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How did the pollsters make it so wrong?

Comments and analysis below, but first, the poll script:

There you have it.

Happy to see that FONC got a strong percentage of approval, 21% to 3%, and that half the people think they’ve heard of us. Comparable to Sempervirens, which is a 100-year old conservation organization.

The 94% Total Support for national monuments shows that people overwhelmingly approve of protecting land by designating it a national monument, which means that there is a strong bias to support Cotoni-Coast Dairies as a national monument. Of course, since the questioner (#2) named the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty as examples, two iconic American places, it’s interesting that only 94% support the idea of national monuments. And support for Cotoni-Coast Dairies was less than the 94% who generally support national monuments.

Saying that Cotoni-Coast Dairies’ former name was Santa Cruz Redwoods reintroduced the idea that monument status was primarily aimed at saving redwoods.

More importantly, (#3) only 10% of respondents said they had heard a “great deal” about it, and 29% had heard a “little.” So it’s clear that the questioners’ statements convinced a great number of the respondents to say they are in favor of the monument.

The description of what monument designation means is skewed by (#4) stating that it “would provide permanent federal protection”. Cotoni-Coast Dairies is already permanently protected, which the survey taker significantly fails to say. Further, they go on to say that monument status “would allow public use for hiking” etc. They fail to say that these public uses would be allowed regardless of whether Cotoni-Coast Dairies has monument status. It’s at that point that the respondents are asked if they support monument status, and there is where they get their 84%, but only 55% strongly support it.

That question is followed up (#5) by trying to influence the respondents’ opinion even more by strongly implying (without actually telling them) that various individuals and groups support the creation of the national monument.

As if that weren’t enough to influence the respondents, the questioner then reads another statement (#6) in support of the monument designation, describing Cotoni-Coast Dairies as “breathtaking” and saying it will be “protected, appreciated and enjoyed for generations to come.” Although this is also true even if it doesn’t become a national monument, that isn’t mentioned. This reiteration causes 6% of the “somewhat support” to change their mind to “strongly support” group, and knocks the “Oppose” group down a point from 10% to 9%.

Finally, we get to hear the opposition statement (#7), written by the survey creators. It omits the principal argument opponents (largely the Friends of the North Coast and the Rural Bonny Doon Association) have made, that the huge jump in visitors (no number is mentioned, although estimates even by supporters are in the 150,000 and up range; the survey statement says only “the influx of tourism”) will have a big impact on the animals and plants (which have not been adequately studied) that reside on the property. Neither is the fact mentioned that Cotoni-Coast Dairies is already protected in perpetuity by deed restrictions and a California Coastal Development Permit from harmful activities and development. The terrible impact the increased visitation will have on Davenport (especially) and adjacent  small communities is also omitted. Nevertheless, that knocks down Total Support by 12% to 72%, which is the largest figure that anyone can honestly can claim resulted from this survey, not the 84% support given BEFORE any downside to monument status was mentioned.

Furthermore (#9) the survey authors claim the survey is representative of the Santa Cruz County population, but the respondents were 72% white while the US Census reports the white population as 59%, and only 13% of the respondents are Latino compared to 33% of the county population. Did they skew the respondents on the assumption that Latinos would be less likely to know or care about monument status? And only 10% of the respondents were from Watsonville, which has about 20% of the county population.

Conclusion: rather than being a scientific, unbiased survey, this is a classic example of trying to achieve a specific result by choosing a segment of the population that might be more receptive to your message, presenting them with a subset of the facts to persuade them to give the answers you want, and then spinning the result even further to give the impression that there is overwhelming support for your position.

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