Poll dancing: it’s clumsy

My faith in polls has never recovered from the Hillary-has-the-election-in-the-bag era, even though I tell myself that the Russians surely had plenty to do with that electoral debacle. But a Monmouth University poll described in a Washington Post article on April 13 has me even more skeptical about this sort of public-opinion tool.

Among other things, this poll finds that “50 percent of Americans said they were ‘very concerned’ about someone in their family becoming seriously ill.”

The poll also found that 6 in 10 Americans describe their financial situation as “stable” and “1 in 5 Americans said they have struggled to pay bills due to the coronavirus.”

I hope the first finding is inaccurate. If only half of us are “very concerned” about a family member becoming ill – then we are (deeply) asleep at the switch. Perhaps this has to do with the way in which the question was phrased or maybe people are just being unusually honest: I’m scared witless about myself and so I can’t find the bandwidth to worry about others.  Or maybe “very concerned” was the lowest-level of anxiety on the choice list.  Choosing between that and “out of my mind with panic” could, perhaps, result in the statistic of just 50 percent of us worrying that mom or hubby or kid could get the COVID-19 bug.

As for the financial questions – really? Sixty percent of us feel our finances are stable? And four out of five are happily paying bills without much angst. Huh. Who are these people?

Maybe the survey should have asked how much each household had in the way of weed/alcohol/fumes from glue used in craft projects in a desperate attempt to keep the kids from revolting. A thoroughly stoned person could be calm about money right now.

A couple of months ago a story came out that reported most Americans can’t scrape up $400 for an emergency.  That is a finding I do believe. (Although some have devoted considerable brainpower to refuting it.) And if it is accurate, does this latest poll simply prove that we’re all so used to financial instability and worry that none of this virus-related fear shows up as a strong, new emotion?

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

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