Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Don’t judge an article by its headline, and don’t judge a politician by a poll

Even the most avid of news consumers occasionally skim a headline and skip the article. Sometimes it just feels like the headline says it all. “Trump is Boston’s least favorite pol, survey says,” read a headline in The Boston Globe on Monday. “Duh,” said everyone else.

The survey’s results are certainly unsurprising. But they aren’t just unsurprising because they are coming from a city as liberal as Boston. It’s actually pretty safe to assume that Trump is America’s least favorite politician too. Why wouldn’t he be? Almost every president in history has been the country’s least favorite politician — they’re one of the only politicians every state has in common, and often, one of the only politicians that every American has even heard of. The president is just an easy target. And when you add to the equation all of the offensive, ineffective and unpopular things that Donald Trump has done in his tenure as president, the man never really had a chance.

But still, reading just the headline of a story can be misleading. The Globe’s headline certainly didn’t tell the full story, and more importantly, neither did the survey. Just 500 Bostonians were polled — less than one percent of the city’s residents. That in and of itself should be a sign to readers to take the results with a grain of salt. But even beyond that, the survey only gave voters eight options to choose from: big names like Paul Ryan and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. People had no room to express other opinions. The survey was simply too narrow.

In any statement as general as, “Trump is Boston’s least favorite pol,” there’s always more to unpack. The survey obviously gathered more information than the simple assertion that Bostonians are no big fans of Trump. If that’s all we wanted to know, we could have just looked at the election results.

The demographic breakdown of the results in particular is worth noting. It isn’t surprising that far more women reported Donald Trump as their least favorite politician and Elizabeth Warren as their favorite politician than men, and that men reported the exact opposite. It’s also not surprising that people of color were far more likely to list Trump as their least favorite politician than white people. But just because these things are obvious doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful. Trump’s policies and positions have far more adverse effects on women and minorities than they do on straight white men. And though this can be very easy for straight white men to overlook, they absolutely shouldn’t. We need surveys like these to remind us that just because what’s happening in Washington has no effect on you, doesn’t mean it’s having no effect.

Another problem was that the survey itself was designed to be polarizing. It fed into all of the worst things about Trump. We have this president who makes wild claims and broad generalizations at every possible opportunity — a president who hates people for random reasons and who never backs up his beliefs. And then we see a survey like this — pitting random politicians against each other, asking only the most shallow “yes or no” questions, and having people identify their least favorite politicians without every asking why.

This survey encouraged people to have easy opinions without having to back those opinions up. Hating the president of the United States should be kind of a big deal — it shouldn’t be done without thought. Yet that’s exactly what this kind of survey encourages us to do.

The only way to combat the unintelligence of Trump’s presidency is to rise above it. By learning about what Trump is doing and how it affects people and what you can do to change it, you can work to overcome the intellectual vacuum that is the White House. Calling your Senators, going to rallies, and lobbying for issues you care about — these are the ways you make change — not just reporting in a survey that Donald Trump is the worst and calling it a day.

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