A recent episode reinforces my distrust of self-styled “family” and “Christian” political groups:
The American Family Association set up a “poll” last month on their web site titled “America’s Poll on Homosexual Marriage.” The “poll” asked people whether they approved or disapproved of gay marriage. The AFA promised that “Results of this poll will be presented to Congress” — presumably as some kind of reflection of nationwide attitudes. (Of course, any attempt to suggest that the results of a self-selected “poll” were representative of the population would have been statistically unsupportable. While a properly conducted, random poll of sufficient size can be a valid statistical representation of the opinions of the population, a self-selected poll cannot).
The AFA eventually decided not to present the results to Congress, after gay marriage supporters learned of it and began voting in large numbers. The reason given for the change was that the “poll” now “represent[ed] something other than what we wanted it to.” (See the discussion at Volokh.com). However, if the “poll” had come back as strongly opposing gay marriage, we can assume it would have been presented to Congress as originally planned. What does this say about the AFA? One reporter suggests that “No such poll can be said to represent an accurate picture of popular opinion. But, clearly, the AFA had hoped Congress would take the numbers it planned to produce as exactly that kind of evidence.”
We can’t know for sure that the AFA would have used the “poll” as legitimate evidence of nationwide attitudes (can we?), but that conclusion seems quite reasonable, especially when we look at the title of the poll (“America’s Poll”) and the stated intent to present results to Congress. And, if this was the AFA’s intent (to present results as if they came from a legitimate poll), then the project is clear evidence of either incompetence or dishonesty. Either the AFA did not understand the first thing about polling, or they were planning on playing a rigged game — a clearly selection-biased “poll” — and then framing the results as having some kind of legitimacy.
I find it hard to believe that they just made a mistake (“We didn’t realize that’s not a statistically significant poll”). And so my assessment is that the AFA was planning to be dishonest, and the only reason they eventually chose not to was because they did not have the results they were after. That’s the typical dirty political fighting which we expect from many politcal groups. I know that many political groups play dirty (or even outright lie) all the time. But I find it disturbing that “Christian” groups would be so eager to discard honesty if it became a political liability.