To the Editor,
On February 10, 2018 MercerMe published a letter by Hopewell Township Committeewoman McLaughlin outlining the “progress” that has been made towards a Senior Center/Community Center in Hopewell Township.
In her letter, McLaughlin stated that a survey had been conducted in 2017 which showed the “strong support” of Valley residents for such a Center. She further claimed that this survey provided “the data to show our residents are enthusiastic about the need for a new facility”. Unfortunately, the “data” that Mclaughlin mentions provides us with no reason to think that either of her claims are true.
The data that she refers to is drawn from a survey sponsored by Hopewell Township in the summer of 2017 which purportedly showed that 59% of residents who completed it had “interest” in a “new center”. The first point to note here is that a policy that is expected to appeal to 59% of a population is hardly one that enjoys “strong support” from a population that is “enthusiastic” about it. By this reasoning, Donald Trump (with 57% of the electoral college votes) enjoyed “strong support” from an American public who were “enthusiastic” about his election—claims that I’m sure McLaughlin (a Democrat) would (rightly) reject.
But even this initial point gives too much credence to McLaughlin’s claims concerning the support that her “dreamed-for” center enjoys. The survey did not ask residents whether they supported the building of a new center. Instead, it asked the vague question “Would a new center be of interest to you or anyone in your household?” (Emphasis added.) But to express interest in something is not the same as committing to it. (If it was, every first date would lead inevitably to marriage!) A person could answer “Yes” to this survey question even if they had only a mild curiosity about the proposed center and never intended to use it. Worse yet, this way of phrasing the question would secure “Yes” responses from persons who could then go on to oppose the construction of the new center once their initial interest led them to find out more about it.
These are not the only problems with using this survey to justify the claim that a new center is supported by the residents of Hopewell Township. Recall that this question asks “Would a new center be of interest to you or anyone in your household?” (Emphasis added.) A person should answer “Yes” even if they themselves oppose the new center if they believe that someone else in their household would have interest in it. But they might be mistaken to think that someone else in their household (e.g., a spouse) would have an interest in the center. (To see how common mistaken beliefs about family members’ interests are, think of how many lovingly-chosen holiday presents have disappointed the recipient.) And, to repeat the point above, believing that another person in your household might have an interest in a new center is not the same as believing that they would support the construction of a new center.
This survey’s result—that 59% of people who responded to it answered “Yes” to the question of whether they had an interest in the center or thought someone in their household might have an interest in it—is thus compatible with there being very little support for the construction of a new center. Indeed, it is even compatible with there being overwhelming opposition to the construction of a new center among Hopewell’s residents (e.g., if people’s initial interest in it led them to find out more about it and then come to oppose it, and/or if people answered mistakenly “Yes” on behalf of household members who actually oppose it).
Of course, none of this shows that McLaughlin is mistaken to believe that the construction of a new center is supported by Hopewell Township’s residents. It only shows that she has provided no evidence for her claims that it is. Moreover, since the “data” generated by this survey tells us nothing at all about the level of support that this proposed center enjoys among Hopewell residents this survey should not be used by Hopewell Township’s Committee as a basis for any future decisions concerning its construction.
James Stacey Taylor (Dr.),
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