A Margin Of Error

U.S. Missionary Robert Park sits in a car with his mother and father following his return to the U.S. at the to the Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday, Feb. 06, 2010. Park was detained in North Korea after crossing the border from China on Christmas Day. (AP Photo/David Zentz)
AP Photo/David Zentz
I don't trust polls and surveys. If I hear on the news that 93 percent of Americans would choose to spend the evening with their families, how do I know what the question was? Maybe they asked, "Which would you rather do: spend an evening with your family or spend it on your roof during a tornado?"

Of course, the best surveys tell us the exact questions that were asked and the methods used to reach the conclusions. But often, we are just told the statistics and expected to believe them.

Last week, I heard that 82 percent of Iraqis oppose the United States occupation. Previously, I learned that Americans have more sex than Canadians, and less sex than the French. Forty-four percent of Indy League racing fans own an electric cordless drill. I read the other day that 17 percent of Americans believe the end of the world will occur in their lifetimes. (There was no data about how many of these people own cordless drills). We get statistics like these thrown at us every day.

A few years ago, we were told that a woman over 30 is more likely to get struck by lightning than find a husband. Then we were told that it really wasn't true. Of course, nobody showed us proof for either of those announcements, so I don't know which of them is true. I've often heard that more people watch television in one night than have seen live performances of Shakespeare over the past 400 years. Who did the research on that one?

This brings me back to the "82 percent of Iraqis oppose our being there" statistic. I don't doubt that most of them aren't thrilled that we are there. Who would want to have a bunch of foreigners with guns roaming around their country? But how did they get this exact figure? Did they go door to door and say, "Listen, before we start shooting at each other, could you please tell me if you like our being here or not?"

Another annoyance is right when you think you're learning an actual fact, you read the fine print and see there is a "margin of error." I'll bet there is. And some surveys are about meaningless hypotheticals like, "If the election were held today..." And I could live a full life without reading statistics like "Golf is the favorite sport of 14 percent of people who live in Montana."

Many people have their doubts about surveys, because they're never asked to participate in them. You'll often hear, "They didn't ask me before they canceled that show" or "Nobody asked me if I'm mad at the French." Others complain that the only time they are asked to participate is when a researcher calls them during dinnertime.

Well, I'm asking you now. I'm asking you to participate in the first Garver Poll. You'll see exactly how the questions are worded, they will be about the really important questions of our day, and you won't have to answer them while your dinner is getting cold.

1. If the Presidential election were held today, would you be more likely to:

    a. Vote for one of the major party candidates?


    b. Ask, "Why am I voting today instead of in November?"

2. Which do you think might actually be connected to something:
    a. That button you push to supposedly make the red light change to green faster?


    b. The voting machine where you cast your ballot?

3. What do you think is the bigger "whopper?"
    a. Barry Bonds has never knowingly taken steroids?"


    b. President Bush saying, "Donald Rumsfeld has been a superb Secretary of Defense?"

4.Which would put you to sleep faster:
    a. An explanation of the new tax forms?


    b. Listening to a John Kerry speech?

5. This summer, which are you more likely to spend $25 on?
    a. Bill Clinton's new autobiography?


    b. A gallon of gas?

6. When you are a guest at someone's house for the first time, are you more likely to:
    a. Try to figure out how they could possibly afford the place?


    b. Go through their medicine cabinet?

7. Right after a job promotion, would you rather run into:
    a. That ex-lover who said you'd never succeed?


    b. That old teacher who said you'd never succeed?

8. Now that "Friends" is over, do you care...
    a. More than words could describe?


    b. Slightly less than when I learned that ZIP codes were going to add four more digits?

Thanks for helping us all get a better picture of how Americans think. As soon as all the data is in, I will report back to you with 100 percent accuracy. Well, maybe 99 percent, because I could accidentally count the same answer twice. Better make that closer to 80 percent if there's a major Internet virus or worm. Sixty percent if ... let's just say there may be a margin of error.

Send your answers to: lloydgarver@yahoo.com

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver