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Clarifying poll results

March 17, 2014
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A lot of sources (in fact, from a quick search of Google, just about all of them) have been reporting a new ABC/Wall Street Journal poll and have been saying things like “Americans rank marijuana less dangerous than sugar.”

Yes, it’s probably true, and Americans may believe that, but that’s not really what the poll showed.

Here are the question and results from the survey of 1000 adults:

Q25 Which of the following substances would you say is the MOST harmful to a person’s overall health (RANDOMIZE) (IF ALL, THEN ASK:) Now, if you had to choose just one, which substance would you say is the MOST harmful?

Tobacco...................................... 49
Alcohol ..................................... 24
Sugar........................................ 15
Marijuana..................................... 8

   All (VOL) ................................. 3
   None are harmful (VOL) .................... -
   Not sure................................... 1

The poll specifically asked people what one substance was the most harmful of these four specific substances. It did not ask people to rank them. So the actual correct point that we get from this survey is that more Americans think that sugar is the most harmful of these four substances than those who think marijuana is the most harmful of these substances (which, of course, makes for a lousy headline).

Theoretically (though unlikely), most could think that marijuana was the second-most harmful substance (and just very few think that it was the most harmful) and these results could still be true.

I don’t like it when the other side misuses data. I don’t want to be part of the misuse of data on this side.

Maybe we can ask them to actually rank them next time.

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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