Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Value of ‘Values’ Polls

Poll: Most Americans No Longer Want Government Promoting 'Traditional Values'

The recent recession and a movement favoring less government may contribute to recent poll numbers.

Tobin Grant | posted 6/16/2011 09:52AM

A new CNN-Opinion Research poll finds that a majority of Americans think government should not promote "traditional values," the first time in the past two decades that support for promotion of traditional values has been below 50 percent. The June poll finds that more Americans now believe that the government should stay out of the values business.

Since 1993, Gallup, CNN, and USA Today have occasionally asked whether people think "the government should promote traditional values in our society" or "the government should not favor any particular set of values." Just three years ago, only four-in-ten polled said government should not support any one set of values. In this month's poll, 50 percent said this. For the first time, a minority (46 percent) wanted government to push traditional values.

Kent comments:

I find these kinds of polls amusing.  It’s as though pollsters make an effort to dream up truly idiotic things to ask people.

First of all, what exactly are “traditional values”?  If you ask people about something as vague as that, each one will answer based on how he defines the term in his mind.  So the hidden questions in such a question includes:  how do you define “traditional values”?

And since “traditional values” remains undefined by the pollsters, it is not, in fact a “particular set of values” even though it sounds like a particular set as the question is worded.  So in essence the question is:  should the government promote an undefined set of values, or should the government not favor any particular set of values.  Those two questions so similar that picking one over the other tells us almost nothing about what the respondent is thinking.

Another problem here is this:  the mere existence of a government necessarily involves favoring a set of values that includes the legitimacy of government.  This fact makes the question a bit of worded nonsense.  The government cannot both exist and “stay out of the values business.”

Perhaps, worst of all, the question assumes a kind of values relativism.  It seems to assume that sets of values are completely interchangeable and even discardable.  But the introduction of “should” into the question implies that, in theory at least, there are things governments should and should not do.  Such “shoulds” are part of a set of values.

The moral of the story is this:  when you ask idiotic questions, the answers are completely meaningless.

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