when the murmurings of a few are projected so that they seem to be the chorus of the majority. In this end-of-the-year reflection “study”, the writer goes on and on about American perceptions concerning various topics. The upshot being: Americans are not entirely pleased with 2013. Here are the results (if you didn’t click on the link):
- “Most Americans won’t remember 2013 fondly…”
- “Most Americans are happy to see 2013 go…”
- “More than two-thirds view the year as one that was bad for the world…”
- “More than four in ten say it was a bad year for their family…”
- “60% of Americans…”
- “77% of adults under 30…”
- “a third of senior citizens…”
- “The public sees the world…”
- “At the end of 2012, 69% said it had been a bad year…”
- “There are almost no issues where a majority of Americans have seen improvement…”
- “Only a quarter say healthcare coverage is better…”
- “more than half say it has gotten worse…”
- “When it comes to how 2013 impacted American families…”
- “A majority does admit that last year was a good one…”
- “although fewer than one in ten would say it was a very good year…”
- “how Americans rate their family’s financial situation…”
- “33% say they are worse off…”
- “16% say their family is better off…”
One might read this and think (so hopes the writer of the article) that the pulse of all American has been checked and this is conclusive evidence of where we’re at.
However, there is one big, fat, nasty, smelly problem: the figures/percentages given in the “study”-report only reflect the views of the 1000 people surveyed. Proof? Right here. And notice, if you did read the article, that information is nowhere disclosed in the main article, except for a tiny link at the end (i.e. you have to look for the link then go elsewhere to get the details), thus allowing the writer to present the findings in sweeping, categorical terms and therefore give the illusion of factual comprehensiveness or, heaven help us, “objectivity”.
I’m sorry, but a survey of 1000 Americans is nowhere close to serving as a accurate barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of all 317,328,103 Americans.* At best, a survey of 1000 people is an accurate (more or less) barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of 1000 people. To assume or to suggest otherwise is both speculation and imposition.
If you are a writer and use surveys to make various claims or observations, you owe it to your readers to be upfront and honest about the data. In other words, don’t claim to be speaking for the masses when in reality you’re only speaking for a comparatively small handful. I would recommend 1) making the data (i.e. the figures/number surveyed) initial and more obvious, and not relegate it to a tiny link at the bottom of the page, and 2) changing the wording so as to reflect the facts (i.e. “66% of those survey” or “66% of 1000 Americans”).
If you are a reader of such surveys and honestly believe that the findings are representative of the whole of American people: you’ve been duped. (Go here and here for why I both distrust and loathe surveys).
* According to the estimated figures found here.