Methodology in Star poll stinks

Dateline: Mon 14 Aug 2006

Two readers of this blog have contacted me about the Star's A-1 Sunday special report and poll, "NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Why blacks like it here less than whites."

The problem with the story, notes Pete Miesel, is the questionable data from a random phone sampling by a pollster.

Pete's objections are solid and revealing. First, he points out, the poll lacks any breakdown in income, family status and educational levels. That's pertinent information, he argues, correctly.

Most damning are the numbers, the lifeblood of any poll.

In this one, 724 people, blacks and whites, were polled.

Of those, 39 percent of white responders and 42 percent of black responders reported that they were "fully unemployed."

That means, says numbers guy Miesel, that 292 out of the 724 were without jobs. That figure happens to be 700 percent more (!!!!) than the national average of unemployed, which is 5.7 percent.

Miesel's logical conclusion is that this is an obviously dissatisfied population being tapped for Page 1 Sunday -- sure, they're not going to be crazy about Indy when they are jobless. And how representative are they of the population at whole under those conditions?

Miesel also objects to leading questions, like the most obvious one --- Is Indianapolis cool or hip? That just smacks of "Do you like me? Please say you like me." As Miesel notes, and he is more polite than I am, it seems designed to result in negative answers.

His conclusion? The fine people on the editorial staff already had their minds made up. Their foregone conclusion? Two legs bad, four legs good. Indy baaaad for blacks, good for whites.

"Nobody likes being manipulated," Miesel says. Incidentally, he put all this in writing in an email to Ryerson as well as to me.

Also on the soapbox is Bob Palma, who calls the report "asinine, irresponsible, slanted." Palma says the inherent message is to lay on white liberal guilt while at the same time treating blacks as second-class citizens lacking in inner discipline and the commitment to make changes in their city.

Palma points out that the Star buried the good news. At the bottom of page 14, he says, the newspaper compares the current poll with one taken in 1993. Those results show improvements.

No surprise, but I totally agree with Miesel and Palma and thank them for doing their homework.

The days when newspapers can simply twist statistics and not be challenged are done. Miesel's math proves that the poll is deeply flawed, his words.

So why was any of it news? Oh, yes, blacks are killing blacks. The Star has compounded that tragedy with a poorly executed poll and a blathering headline and story that serves nobody well and is most importantly, not true, not fair and not accurate -- in the sense that it is plainly not representative of this city's very diverse and in many instances very successful vibrant Indy-lovin' black community.

Knowing how the Star works under Gannett, I am confident this piece was driven by the front office in an effort to sell papers and salve guilt. But whatever it is, this it is not: journalism.

Contact me at ruth@ruthholladay.com

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