State Policy Network
Twisting polling results further erodes public discourse

This op-ed by SPN Senior Messaging Strategist Erin Norman first published at the Washington Examiner.

The Associated Press recently published an attention-grabbing headline that 1 in 3 fear the influence of immigrants on U.S. elections.

In the days since the study was published, many more articles citing the AP have used a single, poorly interpreted data point as proof that much of the country believes in “replacement theory,” or the idea that immigrants are brought to America to change the balance of political power purposefully. This has been used to further the narrative that America is irreparably divided on issues of race and ethnicity.

To get to the headline offered, the data must be squinted at and stretched.

The AP’s shock statement is based on a question that asks respondents if they agree or disagree that “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.” In response, 32% agree, 31% neither agree nor disagree, and 37% disagree. But the study assumes the worst about the public without any investigation into what might have prompted their responses. The survey also shows that most believe immigrants will have an influence on the outcomes of elections. However, that is neither problematic nor unexpected looking at the impact of demographic shifts on elections, and nowhere do the related survey questions mention “fear.” In fact, the only problem found in this data is that the AP/NORC survey chose to use the word “risk” in the question, forcing respondents to ascribe a negative connotation to a fairly benign and generally accepted truth about population shifts and elections.

If you only read the AP’s headline, it’s easy to feel as if we’re a hopelessly racist and xenophobic nation. But the actual study tells a very different story. AP/NORC’s dataset shows that two-thirds of the public believe the nation’s makeup of a diverse population with many races, ethnicity, and religions makes the country stronger — with just 8% saying it is a weakness. Over half believe a major benefit of legal immigration is the way it enhances the nation as a land of opportunity, with another 35% saying it is a minor benefit of legal immigration. The top line is filled with more good news that doesn’t fit here.

Read the full op-ed here.

Organization: State Policy Network