The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA and Transparency

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 30 September 2008

A recurring conflict in politics occurs between a citizenry’s desire from transparency and a state’s desire to keep certain facts secret for the sake of security. The two sides are always at odds, and the conflict usually results in absurdities such as the pictured document with “certain” redactions.

Yet insofar as the security-transparency matrix applies to ASUA, the organization really should err on the side of disclosure. There really isn’t a “security” factor that must be taken into account; ASUA doesn’t ensure our safety, doesn’t provide campus defense. Being your student government, it would seem that the goings-on about it should be made readily available, whether or not you are able/have the desire to attend meetings on Monday and Wednesday afternoons.

Thus far, this is far from the case; and while filing for information from ASUA is not as arduous as a FOIA request, it is still fraught with bureaucracy. Even though all the minutes of meetings and other official records are stored in the ASUA offices (at least, according to ASUA’ desk attendant), official University Information Request forms must be sent to the University‘s official Custodian of Public Records, who must approve the request. Should the request be approved, that approval must be sent back to ASUA, who will then provide the person with the records.

Suffice to say, this is absurd. ASUA is supposedly its own governing body, representing the students. If this is the case, it should manage its own official information; furthermore, if they are serious about representing the student voice, they should make this information incredibly easy to obtain.

As far as I can tell from attending Senate meetings, the meetings are recorded on a computer. Whether or not it is automatically transcribed is not apparent; however, even this recording could be automatically uploaded to the ASUA website. Students could listen to the meetings in their own time. Or, if transcribing the meetings is required (as it probably should be), those transcriptions should also be uploaded as soon as they are completed.

By keeping these records behind a bureaucratic maze, ASUA further demonstrates that their motto of “your student government” is increasingly an inapt description; “their student government” would be far more fitting.

Advertisements

Bailout reactions, and other national politics

Posted in Politics by Evan Lisull on 30 September 2008

Taking a brief foray into the national scene, allow me to join Justyn’s praise for the surprising defeat of the $700 billion bailout plan. He praises Gabby Giffords for voting down the bill, but in fact the entire Arizona delegation in the house joined here — Grijalva, Flake, Shadegg, and everyone else. Suffice to say, this is one of the very few times Grijalva, Flake, and Shadegg will all vote on the same side of any bill.

If you really want to get down and dirty with the economics behind the opposition, here are four links to that effect; also, for an apt analogy to a certain disgraced official, read here.

From this, Justyn makes some interesting points, not all of which I agree with:

1.) The vast majority of GOP incumbents aren’t worried about getting re-elected. They know they’re going to get re-elected. In other words, they probably didn’t vote against the plan solely in order to please their constituents, though I do think a strong element of old-time Western Republicanism — defined not merely by hatred of big government but resentment of big business — was there.

I think some may have been posturing, but it’s posturing within their basic framework of thought. It’s not so much that it’s an anti-Wall-Street attitude, but an anti-$700-billion-helicopter-drop principle. The Republicans that supported the bill did so largely out of party loyalty: loyalty to the Bush Administration (which has hardly been loyal to conservative principles, but that’s beside the point).

The Democrats against the bill are also being cited as “political opportunists”, but this is similarly fraught with error. The Democratic Party has exhibited an anti-Wall-Street, anti-Big-Business attitude for a very long time. This has been the best chance to represent that they “stand up for the little guy, against corporate bailouts, against Wall Street buying Washington.” The Democrats-for-Wall-Street portrayal in the press is, suffice to say, a bit odd given recent history. As the similar candidacies of Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul exhibited, pseudo-socialists and pseudo-libertarians have far more in common than one might initially believe.

2.) They don’t care if John McCain gets elected. Rollins, who’s as far “inside” as an insider gets, very strongly hints that they may well not want him elected, and that sending the bill to defeat had something to do with that wish.

This is important, and Justyn goes further and wonders why he was nominated at all. Part of this had to do with the primary process, and the fact that the GOP had almost the reverse party of the Democrats: a myriad of candidates, none of which fit the bill. McCain was dumped early on, but a vague nostalgia for his 2000 campaign, along with the importance of foreign policy at the time, brought him back from the political grave. Had the GOP known that the economy would be at the forefront of the campaign, I have little doubt that Mitt Romney would be the GOP candidate.

This is a losing year for the GOP, another fact Justyn hits upon. But I don’t think that Goldwater was “thrown away”, any more than McCain is being “thrown away.” Both actual won through the nomination process; once nominated, a candidate can’t be removed.

Let’s start by looking at Goldwater. While he failed epically on an electoral level, it is a fact that his supporters were fervent, and, more importantly, very young. It was this support, embodied by Y.A.F (Ron Paul is attempting, IMHO, to replicate this effect with his Liberty Caucus, although the split between Baldwin and Barr is rending this into irrelevancy. It was this support that led the Reagan majority of 1980, which in reality has lasted through the present day (the Clinton years, of course, were overshadowed by the ’94 contract revolution, which defined the rest of his administration).

McCain was supposed to replicate this. McCain should have strongly stood for laissez-faire markets, strong defense, the Moral Majority, etc. etc. The base should have been rallied, the polls should have fallen, and the GOP would have marched proudly into the Wilderness, prepared for guerrilla warfare against the Obama-led majority.

The problem is, as odd as this may sound, is that McCain is a failed failure. Somewhere down the road, someone convinced him that the short-term is more important than the long-term. Thus, while he has stayed remarkably close, he has also blithely endorsed this bill. Ultimately, McCain will keep it close; however, by failing to provide any compass for the GOP to follow, he will make the stay in the Wilderness more confused and, ultimately, longer, than it should have been with a genuine Goldwater at the helm.

More bang for your ballot

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 29 September 2008

Following the national trend of student voter registration efforts, a new site has started up with an interesting twist. CountMore.org is a basic site with a basic premise — “Register to vote where it counts more.” So long as the electoral college exists, such calculations must take place; this site makes it easy for students to decide where make their vote will have the greatest impact.

However, I would recommend that UA Votes not make use of such a site. Why? Well, the site is based on cross-comparisons between the competitiveness of states. For example, if you go to school in Utah, but you are originally from Colorado, then the site will urge to you to vote at home, since your vote will have a much greater impact in that swing state than in Orrin-Hatch-red Utah.

Arizona isn’t quite as one-sided as Utah, but it’s fairly close. And in spite of all the talk of “Arizona going blue”, it’s useful to remember that John McCain is still the senior senator from the state. When matched up against the other 49 states, in no instance did CountMore urge the voter to register in AZ; the results split fairly evenly between “Toss-Up” and “Register at Home!” Suffice to say, this message doesn’t exactly help to encourage registration here in Arizona.

To be fair, these comparisons are based solely on the results from the 2004 presidential election, which ignores changes that have occurred in the past four years. Yet at risk of repeating myself, I will bet a substantial amount of money that Arizona will stay in the Republican column. If you really want to maximize support for a non-McCain candidate, I’d recommend voting from home.

Also, an interesting note from the site’s Q & A:

What if I’m on a scholarship? Students with scholarships or tuition that require residency should check with their financial aid office before registering to vote in their home state. For example, if you have a scholarship that requires California residency, you should ensure that registering to vote in a different state will not affect your status. Note: this does not apply to recipients of federal financial aid and does not affect the vast majority of students. The Brennan Center for Justice has a detailed description of the cases where registering to vote in a new state can affect your financial aid or tuition.

Obviously, this is a minor subset of students, but I have yet to hear the issue brought up by UA Votes, considering that an out-of-state student’s parents could be very surprised by the size of the next scholarship check.

ASA hard at work

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 29 September 2008

Or not. From an article on the Wildcat‘s front page (which, curiously, was not uploaded to the online version, but can be found here):

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The presidents of Arizona’s three public universities have been given wide latitude to decide how much to raise tuition next year.

The Arizona Board of Regents approved a plan on Thursday capping maximum tuition increases at about 13 percent to 15 percent for University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

But they gave leaders at the three campuses discretion on exactly how much to propose to charge next year, setting a range from about $160 to $725 more per year. Presidents will come back to the board by the end of the year with their proposals.

. . .

The plan is a change from past policies, when university presidents, student leaders and other groups would come up with wide-ranging tuition proposals that they brought to the regents for approval.

Current students at NAU and ASU will have only modest increases because of a policy that locks in their payments. The UA did not adopt that plan.

Still, it’s good to know that we got that ASA fee increase approved, so that UA students can engage in meaningless demonstrations in Phoenix make a big difference in their tuition rates.

Circuses and Bread, Block Parties and Free Gear

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 27 September 2008

Like John McCain’s preemptive declaration of debate victory, ASUA is probably already crowing about the “grand success” of last night’s Voter Block Party. And, as far as block parties go, it was well-done, full of fun concerts and X-Box exhibits and, bizarrely, a swing-dancing floor.

Yet as far as fostering a healthy republic and encouraging responsible voting, it has failed miserably. For as any serious defender of democracy would agree (and I am certainly am not one of those), voters must be educated in order to ensure the health of the state — as Thomas Jefferson put it, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

ASUA ostensibly agrees with this concept; in fact, the motto of the campaign is, “Registration. Education. Mobilization.” Yet at the block party, amidst armies of registering volunteers and games of Guitar Hero, “voter education” was reduced to five pithy (but brightly colored!) 2″ square cards. Well, at least these cards will contain useful, even-handed tidbits of information. . . right?

Barack Obama is 6′ 1″. He was born in Honolulu Hawaii [sic], lived in Indonesia for a few years as a child, and his father was from Kenya. Barack went by the name ‘Barry‘ throughout high school and college. He was the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review. Obama is left-handed, drives a Ford Escape Hybrid, and loves basketball and poker.

Here’s the card on McCain:

John McCain is 5’7″. Due to his military background, he attended over 20 different schools as a child. McCain was a varsity wrestler, earning the nicknames “Punk” and “McNasty” due to his aggressive disposition. He has an adopted daughter from India, and he was born in Panama. McCain also loves the Swedish pop sensation ABBA [Ed: are you even allowed to refer to ABBA as a “pop sensation” thirty years after the fact? This sounds like it was lifted from the back cover of their ‘Greatest Hits’ album].

Here are the factors that ASUA-PIRG-UAVOTES have decided are important issues for student voters to know:

-Height (see Randy Newman for the implications on this one)

-Birthplace

-Childhood Homes

-Nicknames

-Hobbies

-Favorite music groups

And here what the coalition has decided are irrelevant issues for student voters:

-Foreign policy

-Energy position

-Education policy

-Political party membership

-Voting record

-Political philosophy

Etc.

Even with this People Magazine style voter information, PIRG still managed to slant their view of the candidates. “McNasty’s. . . aggressive disposition?”  Obama’s über-hip hybrid? Somehow the cards manage to discuss Obama’s Harvard Review, but fail to mention McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam? Some may argue that facts are facts (although Wikipedia has nothing on McCain’s purported high school nickname), but any half-educated person knows that the selection of facts are just as important — what is not said is just as important as what is. As PIRG et al have demonstrated, it’s entirely possible to skew a (meaningless) debate using entirely truthful statements.

The other three cards were devoted towards us — your voting group, one might say. First, though, who are we?

Our generation is commonly referred to as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y. We are the most diverse generation in history.
Millennials will be nearly 45 MILLION strong in 2008.
By 2015, this generation will make up 1/3 of the electorate.

It’s hard to say exactly what this is supposed to signify. It seems, however, to follow in a trend of identity politics building (this will become apparent by the final info-card) — vote not as an individual, but as a Millennial. Um, no thanks.

Furthermore, it seems to ultimately be wrapped in a paradox. If we are in fact about to become a huge voting coalition, and WE ARE MILLENNIALS (in the same way, I suppose, that WE ARE ZONAZOO), then why bother registering? Since there are so many of us, and we seemingly represent one voice, why not let the other 45 million go ahead and vote for me?

Also, as far the uncited “most diverse generation” claim is concerned, it’d be interesting to see how the authors of this card square up with these two interesting statistics:

According to the three surveys, 18-29 year olds are now relatively less willing to support a black candidate than voters from other age groups.  While resistance to supporting a black candidate has dropped in every other age group since February, and overall stands at just 8%, it remains basically unchanged among the youngest voters.

. . .

In another odd result that pairs up with the surprisingly greater resistance to a black candidate for President among 18-29 year olds that I noted before, 15% of 18-29 year olds are unwilling to vote for a woman for President, which is a higher percentage than any other age group, including 65+.  Whether this is a backlash against enforced diversity and the like, I don’t know, but it is another one of these curious examples of a small but significant group of young voters being more forthright in their opposition to women and minority candidates.

Next card, in Tangerine Orange:

Over 6.5 million young voters participated in the primary contests or caucuses this year; and increase of 103% over 2004. The 2004 elections marked the largest increase in young voter turnout since 1972.
This generation volunteers in record numbers. They possess strong values and political opinions and connect volunteerism  to social activism. AND THEY WILL VOTE IF ASKED.

Since these cards are being handed out to students at a UA VOTES Block Party, it seems quite redundant to tell them that, yes, they are willing to vote. As far as bias goes, it’s worth noting the catch phrase “social activism”, a long-time favorite of the Left.

As a side question, has anyone bothered to compare the number of young voters to the total number of 18-25 year olds? It seems that the peaks in young voter turnout simply coincide with larger generations (the Boomers in ’72, and Gen Y (or the Echo Boom) in ’04).

Last card:

In 2000, out of the $3 billion spent on the presidential election, $0 were spent targeting young voters.

In 2004, out the $4 billion spent on the presidential election, $50 million was [sic] spent targeting young voters.

resulting in an 11% increase [sic]

2008… what will you make them spend?

The claim about 2000 seems bizarre as well — would anyone be able to tell me with a straight-face that the campaign spent absolutely nothing at any function targeting young voters? Also, if you went from making $0 a year to making $50 million a year, you wouldn’t describe that as an 11 percent increase in your salary.

However, these are all secondary to the more serious problem; namely, the idea that we should actively be trying to make politicians waste more money on political campaigns. Advocating for certain issues — higher education, “textbook cost reduction”, etc. — is one thing, but simply trying to get them to spend money helps no one; no one, that is, except for the student leaders who get to dole out these funds.

And this, honestly, seems the modus operandi of the entire campaign — make politicians spend money on us! Rather than asking the Big Questions of whether money should be spent at all, or whether there might be higher priorities than textbook costs (say, the entire financial market), the campaign is simply content to start building an identity that must be courted, like any other factional group.

The UA VOTES program has stated that after “blitz week”, ending October 6, that they will engage in voter education until October 24. But do they seriously believe that many of these students will come without the allure of block parties and free concerts? “Education is boring; besides, man, I’m in school already — I got enough shit to read already.”

So honestly, if you plan on voting on the basis of one of these two cards and a few Cartel songs, let me offer a word of advice: Don’t.

Perhaps the whole charade was best summed up by Ed-Hardy-coiffed host of the Crocs Next Step Campus Tour (which, incidentally, is not at all associated with any voting outreach effort). His spiel went something like this:

“We’ll hear from another County Attorney candidate — but first, FREE STUFF”

[Crowd screams; two-minute spiel given]

“Hey, how many of y’all registered to vote?”

[Crowd screams]

“It’s real important that y’all vote. . .it’s a big year. . . but first, FREE STUFF!”

[Crowd screams; hats tossed]

Go vote — FREE STUFF — listen to blah candidates — FREE STUFF! This might not just be a summary of the absurdity of the UA VOTES campaign, but an effective depiction of the pork-barreling democratic process itself.

Last tango in Phoenix?

Posted in Campus, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 26 September 2008

The steps in UA’s annual tuition tango are nothing new. Arizona’s university presidents take the lead, publishing vague auguries about their proposed tuition adjustments increases. Students tease back with an agile amague, requesting a limited tuition increase or a full freeze, and make an indignant plea to state legislators to spend more on higher education. The presidents reply with a parada, tossing out an upper-bound estimate that lies somewhere on the thin line between grudgingly acceptable and outrageous. Then the Board of Regents turns on the lights, shuts up the accordion player, and sets tuition wherever the hell it wants. But this year, things are different, and the dancing may be gone for good. From the Arizona Daily Star:

Tuition for in-state residents attending the University of Arizona could rise by up to $726 next year — pushing the annual bill to more than $6,000 — under proposed guidelines the regents will consider this week.

While members of the Arizona Board of Regents are not scheduled to approve tuition for the state’s three public universities until later this year, they will meet in Flagstaff this week to consider setting upper and lower limits on tuition by giving institutions three price points from which to choose.

At the high end of the proposal, undergraduate UA residents would see their tuition increase by $726. The mid- range increase would raise tuition by nearly $450, while the low end would increase tuition by almost $170, according to figures prepared for the Board of Regents.

A couple paragraphs later, Regent Ernest Calderón explains the idea behind pre-emptive pricing:

The change, which is being tested for the first time this year, is part of a larger initiative aimed at addressing how tuition is set annually. By putting out potential tuition increases early in the process, the regents are taking the lead as opposed to waiting for others to come up with figures, said Regent Ernest Calderón, vice president of the board.

“What we’re trying to do is signal to the presidents what we believe would be a reasonable range, so they can then put together a thoughtful proposal,” Calderón said.

It’s all part of an effort to “end annual arbitration between students and universities” (read: exclude students), described by Regent Gary Stuart in the Wildcat earlier this year. In fact, in an exceptional example of doublethink from the same article, the tuition task force (dedicated, mind you, to eliminating student tuition proposals!) was described by our own student body president as “a phenomenal opportunity for students to become truly involved in the tuition setting process.” Under the new revisions—Regents dictate three choices, presidents accept one, students will more than likely be ignored—it looks like they’ve hit on a process as inclusive and welcoming as ever.

Prices—yes, Virginia, even for public education—ought to change in response to input costs, demand, and other market pressures, just like any other good. But if they must be set by bureaucrats like the Regents, students ought to demand more arbitration, not less.

[Ed. note: I know absolutely nothing about tango—I lifted all those funny words straight from Wikipedia ]

Tagged with: , , ,

How is the UA blogosphere like the federal government?

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 25 September 2008

It just keeps growing and growing (Lame libertarian joke = -10 cool points)! But yes, two more announcements following Laura Donovan’s new blog:

1. This comes a bit after the fact, but the Desert Lamp has now officially become a group blog, with the addition of new guest writer Connor Mendenhall. Connor, as you may remember, was the editor of the Wildcat‘s opinion section last year, and wrote the now-classic editorial in support of abolishing ASUA. While studying abroad in Ankara this year, he will still continue to stay abreast of all UA and world affairs, and provide his ever-incisive commentary. You can read his first two entries here and here.

2. Justyn Dillingham, current opinions editor at the Wildcat, has also started his own blog, The Civic Spirit. The blog is more focused on national and international issues (if you want his take on local issues, read the damn paper), and contains essay-length insights from UA’s top Jeffersonian thinker. Read his takedown of Hillary hack Sean Wilentz here.

You stay World-Classy, Arizona!

Posted in Campus, Media by Connor Mendenhall on 25 September 2008

Great news! The University of Arizona’s marketing department is packing up the phrase “Arizona’s First University” and sending it off to the special section of Hell reserved for banal nonsense and communications majors. From the Arizona Daily Star :

While campus officials haven’t lost their sense of history, the UA’s “Arizona’s First University” slogan has become an artifact of the past.

As brand management becomes an integral part of the University of Arizona’s marketing strategies, officials have tweaked the campus wide calling card to “Arizona’s World-Class University” in an attempt to reflect the institution’s academic and research prowess. Rather than holding a formal kickoff for the new phrase, officials will begin to replace old signs and update marketing materials in the coming weeks.

Forgive me a smug moment of triumph: I suggested scuttling our slogan last year, since the phrase was nothing more than empty adspeak. Regrettably, the new one is even worse.

“Arizona’s First University” was stupid, but at least it was a coherent statement, like “Arizona’s largest campus arboretum” or “Arizona’s most useless fact.” What it lacked was any expression of aspiration. But “Arizona’s World-Class University” trades a flat fact for a dumb idiom. Just what is “world-class” supposed to mean? Commonly understood, the term describes “persons or things regarded as outstanding throughout the world.” For example, the entire higher-education system of the United States, far and away the best on Earth. We’re already “world-class”—it’s “United States-class” and “Arizona-class” that need improvement!

I’m not the only one who’s less than enthused. The Star article goes on to quote Terri Shafer, an Arizona State marketing apparatchik:

“Making ‘world-class’ your primary marketing claim would earn you an F in Marketing 101,” she wrote. “There are literally hundreds of colleges and universities that say they’re world-class. It’s a meaningless term with no accepted measurement standard.”

Shafer said ASU doesn’t have a single tag line and uses several themes and messages to convey what officials there call their mission as a “New American University.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—”New American University” is an excellent, succinct turn of phrase for Michael Crow’s vision of ASU as academic Leviathan (not that I think it’s necessarilly a good vision). A meaningful slogan requires a meaningful mission, but as far as I can tell, UA’s biggest official ambition is, as President Shelton recently so eloquently put it, to “continue the dialog that began last May regarding the current budget dynamic and our strategic aspiration to be among the ten best public research universities in the nation.” Inspiring. Sure, all our focus may be on thinning the herd of late—but why, oh why can’t we do it with some vision?

Social lubrication meets Social Security

Posted in Politics, Random by Connor Mendenhall on 25 September 2008

The Lamp has touched on rethinking the drinking age before, but this week the folks at Freakonomics brought another unintended consequence of decriminalizing drink into the debate (besides simplifying the Friday afternoons of untold 18-year-olds). According to research by a pair of Duke economists, the more students drink, the more they’ll ultimately contribute to the coffers that keep Social Security afloat:

A 2004 study by Frank Sloan and Jan Ostermann at Duke University found that heavy drinkers contribute slightly more to Social Security, through their higher average lifetime earnings, than nondrinkers do. What’s more, since alcohol abusers tend to die sooner than moderate or nondrinkers, they draw less money, over time, from the Social Security trust fund.

Their conclusion: the elimination of heavy drinking (three or more drinks a day) from each successive group of American 25-year-olds would cost the Social Security trust fund $3 billion over the cohort’s lifetime.

Of course, a lower drinking age would likely prevent heavy use and encourage moderate tippling, significantly mitigating any beneficial effect. But then again, as long as Social Security is expected to face a best-case deficit of $4.3 trillion dollars over the average college student’s lifetime, they might as well learn to drink heavily now — they’ll need the experience when the largest government program in the world goes bankrupt.

Survey-ocracy

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 25 September 2008

As I referenced briefly in this week’s Senate report, ASUA has a bit of a fetish when it comes to surveying the student body. Many of the current Senators ran on the ASUA PULSE platform, which would use polls to determine student opinion on major issues facing the Senate.

You would think that the populists behind “Your student government” would be more willing to put matters of importance to a vote, to best represent the will of the people. However, ASUA has already done this, and repeatedly got answers that they didn’t like to hear. President Bruce made this apparent during a presentation on the Student Affairs Fee (SAF). Once upon a time, major issues such as fee increases actually went to a vote. The result, however, was unsatisfying to ASUA, as students roundly rejected the increase in the fee. Sent back to the drawing board, ASUA decided that they simply didn’t need to bother with votes anymore; instead, they conducted a poll among a representative sample of students, and waved this survey as proof of student support (for all of the sordid details, read this post). None of this, however, has sullied the Senate’s love of surveys.

So what, exactly, is so flawed about the survey process? This week’s events nationally highlight the issues of using polling to drive decision-making. Many polling organizations are conducting surveys on the American response to Paulson’s $700 billion bailout. Should Congress approve this proposal? Following the ASUA approach, let’s go to the polls:

Earlier today we previewed a new Washington Post/ABC News poll that suggests Americans are split down the middle on the Bush administration’s $700 billion rescue package for Wall Street.

However, two new polls show completely different results. One suggests the public overwhelmingly favors a bailout; another finds the public firmly opposed.

Pew Research: “By a margin of almost two-to-one the American public thinks the government is doing the right thing in investing billions of dollars to try to keep financial institutions and markets secure.”

Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg: “Most Americans don’t believe the government has responsibility for bailing out financial firms with taxpayer money, a core part of the rescue plan Congress is considering to halt the near-meltdown of the nation’s financial markets.”

What accounts for such a divergence of opinion? According to ABC’s Gary Langer, it’s all in how pollsters ask the question. The Pew poll asks about the government ” ‘potential investing’ (note: not ‘spending’) billions ‘to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure.’ ” Naturally, people favor this plan. However, when asked by the LA Times/Bloomberg whether the government should “bail out private companies with tax payer dollars,” people sour on the idea.

Sadly, these polling results are far more consistent than anything ASUA will concoct. Why?

1. These surveys are conducted by professional pollsters with experts and money at their disposal. Suffice to say, ASUA is not contracting Rasmussen to poll the student body. Instead, the polls used are fraught with basic statistical errors, leading to huge amounts of selection bias (in voluntary polls, people in support of a given proposal are far more likely to participate than those who are not) and a failure to obtain a representative sample of the student body, a lack of a statistical confidence calculation, and poor question formulation. An online poll does not a legitimate survey make.

2. ASUA itself is conducting the polls. This is akin to the Treasury Department conducting its own survey on the bailout plan; clearly, they have a vested interest in making sure the poll shows support for their position. So with the ASUA Senate; Sen. Baker has a vested interest in making sure his camera policy is enacted, and thus will in all likelihood have questions biased towards his opinion. The ASUA as a whole had a vested interest in getting the student fee increase.

Ideally, these polls would be conducted through the statistics department, as an instructor-supervised project that would teach students how to properly conduct a survey and provide statistical analysis,  while at the same time providing ASUA with far more reasonable polling results. Call it the Arizona Research Center for Campus, or something. For now, however, the student government is conducting its own polls through classroom technology; every poll result trotted out as showing support should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Editor B