Pew Tracks Partisan Split Over ‘Openness to World’

A recent Pew Research survey shows a sharp partisan divide on whether we should welcome or resist an open world view.

A recent Pew Research survey shows a sharp partisan divide on whether we should welcome or resist an open world view.

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Americans overall embrace an openness to the people of the world, but the difference in viewpoints between Democrats and Republicans is staggering.

Pew Research found 68 percent of Americans view “openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation.” However, that masks that 84 percent of Democrats agree with that view as contrasted to only 47 percent of Republicans.

The finding provides context for the reaction – and non-reaction – to President Trump’s controversial comment last week about immigrants from “shithole countries.”

The Pew survey, conducted last summer among 2,505 US adults, showed general agreement among all age groups and levels of education to an openness to the people from around the world. The glaring difference was between Americans who identified as Democrats or Republicans.

On a separate question, 48 percent of Republicans said openness to people from around the world could “risk losing our identity as a nation.” Only 14 percent of Democrats share that concern.

Views are somewhat less divisive over the question of increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the United States. Seventy-six percent of Democrats agree diversity will make the United States a “better place to live,” compared to 51 percent of Republicans.

The data confirms what has been obvious since 1968 in American electoral history. Following passage in Congress with Democratic majorities of civil rights and voting rights legislation, voting patterns in the Deep South switched from Democratic to Republican. That may have been accompanied by a realignment of party affiliation. Regardless, there is a clear distinction on world view and immigration between parties.

The partisan split on world view is not mirrored to the same extent by race, age or education. Younger people are the most open in their world view and older people the least open, but in both cases their openness sharply exceeds that of people identifying as Republican or conservative.

A Pew Research survey earlier last year found 64 percent of Americans viewed increasing racial and ethnic diversity as a positive. The biggest difference in the survey was among Democrats (76 percent) and Republicans (51 percent).

It would be fair to speculate that Trump understands these numbers and calibrates his statements and tweets to appeal to his political base that questions openness to the world and fears the upshot of increasing diversity in America.

More curious is the blind spot in many Americans’ world view to the economic benefit to the United States of global trade and capital flows.

 

Using Research to Find Out What You Need to Know

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is exactly the moment when you need to stop and take stock. Hubris can turn on a dime into expensive mistakes.

Market research and timely public opinion polling is often dismissed on grounds that “we already know the answer to our questions.” That may be true, but it could be a disaster for a business plan, communications strategy or a school bond campaign if it isn’t true.

Frequently hubris is cloaked as a budgetary concern. “We can’t afford conducting any research right now.” Experience shows that many businesses, nonprofits and public agencies can’t afford not to conduct research.

Cockiness can be the cousin of recklessness. Most executives wouldn’t think of making a major decision without legal or financial counsel. So why would they risk the fate of a new product, the design of a website landing page or the effectiveness of an expensive ad buy based on a hunch or a gut feeling?

Research can be overlooked because of unfamiliarity with all its different forms. Many people think of research as only telephone polls or focus groups. Those are common types of research, but there are many other options that may fit better with a project and a budget.

One-on-one interviews is a cost-effective way to gather reliable information. These interviews won’t produce pie-chart results, but they will generate useful perspective and context. Say an executive is ready to launch a new initiative. One-on-one interviews can test whether his top lieutenants are on board or have lingering concerns. A nonprofit is considering a name change. One-on-one interviews can help ascertain how much brand equity resides in the current name and the aspirations for a new name.

For consumer-facing businesses, follow-up online surveys can gauge customer satisfaction and identify problems with products, personnel or shipping.

Roundtable discussions, whether in lunchrooms or at community centers, are an underutilized form of research. You might think of these as informal focus groups where you can collect information directly from participants and view group interaction. Both can provide insight, either by reaffirming what you thought, countering your assumptions or uncovering something you never thought of before.

An old-fashioned idea, which remains relevant, is to walk around and talk to people. Ask employees what they would improve. Ask customers whether you are meeting their expectations. Ask vendors how you could do business better and more profitably.

Research professionals are valuable resources who can give advice on the type of research that matches what you need and what you have to spend. They also can assist on what questions you ask and how they are framed to avoid biasing answers and skewing results.

One final thought. Third-party research, whether in the form of surveys or interviews, can yield more candid responses, especially if the topics explored relate to bosses and their plans.

The fundamental value proposition for quality research is what helps you find out what you need to know, not just what you want to hear.

 

Big Data, Critical Thinking and Lying

Big data is here to stay. Critical thinking never goes out of style. Lying is a fact of life. The key to effective decision-making is analyzing big data, applying critical thought and taking into account human facility.

Big data is here to stay. Critical thinking never goes out of style. Lying is a fact of life. The key to effective decision-making is analyzing big data, applying critical thought and taking into account human facility.

Growth of computing power enables mankind to analyze everything from the stars to our chromosomes, but big data can’t replace critical thinking or totally account for people who lie.

NPR’s TED Radio Hour has probed the big data revolution and how it may reshape our lives, literally. Calling big data the “steam engine of our time,” number-crunching optimists say big data can generate answers to big questions such as whether the universe is expanding, how to combat climate change and ways to predict and alter life itself. One big data enthusiast believes it isn’t out of the question to defeat death by chronicling the gazillions of molecules of a human being and reconstructing them when a life as we know it “ends.”

Big data serves more pedestrian purposes, too, such as identifying the latest fashion trends or the growth of the federal budget deficit.

But the question remains whether all that data always produces the best answers or the correct ones. In a totally rational world, people would save for their eventual retirement as soon as possible. In reality, many people don’t start thinking about retirement savings until they are on retirement’s doorstep. That has led to the burgeoning field of behavioral economics, which goes beyond the numbers to actual behavior.

Critical thinking in problem-solving can uncover solutions obscured or omitted from big data. An example from the TED Radio Show is a family with a physically challenged child who had under-developed spoken language skills resulting from hearing loss. While therapists, educators and the parents puzzled over how to teach the child, he was discovered one day Googling questions and absorbing the answers. He was in effect teaching himself, showing that human capacity and creativity are key problem-solving factors.

Ethics is just one of the nuances critical thinking can add to big data. Data may show we could use a series of subterranean nuclear explosions to create a new canal cost-effectively. However, the risks associated with such a plan may be judged too great to consider it. We may have the tools, thanks to big data, to tweak genes to resist congenital diseases. The same tools could be used to select gender and physical characteristics – and deselect other characteristics. Only humans can contemplate the implications of such choices.

Relying too much on what humans say can be a problem. There is too much proof that people fib. One study found that 1.6 million American men said they engaged in heterosexual sex using a condom, but only 1.1 million American women said they engaged in heterosexual sex using a condom. The US condom industry said it only sold 600 million condoms for the same year. The data doesn’t square. It is possible males are more likely to overstate their sexual activity and females may understate their sexual activity. It’s very unlikely the condom industry would understate their annual sales.

Big data is here to stay. Critical thinking never goes out of style. Lying is a fact of life. The trick is to blend all three to get the most accurate, useful picture possible on which to base serious decisions.

Some futurists envision humans and computers working cooperatively in a more organic form than turning on a laptop or robot. For most of us, we will have secondary access to big data, which will increase the need to apply critical thinking skills and good, old-fashioned common sense to determine what the data says and means.

Big data has opened up vistas for human knowledge and verification. But as big data has shown, one of the single biggest pieces of big data on earth are human beings. Each of us have complex systems, giving us the ability to think and to feel. Even when computers and robots achieve human-level complexity and intelligence, they still may not be able to outthink us.

 

A New Generation Hard-Wired to Technology

For youngsters born since 2010, social researcher Mark McCrindle says they are growing up surrounded by technology they will regard as part of the hard wiring of normal life. The rest of us will have to adjust. Illustration Credit: Michele Marconi

For youngsters born since 2010, social researcher Mark McCrindle says they are growing up surrounded by technology they will regard as part of the hard wiring of normal life. The rest of us will have to adjust.

Illustration Credit: Michele Marconi

A new generation is walking around and will likely confound parents, teachers and marketers as much or more than Millennials.

Generation Alpha, which consists of people born after 2010, will be more digitally savvy – and digitally enslaved. As social researcher Mark McCrindle discovered, technology will permeate every aspect of life for Generation Alpha members – from toys to consumer expectations.

Grandson Hudson deftly manipulates an iPad, almost as if it is an extension of hand.

Grandson Hudson deftly manipulates an iPad, almost as if it is an extension of hand.

I can attest. We just bought a birthday present for Hudson, our 6-year-old grandson, that will allow him to assemble a robot and code how it operates. In my day, I thought it was a big deal to have a puppet with strings that moved its lips and limbs.

McCrindle and his project partner Wired Consulting predict voice technology will become more dominant in the Generation Alpha era. No one will debate how much screen time is good or bad because almost everything will operate with a screen. There will be an internet of toys that responds to commands and demonstrates their own emotional intelligence.

Delayed gratification will be an extremely hard concept to sell this generation, which will be accustomed from an early age to instant feedback.

“Virtual Reality” may recede as a term, replaced by prevalent virtual experiences – from space exploration to house-hunting to dating (less risky and expensive).

Robots may go from scrappy metal competitors for good jobs to trusted companions offering uncomplicated relationships.

In short, Generation Alpha will be different than any generation before it, perhaps by a greater extent than any previous succeeding generation. That difference could further strain educational pedagogy, consumer marketing and parental patience. “We have been doing this for a long time” won’t be an effective message to this emerging cohort.

This new generation bursts on the scene before existing generations have answered all the questions digital technology has posed. Many of us aren’t sure we have thought of all the questions yet. For example, is Facebook as addictive as nicotine in cigarettes? Was the Facebook addiction accidental or intentional? Is there a market for Facebook farms where people can unplug for a week or more and learn how to talk someone in person?

Our grandson competes in chess tournaments and whips older kids. He may just be bright. He could assemble 100-piece puzzles when he was three. But when you watch him and his buddies deftly manipulate iPads, you realize these kids don’t separate the normal course of things from technology. Technology to him is the norm.

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Public Opinion Polls Stay Predictable in 2017 Election

Public opinion polling earned a black eye in the 2016 election cycle when most polls failed to predict a Donald Trump presidential victory. Few changes in polling techniques have been implemented in a handful of 2017 statewide elections and poll accuracy seems reconfirmed, at least for now. The X-factor of Trump wasn’t on the ballot.

Public opinion polling earned a black eye in the 2016 election cycle when most polls failed to predict a Donald Trump presidential victory. Few changes in polling techniques have been implemented in a handful of 2017 statewide elections and poll accuracy seems reconfirmed, at least for now. The X-factor of Trump wasn’t on the ballot.

Public opinion pollsters got a shiner in the 2016 election with off-base predictions about presidential and congressional elections. That may have signaled the need for major changes in technique, but that hasn’t happened, according to a story in The New York Times.

However, one unsuspecting change might right the ship. Pollsters are literally giving more weight in surveys to the level of education of respondents. Weighting respondents by education is far from easy. Candidates don’t perfectly align along educational attainment. In 2016, because of the profile of the presidential candidates, educational levels mattered. That may not be so in future elections.

For pollsters who think big methodological changes are unnecessary, Virginia may prove them right. Hillary Clinton polled five or six points ahead of Donald Trump in the 2016 election. She eventually carried Virginia by 5.3 percent. Polling in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election held on Tuesday showed Democrat Ralph Northam leading his GOP counterpart Ed Gillespie by as few as 3 percentage points.  With more than 80 percent of votes tallied, Northam posted nearly a 7 percent lead.

Political polling is not a perfected science. Conscientious pollsters continuously look for factors that can skew results, such as the sea-shift from landline phones to cell phones, and adjust to account for that shift. If you didn’t include cell phones in a sample, you would under-represent young voters and minorities and people who work more than one job.

Trump’s largely unexpected victory in 2016 confounded many pollsters and led to serious questioning of polling techniques. Did pollsters conduct late surveys to capture voters who decided at the last minute? How did pollsters compensate for respondents who intended to vote for Trump, but didn’t want to say so publicly? Did surveys fully take into account more remote areas, which went strongly in Trump’s direction? And how do you accurately predict turnout, not just overall, but by key constituencies that can determine whether one candidate wins or loses?

Challenges to getting accurate polling results may be intensifying as the electorate becomes more polarized, which is a hard factor to measure. While educational levels may be an obvious factor to include, figuring out how – and whether – it is a reliable indicator of voting behavior isn’t so obvious.

Politicians and news media put more stock in public opinion polling than voters. They are the ones that pay for it and, in varying degrees, expect polling results to reflect reality. Voters have no such expectations or fealty to polling results. If anything, polling results can incite small groups of voters to go to the polls or stay home, to vote one way or the other.

When all is said and done, polls don’t matter. Elections matter. Hillary Clinton led in the polls, but lost the election. Donald Trump sleeps in the White House. Clinton sleeps in hotels on her book tour explaining how she lost an election she thought she would win.

History may show 2016 is an aberration in polling perfection. Pre-election polls proved out in the gubernatorial elections today in New Jersey and Virginia. No curve balls, even though Gillespie in Virginia did his best to imitate the political bombast of Trump.

While the gubernatorial election outcome may give pause to Republicans standing for re-election in 2018, the predictability of public opinion polls in this cycle may reassure the buyers of political polling to keep investing.

Data on Gun-Related Injuries in America

America’s love-and-hate relationship with guns remains a major political debate, despite disturbing data about the significant impact of gun-related injuries on women, children and emergency rooms.

America’s love-and-hate relationship with guns remains a major political debate, despite disturbing data about the significant impact of gun-related injuries on women, children and emergency rooms.

The Las Vegas mass shooting has rekindled the US debate over gun restrictions. The shooting that left at least 59 dead and more than 500 injured also has surfaced data showing gun-related deaths and injuries and their clinical impact on the US health care system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in 2014 there were 33,594 gun-related injuries, 21,386 suicides and 11,008 homicides. Other data suggests half of American households own at least one gun and that most guns, including ones used in mass shootings, are purchased or obtained legally.

A study published in Health Affairs indicates gun-related injuries send thousands of people to US emergency rooms annually. Men make up the vast majority offer admissions, and young men ages 20-24 are the most likely males to wind up in an ER. More than 8 percent of ER patients with gunshot wounds end up dying there.

The mean per person cost of emergency department care was $5,254. For the almost 38 percent of patients who are given inpatient care, the average cost is $95,887.

The authors of the study say that gun-related injuries represent a significant clinical and financial burden that might be reduced by implementing universal background checks for people with a history of violence or previous convictions.

It is worth noting that nearly twice as many Americans die each year from drug and alcohol-related causes, which US policy leaders have called a national epidemic.

Other CDC data indicates:

  • 93 Americans – seven of whom are children and 50 are women – are killed on average every day with guns.
  • The US homicide rate is 25 times larger than the average of other developed nations.
  • Black men are 14 times more likely than their white counterparts to be shot or killed with guns.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of a woman being shot and killed by five times.