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Fox Not Yet Ready for Prime Time Polling

September 19th, 2003

Fox News is demonstrating that it has no idea how to conduct a poll with it’s just-released survey on people’s attitudes about downloading. They come to the conclusion that most people agree with the RIAA on music downloading, which is untrue.

Their evidence? They asked two questions:

1. Recently the recording industry has sued students and other individuals who have downloaded music over the Internet. Do you approve or disapprove of people downloading music over the Internet?

2. Have you personally downloaded music over the Internet without paying a fee?

First of all, it doesn’t take much to see that each question will influence the answer of the other. Some people who download, when asked the first question, will come out with a moral reply–they download, but they know it’s wrong, so they may say they disapprove. But then when they’re hit with the second question, would they admit to it after saying they disapprove? A similar effect would happen if the questions were reversed; if they admit to downloading, would they then say they disapprove of themselves?

These two questions, therefore, should never be asked to the same individual; it would only make sense to ask one question in one poll, and the other question in a separate poll.

Second, the questions are not well designed to produce the answer to the questions Fox seems to be asking. They suggest that the polls indicate approval of the RIAA’s position on the downloading issue. If they wanted to make that connection, then why not ask the question? They mention the industry, but do not ask if people approve or disapprove of it. They do not ask about what response to downloading is appropriate. Had they asked these questions, especially at the top of the poll, the results would hardly have “agreed” with the RIAA.

More effective questions would have been, “Do you agree with the RIAA’s decision to sue music downloaders?” or “What do you think of the RIAA’s tactics concerning people who download music without a fee? The answers would, almost without a doubt, have been far less in “agreement” with the RIAA.

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