A new poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is asking residents in key the Senatorial swing-states of Arkansas, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Louisiana about their feelings on “carbon pollution.”
Well, the results are in and what did we learn? No one knows what “carbon pollution” is because it was never defined in the survey.
All survey responses are heavily dependent on the language used in the questions. Biased language in the questions will result in biased (but politically expedient) answers. The general public can’t be expected to give an informed answer to the question when they aren’t sure what the question is asking. One of the questions on the NRDC survey reads:
Currently, there are no limits on how much carbon pollution power plants can emit. The EPA is planning to propose standards limiting carbon pollution released by power plants into the air. Do you favor or oppose these standards?
It’s actually amazing that only 51 percent of the respondents said they favored regulating “carbon pollution” from power plants — because quite frankly, the intentionally misleading language makes it sound scary. Any time the word “pollution” is thrown around people will be for regulating it, even if they aren’t sure what they are regulating.
But, there is an important follow-up question to ask, are the survey takers worried that carbon dioxide is polluting the atmosphere, or are they worried that the carbon leaving power plants is itself polluted? Like the age old question “How many licks to the center of a Tootsie-Pop?” the world may never know.
Pollsters use misleading questions to manipulate survey takers and get the answers they want, but these surveys do very little to give insight into how the public actually feels, let alone thinks. Manipulative surveys become even worse when coupled with a U.S. population notorious for being easily duped when it comes to scientific issues.
Remember last April Fool’s Day when those zany morning DJ’s Val St. John and Scott Fish were nearly charged with felonies after telling their listeners that dihydrogen monoxide (also known as water) was coming out of their faucets? Their April Fool’s joke resulted in what USA Today called a “small scale panic,” and the DJ’s were admonished by the Florida Department of Health, all because people didn’t know the scientific name for water.
Penn and Teller performed a similar feat when they convinced hundreds of self-proclaimed environmentalists to sign petitions encouraging that “something be done” about that very same dihydrogen monoxide that has “corrosive properties” when it comes in contact with metal. With the right spin, even water can sound life-threatening.
That’s the problem with using scary, misleading, and meaningless buzzwords. Couple an organization with financial and political incentives to mislead and misrepresent the issues with the general public’s general lack of knowledge about science and you clearly have the perfect recipe for an NRSC fundraising letter and scary campaign commercials — but not an accurate survey of people’s opinions on “carbon pollution.”
Whatever that is.