I had a very different column planned. In the last week, two polls were released on education, one by Benenson Strategy Group for the charter advocacy group ConnCAN, and another by Hartstad Strategic Research on behalf of a new 527 advocacy group, Democrats for Public Education. I’d planned to compare them because they told such different stories.

ConnCAN’s headline was that “Connecticut voters believe there are urgent problems in the public schools,” and further, claimed “Voters see the status quo as a problem and are looking for the pace of reform to quicken,” and “Connecticut voters are broadly supportive of the elements of reform.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats for Public Education declared: “Those Slamming Public Ed Out-of-Step With Parents & Voters,” and “overall 82 percent of those voters able to rate their local teachers believe them to be excellent, very good, or good.”

“I’ve seen an awful lot of polling through the years, and any politician or elected official would love to have the favorability ratings enjoyed by local public schools and teachers in this survey,” said DPE President Steve Rosenthal. “The facts are on our side, and we are beyond pleased with these findings.”

Given the conflicting stories told by these two polls, what’s an analytical columnist to do? Look at the cross tabs, of course!

Well, this exercise quickly became a vivid reminder of an observation popularized by Mark Twain that “there are lies, damned lies and statistics.”


Democrats for Public Education refused to release the cross tabs for their survey, on the basis that it was “highly unusual.” So the only information I have about their poll is that it was a “national telephone survey of 1200 individuals from September 11-16th.”

Now they’re a new organization, formed in July, so perhaps I should give them a pass? But check out a few of their board members: Donna Brazile, “Veteran Democratic political strategist . . . Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation at the Democratic National Committee, former interim National Chair of the Democratic National Committee,” Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, “a Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Public Policy at UC Berkeley’s School of Law, a Co-Chair and Board Member of Priorities USA Action and a Senior Advisor to Ready for Hillary PAC.”

Huh? These aren’t newcomers. These are political veterans who should know better. But just for the record, here’s a pro tip for Democrats for Public Education: Releasing cross tabs is only “highly unusual” if you don’t want thinking people to take your poll seriously.

ConnCAN did provide cross tabs, for which I congratulate them. However, examining the demographics of the 600 likely voters in their survey reveals that were primarily older (62 percent over the age of 50), white (79 percent), and middle class — (53 percent earning between $60,000 and $150,000) — with older children (64 percent of those surveyed had children 19 or older). Not exactly your average Connecticut public school parents.

Those polled by ConnCAN weren’t particularly clued up on education either: of those surveyed, 63 percent weren’t familiar with the changes to education in the 2012 reform bill.

Of the 34 percent of respondents who were familiar with the 2012 reform bill, ConnCAN asked, “Based on what you know, do you support or oppose the changes to the education system in Connecticut that were made in the bill?”

On that question, 56 percent of those who actually are clued up on education oppose the changes versus 41 percent in favor, but you’d never know that from ConnCAN’s interpretation of the survey.

Given that so few of the respondents knew anything about education meant that pollsters could frame the subsequent questions on reform in a way that suited ConnCAN’s objectives.

And so we have two conflicting polls that tell us . . . not exactly what the people who publicized the polls want us to take from them — or in the case of Democrats for Public Education, who the heck knows? Because one should never trust a poll without seeing the cross tabs.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

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