Memo to Media: Covering Forthcoming Military Times Poll
To: Reporters, editors, correspondents, producers, bloggers
From: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, VoteVets.org
Date: December 17, 2009
Re: Covering “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Poll
A new survey on gays and lesbians in the military is expected to be released shortly by the Military Times newspaper. The poll was conducted via e-mail and was sent to the newspaper’s own subscribers. It is unscientific, self-selective and only representative of the paper’s readers and should be reported as such, as noted by professional pollsters below.
The Military Times released a similar survey late in 2008 that received significant mainstream media attention. But most reporters failed to mention the survey’s methodology (in plain view on the newspaper’s website), and most drew profoundly wrong conclusions, suggesting the views of the paper’s subscribers -- which tend to be older than most veterans and perhaps more conservative -- could be applied to the military as a whole. They cannot.
Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News, wrote at the time that the Military Times' survey was more of "a woefully incomplete census" of the publication's readers than a true poll. He compared the reliability of the poll's methodology to a "rusted carbine," noting, "in terms of their political and ideological leanings, the participants look nothing at all like what good data have found."
If Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann polled their listeners/viewers on a public policy issue, we bet the press, if they reported on it at all, would be sure to note the largely partisan and severely biased nature of the survey participants and underscore that the survey results are only representative of Limbaugh and Olbermann’s audiences — and nothing more.
Earlier this fall, the Military Times e-mailed another poll to its readers on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and gays in the military. The results, according to the paper, will be released in December or January. After reviewing the survey questions, it appears the paper has used the same or similar methodology for the newest survey as they did in the previous one. The poll was done online, over e-mail, and sent to subscribers. And the questions themselves have obvious built-in bias against gays and lesbians. You can view the poll here.
Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, reviewed the subscriber survey. “The Military Times survey is informative for what it is, but it is not a scientific survey that reflects the attitudes of today’s military personnel. Methodologically it is flawed because it is not a random sampling of current or past veterans. Instead, it is a sampling of their own subscribers. In order for a member of the military to be included in the sample that person had to first be a subscriber to the Military Times paper and then they have to decide they want to participate in the survey.
“Further, Military Times subscribers by definition tend to be older than all veterans and they are more likely to be officers than all other veterans. The attitudes and opinions of officers and older personnel are important, but they do not necessarily reflect the attitudes and opinions of all military personnel. Instead, for this to be a valid scientific survey of the true feelings of the United States military, the sample would need to be random so that all members of the military who wanted to participate had an equally likely opportunity to be included in the survey."
If covering the soon-to-be released survey, reporters should consider reporting on the poll’s severe limitations and that the views expressed are exclusively those of Military Times subscribers. Journalists might also consider the more scientific polling from Zogby International on the attitudes of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans toward their gay and lesbian colleagues. Seventy-three percent say they are comfortable serving with gay or lesbian service members.
For questions about this memo, contact SLDN Director of Communications, Kevin Nix, at (202) 621.5402 or Eric Schmeltzer of VoteVets at (646) 290.8586.