Poll on MMA in New York State
A poll is being used to make the argument that New York voters overwhelmingly oppose the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts in New York State.
According to Marist, seven out of ten registerd New York State fighters disagree that Ultimate Fighting should be legalized. As an MMA fan, it seems like an absurd number. Curiously absurd, in fact, since it’s hardly a hot button issue for people other than a handful of State Legislators.
“Ultimate fighting, which is legal in many states, takes place in steel cages and allows punching, kicking, and choke holds. Matches end with knockouts, submission by a fighter, or a referee or doctor’s orders. Supporters say legalizing it in New York would result in millions of dollars for the state. Do you agree or disagree with legalizing ultimate fighting in New York State?”
Well, there you go. It should have asked:
“Do you agree or disagree with legalizing ultimate fighting in New York State?”
You may be wondering what the difference is.
When I went to Siena, I interned at the Siena Research Institute and worked under a great, intelligent, and wonderful man by the name of Joe Caruso. Joe had also worked on Hillary Clinton’s US Senate campaign, and had taught me a lot about being a professional (giving me advice I unfortunately didn’t take to heart for many more years) and polling.
Part of my task was to assist in the dissemination of information and also the wording of the polls. I clearly remember a conversation in which we were trying to write an intro for one of the questions, and he put emphasis on the precarious nature of wording.
What Marist did with this poll is exactly the sort of thing Joe would say not to do. Marist got very wordy with its question, and in the opening salvo used the phrase “allows punching, kicking, and choking.” That right there automatically indicates a slant. You see, although the phrase “choke out” is used to describe what happens when a head submission is locked in, that’s not what actually happens. Chokes are illegal. However, to the average New Yorker who most likely doesn’t know better, you’d think it allows actual choking, i.e. throttling of the throat or wrapping one’s fingers violently around the neck. It’s an unsettling image; one that many victims of violent crimes are familiar with.
So they’ve already framed the question with what is, at best, a wildly misleading choice of words. At worst, it’s downright incorrect.
It’s also far too wordy. By the time you get to the question itself, the individual being polled has lost the context.
Another thing Joe taught me is the importance of context. We don’t know what was asked before and after the poll, which is key to understanding the response. With Governor Paterson’s approval rating being so low and so many items in the budget being wildly unpopular, it could have come in the midst of things like the soda tax and cuts to education. People are far more likely to say “no” to Ultimate Fighting in that order, whereas if it were asked independently in a separate poll, you’d get a different answer.
So, should this poll be given weight? Absolutely not. Here’s hoping WRGB and other news outlets covering this tonight have somebody on there that knows something about polls.
Kevin Marshall is an local playwright, writer, actor, blogger, and Mixed Martial Arts enthusiast. His new blog, “Mixed Marshall Arts,” will be launched in the upcoming months.