Tag Archives: The Arizona Republic

The Problem With Statistics

Statistically speaking, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, just won the 2016 presidential election. She received the majority of the popular vote. Statistically speaking, and in reality, Donald Trump won last week’s election because in the United States we have this thing called the Electoral College, and the billionaire businessman garnered more than enough electoral votes to claim victory. Both Clinton and Trump “won” this year’s presidential election, and therein lies the problem with statistics. They don’t always tell the whole story. We all know only one person was truly victorious and will soon get to occupy the Oval Office as our new Commander in Chief.

I was kind of expecting Hillary to win the 2016 presidential election, but I certainly wasn’t shocked, or even that surprised, when The Donald came away with the victory. There’s been a lot of speculation as to why Clinton lost the election: Her base was much less enthusiastic than Obama’s was in 2008 and 2012; She was an establishment candidate in an election year primed for an “outsider” to win; And those darn e-mails. I think the Democratic nominee’s loss had more to do with the frequently mentioned, but rarely discussed, 10% of undecided voters. Again, it’s about the statistics. However, neither the pollsters, nor the so-called experts, seemed overly concerned with taking the time to consider what impact the number of estimated undecided voters might have on election day.

To the contrary, I had given the undecided voters plenty of thought leading up to the election, and I had an inkling a good portion of the 10% probably weren’t really undecided. I had a difficult time believing there were still so many people, a couple of weeks before the election, who did not know which candidate they were going to cast a ballot for…or against. I assumed a majority of the “undecided” were closet Trump fans whom most-likely feared the backlash that typically comes with revealing such a thing. Admittedly, I was a tad surprised Trump won the electoral vote, and Clinton secured the popular vote. I had a sense it was going to be the other way around.

By the way, I adamantly oppose electing our nation’s leader via the Electoral College. I felt this way long before the 2016 election, and my sentiments on the subject have not changed. I’m sure the Democrats aren’t too pleased with the system either after losing two out of the last five elections only because of the Electoral College. (Maybe the system is rigged after all.) The current presidential election process just doesn’t seem fair, but that is the system we honor at this time, so there’s no use in complaining. Now back to the topic at hand. Statistics are subjective at best. Many times stats are not only misleading, but they’re purposely distorted in an attempt to provoke us or to “prove” a reporter’s weak point.

For example, since Trump’s victory the media has routinely been using the phrase “a nation divided” when referring to the sparse protests around the country. I think the word divided falsely gives the impression that half of America’s population has taken to the streets. Of course, that is far from accurate. In reality, only a few thousand people, out of approximately 319 million people nationwide, are publically protesting the soon-to-be 45th President of the United States. The number of protesters is microscopic and is a far cry from “a nation divided.” Once again, our trusted media seems willing to attain a story at the expense of the truth.

I never used to be so cynical concerning the media, but I’ve been finding more and more evidence that (like many of our politicians) our mainstream media specializes in false claims, half truths, and out and out lies. Often times statistics are used to give credence to such blatant dishonesty, but the data doesn’t mean much when it’s obviously skewed. I’ve also discovered that many articles appear harmless on the surface, but after further exploration they are found to be steeped in bias and fail to give an entirely accurate depiction of the real story. I think the mother of all dishonest reporting is when a journalist uses both slanted statistics and deceptive headlines when trying to “prove” their feeble point.

For instance, last month I could not help but notice a story in The Arizona Republic (Oct. 6th, 2016). I was curious about the enlarged words and accompanying statistics, directly beneath the headline, more so than the headline itself. I might’ve skipped the article on corporal punishment in schools, but I was so dumbfounded by the sobering stats that were listed. I couldn’t believe I was reading “African-American children in a few southern school districts about 50% more likely than white students to be smacked or paddled by a school worker.” I was even more flabbergasted when reading that in some of those school districts “black children are more than 500%, or five times as likely, to be spanked or paddled.”

I thought how unfair. How can that possibly be? Maybe there is something to all the recent chatter regarding Black oppression. I don’t know how anyone could read those words and not conclude that that’s racial discrimination. But wait. About midway through the story, in much smaller print, the reporter includes a quote from the leader of the corporal punishment study, Elizabeth Gershoff. The researcher said, “The higher prevalence of corporal punishment for black students doesn’t necessarily imply discrimination within schools or classrooms. In many of these districts black students – and presumably black educators – are in the majority.”

So, in a few southern school districts Black teachers are spanking Black children, yet the eye-catching words and statistics of the article certainly implied something entirely different. The story was about corporal punishment in schools, but the writer seemed determined to make it about race. Now more than ever statistics are being used haphazardly, irresponsibly, and even dangerously. During the campaign season we were reminded that statistically there are predominantly more Blacks incarcerated in this country than Whites even though Whites greatly outnumber Blacks. So? Stats also show there are significantly more Blacks playing in the NBA than Whites. Again, so? Not everything has to be 50/50 in order to be fair. I no longer put much stock in statistics because they rarely tell the whole story.