justify climate policy

Researchers from the University of Arizona and Stanford University used a contractor to conduct a survey, by telephone, of 803 Arizona residents about their views on global warming. They then conflated this very small sample into representing the views of all Arizonans.

The second paragraph of the study press release says:

“The survey also found that more than 70 percent of Arizonans support government action to reduce global warming, and a majority of state residents believe people are at least partly to blame for the planet’s warmer temperatures.” Or was it 70 percent of 803 Arizonans?

Farther down in the press release is this gem of a sentence: “Most Arizona residents believe action by the state to reduce global warming will help the state economy or have no effect, and 23 percent believe it will hurt it.” This is followed by “An overwhelming majority of Arizonans favor the federal government giving companies tax breaks to produce more electricity from renewable sources such as water, wind and solar power.” Since when is 70 percent of 803 an “overwhelming majority of Arizonans?” Do you see where this poll is going?

The poll appears to be designed to suck you in:

“Q12. What is your personal opinion? Do you think that the world’s temperature probably has been going up slowly over the past 100 years, or do you think this probably has not been happening?”

My answer: During the last 160 years the planet has been generally warming up from the “Little Ice Age” due to natural cycles. The effects of carbon dioxide emissions are so tiny that they are lost in the “noise” of natural cycles. And now we are experiencing an 18-year- and counting “pause” in rising temperatures while carbon dioxide emissions continue and the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide recently reached 400 ppm (0,04%) which was treated by the mainstream media as a omen of doom.

Then we have Q15 which assumes government can stop global warming:

“Q15. If nothing is done to reduce global warming in the future, how serious of a problem do you think it will be for the United States – very serious, somewhat serious, not so serious, or not serious at all?” This is followed by several similar questions and questions about what kind of actions government should take. These are all very leading questions rather than objective questions.

If you read the whole survey, you might come to the opinion that this is a “push poll,” i.e., a seemingly unbiased survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular policy that intends to disseminate misleading information. For instance Question 33 reads: “As you may have heard, greenhouse gases are thought to cause global warming. In your opinion do you think the government should or should not limit the amount of greenhouse gasses that U.S. businesses put out?” The first part of that question assumes facts not in evidence.

Professors at the University of Arizona Institute for the Environment have long advocated for curbing carbon dioxide emissions and more government control. The Arizona Daily Star story about the survey quotes Dr. Jonathan Overpeck (co-director of the Institute of the Environment and a co-author of the survey) as follows: “It blows me away that roughly 75 percent of Arizonans think the U.S. government should do something about it and the Arizona government should do something about it. I’m just happy to see that Arizonans get it…I hope our politicians will start to get more in line with their constituents on this issue.”

This poll of opinion and perception tends to support that position. Apparently those professors could not find any unequivocal physical evidence to support their position, so they used uniformed opinion instead. The press release says that “Results of independent survey will be used to tailor UA research and outreach to the concerns and needs of the state’s residents.” Does that mean that the UofA Institute for the Environment will pander to perceived public opinion and political advocacy rather than do real science?

Several years ago at a public meeting, I asked Overpeck to cite some physical evidence that our carbon dioxide emissions were the major or even significant cause of recent global warming. He was unable to do so.

See the UofA press release here.

See a summary of findings here.

Read the “Arizona Difference” report questions (68 pages) here. (Does not have all the questions)

Read still another version of the questions and results (45 pages) here.

P.S. Statistician William Briggs comments on the study: http://wmbriggs.com/post/16009/

Some excerpts:

Guy named Jonathan Overpeck who makes a living ensuring people are nervous about global warming conducted a survey of Arizona residents and discovered three-fourths of them are nervous about global warming. Job well done?

One Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at Overpeck’s institute, thought it important to say, “This survey shows the majority of Arizonans seem to be concerned about climate change, which is pretty much in line with the majority of U.S. residents.”

We can guess Garfin would have been saddened had his fellow residents believed less strongly (in falsities) than the rest of the country. Does it then follow that in a democracy it is important that consensus is reached, even when the consensus is wrong, even whoppingly wrong?

The answer, I think, is yes. This is proved in the words of fellow survey author professor Jon Krosnick: “The University of Arizona has done a great service by using the science of survey research to give state residents an opportunity to express their beliefs about what has been happening to the Earth and what they want government to do and not do on this issue”.

What a strange thing to say! Were Arizona residents really burning with desire to tell academics their (false) beliefs about global warming, a stress only relieved by Krosnick’s call? If that’s true, there are still some 6.7 million unsurveyed people suffering. Krosnick ought to get them on the phone as soon as possible and put them out of their misery.


I do not like robo-calls from political campaigns or any other telemarketers. I know that a call is much less expensive than campaign literature, but a call is an intrusion. And I tend to vote against intruders. And, I’m wise to the trick of push polls. A push poll is where, under the guise of opinion polling, disinformation about a candidate or issue is planted in the minds of those being ‘surveyed’. Push-polls are designed to shape, rather than measure, public opinion.

As for other telemarketers, I have a policy of not doing business with any company that makes cold calls to me. And I always report them to the FTC. (You can file a complaint with the FTC here: http://tinyurl.com/oj25jb )

So politicians, do not call. Send your campaign literature if you must; it makes good compost.