By Dave Andrusko
The inestimable Mark Twain once wrote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I wonder what he would have done with the chart that appeared in last Sunday’s Washington Post.
The chart accompanied a story headlined, “Pope Francis faces church divided over doctrine, global poll of Catholics finds” and based on a new poll commissioned by the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision.
NRLC is a non-denominational, non-sectarian organization which takes no position on most of the “social issues” Catholic respondents were asked about. We do have a position on abortion.
Stay with me on this, because the way the question was formulated and reported is staggeringly deceptive. It reads thusly:
“Do you think abortions should be allowed in all cases, allowed I some cases such as when the life of the mother is in danger, or should it not be allowed at all?
So seemingly we have the two polar opposites—allowed in all cases or not allowed at all. Only a miniscule percent of Catholics worldwide (9%) say abortion should be allowed in all cases. Exactly a third (33%) say abortion should not be allowed at all!
What about the “middle” ground? According to the poll, 57% say abortion should be allowed in some cases.
But what is the example of allowing abortion “in some cases”? When the life of the mother is in danger! That’s hardly an example of someone occupying the “mushy middle.” It is a hard-core pro-life position.
However the summary over the abortion question reads “65% of Catholics say abortion should be allowed in some or all cases.” If you hadn’t read the question, you’d think, wow! There really is a gap between Catholics in the pews and church doctrine on abortion (which, of course, is the whole point of the Post running the story in the first place).
Obviously a more honest, straightforward headline would read “90% of Catholics would not allow abortion at all [33%] or only in some cases [57%].” And, oh by the way, the example of “some cases” is when the mother’s life is in danger!
I know this shouldn’t bother me. Like you, I’ve been reading distorted poll data for decades.
But this example is so egregious and its motivations so obvious that it just about gags you.