Thursday, September 02, 2004

Two scary articles

One via BoingBoing, and one via my SO, both scary, but for different reasons.

The first is Mark Forscher's account of being arrested during the Critical Mass bike ride that coincided with the RNC in New York. Here's two choice snippets:
"Suddenly rows of cops in full riot gear rushed us. I turned to ride away but a cop yanked me off my bike and I stopped moving. I was handcuffed with plastic handcuffs (that are a lot tighter than I would have thought) as police threw my bike to the ground and stepped on it. I repeatedly asked if I was being arrested and what the charge was. The police refused to answer me or even make eye contact."

"Although I was one of the first to arrive at the Chelsea piers facility I was one of the last of over 250+ people arrested to leave. I stayed for about 16 hours in the 2nd set of pens without any idea of what the police were doing. Because of the inadequate space I only got about one hour of sleep. In that time period I was also only fed a sample size box of cereal, a small carton of milk and a powerbar"

The second article, The Unpolitical Animal, is from the New Yorker and discusses studies of voter behavior.
"About forty-two per cent of voters, according to Converse’s interpretation of surveys of the 1956 electorate, vote on the basis not of ideology but of perceived self-interest. The rest form political preferences either from their sense of whether times are good or bad (about twenty-five per cent) or from factors that have no discernible “issue content” whatever. Converse put twenty-two per cent of the electorate in this last category. In other words, about twice as many people have no political views as have a coherent political belief system."

"When pollsters ask people for their opinion about an issue, people generally feel obliged to have one. Their answer is duly recorded, and it becomes a datum in a report on “public opinion.” But, after analyzing the results of surveys conducted over time, in which people tended to give different and randomly inconsistent answers to the same questions, Converse concluded that “very substantial portions of the public” hold opinions that are essentially meaningless—off-the-top-of-the-head responses to questions they have never thought about, derived from no underlying set of principles."

"Rephrasing poll questions reveals that many people don’t understand the issues that they have just offered an opinion on. According to polls conducted in 1987 and 1989, for example, between twenty and twenty-five per cent of the public thinks that too little is being spent on welfare, and between sixty-three and sixty-five per cent feels that too little is being spent on assistance to the poor."

"When people are asked whether they favor Bush’s policy of repealing the estate tax, two-thirds say yes—even though the estate tax affects only the wealthiest one or two per cent of the population. ... What is most remarkable about this opinion is that it is unconstrained by other beliefs. Repeal is supported by sixty-six per cent of people who believe that the income gap between the richest and the poorest Americans has increased in recent decades, and that this is a bad thing. And it’s supported by sixty-eight per cent of people who say that the rich pay too little in taxes."
The article delves into the implications of these observations, and is quite enlightening, if rather frightening to this person who likes to believe that he (and most other people) thinks seriously about issues. I do like that the article uses data to make points and test ideas, rather than relying solely on supposition.

No comments: