Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Are Americans really more afraid of clowns than climate change, terrorism, and death?

That question really should be are more Americans afraid of, and then the answer really is no on those first two. Vox and Morning Consult did a poll of 1999 U.S. adults on October 15 to 17, 2016. They asked How Afraid of clowns are you? Their four possible answers were Very Afraid (8%), Somewhat Afraid (14%), A Little Afraid (20%), or Not Afraid At All (53%). (5% had No Opinion). Results were reported in an article by Zachary Crockett at Vox on October 21, 2016 titled Americans are more afraid of clowns than climate change, terrorism, and ... death.
He originally had said:

“We compared the results of our poll with a poll recently conducted by Chapman University, which asked 1,511 Americans to identify their greatest fears from a list of topics. Clowns outranked every single fear, save for ‘government corruption.’ (Note that the Chapman poll only included ‘very afraid’ and ‘afraid’ as voting options, while our poll had ‘very afraid,’ ‘somewhat afraid,’ and ‘a little afraid.’)”

After I emailed him and pointed him to my October 14th blog post titled In the 2016 Chapman Survey of American Fears public speaking was ranked 33rd out of 79 fears, he changed the sentence in parentheses to instead read:

“(Note that our poll and the Chapman poll had slightly different answer options: Chapman’s had ‘very afraid,’ “afraid,” and ‘a little afraid,’ while our poll had ‘very afraid,’ ‘somewhat afraid,’ and ‘a little afraid.’)”

Results for clowns in those two surveys were as follows:

Zachary originally showed a stacked bar chart with those detailed results (including five age groups) but later deleted it.

But that chart still exists as an image at Twitter, as is shown above.

There also was a bogus bar chart that compared the results for the sum of the first three answers (42%) from the Vox survey with results from the 2016 Chapman Survey of American Fears which had listed the sum for just the top two answers - Very Afraid and Afraid. It also was deleted, but a version still exists at Twitter, as shown below.

I’ve also shown a corrected version of that now deleted second bar chart, with his answer changed to the correct 22%. But the text still makes misleading comparisons using 42%:

“Americans — at least, those surveyed in our poll — are more afraid of clowns than a possible terrorist attack, a family member dying, climate change, biological warfare, and the always-terrifying Obamacare.”
The Vox survey had more details and other questions too. One was Should the following groups do more, less, or about the same to stop clowns from scaring people in public places? Another asked how creepy Americans found nine different images of clowns.

The image of five clowns came from the Library of Congress.


At some point Zachary put those bar charts back into his article. Once again you can see how bogus the comparison is.

Unfortunately the Vox survey has repeatedly been quoted on the Web. On November 7th at Newsmax Larry Bell had an article that asked Do People Fear Clowns Over Climate Change? The answer still is no. Larry is a professor at the University of Houston, so I'd have expected him to catch a bogus statistic.

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