Polls pretend they're raw data, unbiased and factual. And the story on the Fox News website takes the claims of their latest survey, of 900 people by telephone, at face value. It proclaims that 61 per cent of Americans think Arizona was "right to take action" on illegal immigration. It may provide caveats, but that's the takeaway.
Polls, of course, consist of a company (in this case Opinion Dynamics) calling people and asking them questions. And the questions in the raw data of this one appear leading. This is the enquiry that got them the 61 per cent figure:
"Waiting any longer for the Federal government to act," and "securing the border" seem like phrases biased towards getting a certain perspective. They make assumptions, and probably cause many people they're asking to make certain assumptions too. And the question itself is strangely convoluted. Why phrase it as a battle between Arizona and the Federal government? Opponents of the law readily admit that the government was not doing enough. It's the terrible measure itself they object to, not Arizona's right to take action.
Tellingly, when Opinion Dynamics asked the straight question, they got a very different answer — one that does not appear in the headline on the web story.
But even that, straight, question did not stand alone and cannot claim to be unbiased. Here are some of the others leading up to it. They seem, to us, like scaremongering. Imagine the difference in the mindset of the interviewee if they'd asked the big Arizona questions after 'Illegal immigrants often pay taxes in America — do you feel that their contributions are undervalued?' or "America has a great tradition of immigration. Should it be continued?'.
In this case they may as well have added 'Are you concerned that illegal immigrants will steal your children?' or 'Illegal immigrants often cook and eat puppies. How do you feel about that?' Fox News surveys — fair and balanced.