Fox News recently released a poll suggesting voters believe “Republicans are more likely to ‘preserve democracy’ than Democrats,” drawing a quizzical reaction from those who view GOP leaders as posing a severe democratic threat.
Looking a level deeper, the claim is technically supported by the data, but one should understand it better before jumping to grand conclusions:
First, consider the question wording and the potential wording bias in the poll.
Voters were asked, “Which political party – the Democrats or the Republicans – do you think would do a better job on each of the following?”
Nearly all eleven issues tested were framed generically e.g. Crime (R + 13), Abortion (D + 8); however, when it comes to democracy, the issue was framed as the preservation of American democracy (R + 1). One could reasonably conclude that if the issue was “American democracy” alone or “democracy,” the results could look different, and the word “preservation” naturally tilted the result towards Republicans.
To the point, voters were also asked about Election Integrity and Voting Rights, and Democrats were viewed as likely to do a better job by +3 and +6 percentage points, respectively.
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Just as language wording impacts responses, so do differing interpretations of what words mean. Among democracy advocates, there’s a growing sense their work is challenged by the lack of a common vision–or even a common understanding–of the term “democracy.”
In a recent Citizen survey, registered voters were asked about their definition of democracy. The two most popular responses, “Rule of and by the People” and “Representative Government,” were selected nearly as often by Republicans and Democrats whereas the next most popular definitions were polarized; Republicans more frequently selected “Individual Liberty” and Democrats more frequently selected “Equality.”
Wording and definitions aside, the grand conclusion that Republicans are more likely to “preserve democracy” is flawed because the results are within the margin of error.
Taking into account the poll’s MOE of 3%, another run of this survey with a random sample would come out with the same values, plus or minus 3 points. As a result, you could feasibly see a 48% Democrat and 43% Republican outcome.
At most, based on this poll, one could accurately claim that Americans are evenly split when it comes to the party more likely to preserve democracy.
In examining polling and the way it’s presented, it is crucial to:
When you want to conduct accurate surveys (or, conversely conduct surveys for an advocacy purpose), getting the results you’re after requires careful expertise and consideration to the details of everything from sample to question wording and order.