I recently had to exhibit extreme vigilance in the name of data when I found myself in the most horrific and loathsome of places known to man: an internet comments section. The article itself was a political one, listing the acheivements of Obama during his presidency. At the time, the first comment was by someone named Prospector, who may or may not be the villian of the same name from Toy Story 2.
In his comment, Prospector cited a gallup poll on the public’s perception of the Affordable Care Act. Immediately, though, I felt like his claim was incorrect, and after looking at the gallup poll myself, I realized that he was being very misleading with how he was relaying the data. Here’s the comment thread:
Prospector: Recent polling does not provide a ringing endorsement for Obama’s health policies:
81% say that the ACA has hurt them or has had no effect
16% say that the ACA has helped them.
Me: You lumped together “hurt” and “had no effect” which inflates that percentage a lot and is misleading. Of course the majority say it had no effect because a majority of Americans still have the same coverage through their employer. To illustrate my point, it’s a very different story to say
27% say that the ACA has hurt them
70% say that the ACA has helped them or has had no effect
but the data is exactly the same.
Prospector: Okay, then 27% say the ACA has hurt them and 16% say the ACA has helped them.
IOW, about 63% of those who say that the ACA has an effect on them, say that it has a negative effect on them. Only 37% of those affected by the ACA say that this is a positive effect.
Me: Your IOW is another misrepresentation. Say that 99% said the ACA had no effect and 0.63% said it had a negative effect and 0.37% said positive. That’s the same percentages, but you’re throwing out the majority of the data. You seem very good at misrepresentation, by the way.
Also, it’s interesting how much the poll follows party lines with respect to positive/negative reports. It makes me wonder how valid the numbers are. Maybe the numbers just show that republicans hate Obama and everything he has accomplished more than democrats appreciate his accomplishments. That, after all, is the point of this article anyway.
While my political leanings may have shone through a little, I was trying to stay as objective as possible. Regardless, Prospector was definitely bending the data to suit his point of view, and I felt compelled to call him out on that.