As is well known in polling, if you want a certain response, you have to ask the right question. The way you phrase the question makes all the difference. Now we have a classic example of such polling in the New Jersey culture wars, and in particular over mandatory parental notification policies. The NJEA has been out front opposing mandatory parental notification policies and was caught offsides by a highly credible Monmouth poll showing the vast majority of parents supported mandatory notification. So the NJEA engineered a new poll to get the response it wanted. Presto! The NJEA is aligned with parents after all.
First, the Monmouth poll. Being a reputable polling institution, Monmouth addressed the parental notification policies in a direct and straightforward manner. Below is the Monmouth question and the responses from the various groupings:
So when given a direct question about the actual policy at issue — whether schools should be required to notify parents — 81% of parents said they should be required. In other words, the vast majority of parents support mandatory parental notification policies. Notably, 59% supported mandatory notification even if schools are not required to do so and even without the student’s consent:
But the NJEA had taken a diametrically opposed position to the vast majority of parents. The NJEA has applauded Attorney General Platkin’s lawsuits against several school districts’ policies and even attacked the Hanover school board directly. With legislative and school board elections coming up in November, what to do? Engineer a poll that shows that the NJEA is really on the same side as parents.
Of course, the NJEA poll couldn’t ask straightforward questions about the actual parental notification policies because the Monmouth poll made clear what the response would be. Instead, respondents (61% of whom were texted) were asked if they agreed with this statement:
Politicians shouldn’t force teachers to ‘out’ a student who is gay or is using a different pronoun. Forced outings can harm students mentally or cause bullying. It should be up to the student, not politicians, to decide when to reveal their gender identity.
No wonder it was 74%-18% agreeing! If you phrase the question using “politicians” forcing teachers to out students, and then linking “forced outings” to mental harm and bullying, that’s the kind of reaction you will get. Note there’s no mention of the actual parental notification policies that garnered such widespread support in the Monmouth poll. It’s about “politicians” forcing teachers to “out” students.
Likewise, by 71%-22%, voters agreed with the first statement below:
I’m going to give you two statements, and then ask you which one you agree with more. Here’s the first statement: Students should be able to decide when to share their gender identity with their parents. Here’s the second statement: Teachers should be required to report suspicions about a student’s gender or sexuality to the parents, even without the student’s consent. Which do you agree with more? [Emphasis added].
Once again, the poll does not address the actual parental notification policies in these school districts. The statement speaks of teachers being required to report “suspicions” to parents. But the actual policies do not require teachers to report suspicions. For example, in Middletown and Manalapan, they require schools to notify parents when their children are asking the school for “public social transition accommodation.” This scenario was simply made up by the NJEA. How could these responses possibly be valid?
Yet only Sunlight has taken the time to analyze the NJEA poll. Once again, on the electorally important issue of the culture wars, the NJ news media is asleep at the switch.
Or worse. The New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein wrote a news story on the NJEA poll with the headline “Conservatives On The Wrong Side Of Parental Choice Issues, NJEA Poll Shows.” Wildstein, himself, covered the directly-on-point Monmouth poll, yet he completely ignores it and regurgitates the NJEA’s take on its own engineered poll. Wildstein’s article reads more like a NJEA press release.
Why the slanted coverage, Mr. Wildstein? Could it be all the NJEA ads on the Globe’s website?