Good questions are hard to craft
Good questions don’t come easy. As a career educator, I have created training materials for the military (Navy and Air Force), state agencies, and major corporations. Posing good questions is one of the most challenging tasks instruction designers face. I’m sure all of you have missed a question or two in school tests because of a poorly crafted question, not because you didn’t know the material. Ask a poorly framed question and the results will include answers that neither elicit educational opportunities nor measure achievement. It’s an example of GIGO = Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Poor polling questions elicit poor results
My recent subscriber’s issue (Winter 2020) of yes! Magazine revealed an example of a poorly framed question and an ensuing false assumption. While the magazine is a favorite of mine because of its usual in-depth study of climate and culture and earth sciences, this issue committed an easy-to-make mistake.
In it’s The Page That Counts section, polling results were published:
Percentage of Americans who support replacing the Electoral College with a popular vote system: 53%
The piece then goes on to indicate that the National Popular Vote (NPV) would be the best way to realize this perceived preference. However, the polling failed to ask follow-on questions to gain a more granular and more educated result. Here are some questions that could have also been asked that would have improved the findings:
- Should the winner-takes-all approach be removed from presidential elections? (A positive response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Should state sovereignty be ignored in presidential elections? (A negative response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Should the Founding Fathers’ intent of election checks-and-balances be removed from presidential elections? (A negative response/preference disfavors NPV.)
Polling questions must consider reality
Few citizens truly understand how the Electoral College works or what purpose it serves. Certainly, the mechanism is used to select a president. That’s the simple task at hand; but, there are a few more considerations to keep in mind:
- The United States is a republic which includes 50 sovereign states and Washington, D.C. for presidential elections. Each governing jurisdiction is entitled to its separate voting voice.
- Electoral votes are proportioned on a state-by-state basis according to federal legislators, giving each state a separate voting voice.
- The winner-takes-all approach is NOT a part of the Electoral College and disenfranchises large voting blocs in every presidential election.
- NPV sidesteps the U.S. Constitution to avoid its remedy for an amendment. Though an amendment is difficult to achieve, an alternative that ignores the constitutional remedy should not be entertained.
Good questions give us accurate responses
Perhaps the polling cited by yes! Magazine could have asked other questions to better delve into the concern:
- Should every voter matter in presidential elections? (A positive response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Should every state be heard and matter in presidential elections? (A positive response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Does disenfranchising large voting blocs in presidential elections matter? (A positive response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Do checks and balances in our voting process, used to ensure a coalition of voting consensus is realized across the nation, matter? (A positive response/preference disfavors NPV.)
Assumptions ignore options
Framing clear questions can be a daunting task, especially for a large pool of poll takers. This is especially true if few questions are asked to identify a public’s sentiment. The magazine suggests there is but one solution to the polling results. Evidently, the polling did not provide any voting alternatives or indicate NPV was a preference so the poll takers could have a more transparent choice.
A popular voting system can also be realized by using Equal Voice Voting (EVV). In fairness, the editors of the magazine may not be aware of what EVV promises. Unlike most of yes! Magazine’s reporting, the recent magazine section reveals a lack of inquiry. I rush to add that it is not in keeping with the magazine’s usual positive and disciplined journalism.
EVV addresses all of the concerns posed above. If implemented, EVV would ensure that all votes matter. EVV would retain the voting sovereignty of every state. EVV would also retain the inherent checks and balances of the voting process as intended by our Founding Fathers. Further, EVV neither requires a U.S. Constitutional amendment nor does it demand an interstate compact of states. Voters do not become disenfranchised from the voting process; thereby they are encouraged to participate in every presidential election.
Succinctly, EVV can provide the popular vote system desired by 53% of Americans without radically defying the U.S. Constitution nor having your state join a compromising interstate compact!
Good questions point to responsibilities
Perhaps better questions could be asked that would help educate the poll takers. For example:
- Should your state legislators ignore the U.S. Constitution? (A negative response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Should your state legislators vote for a voting system (without notifying the public) that would risk disenfranchising a plurality of state voters and/or suppress minority voters? (A negative response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Should your state legislators rush to capture a preferred voting result without identifying the cause of the current system’s failure? (A negative response/preference disfavors NPV.)
- Should Electoral College voting results closely correlate with your state’s popular voting results? (A positive response/preference disfavors NPV.)
Posing the correct questions is a challenge. Interpreting polling results is another. As we head into 2020 and political polling continues as a big business discipline, let’s be cautious about the emerging results. Let’s employ sound critical thinking so we are all better informed, less radical in our responses, and employ the power of our voting wisely.
Please share this blog with others!
By Jerry Spriggs and the Equal Voice Voting Team