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Immigration-related survey ‘meaningless’ say USU professors, surveyor disagrees

By Zachary Aedo | April 10, 2017

Political science professors at Utah State University called a recent immigration-related survey “biased” and “meaningless” because of how it was conducted.

The survey was released by the American Immigration Control Foundation and has circulated in Cache Valley over the past couple of weeks. The AIC Foundation is a nonpartisan activist organization that is anti-illegal immigration.

Among the questions on the mailer was one that was prefaced with a call for respondents to consider the “tremendous burden” of providing schooling for undocumented children. “Are you happy with this use of our limited education dollars?” the survey asked.

John Vinson, the president of the foundation, said the survey helped educate and raise awareness of illegal immigration.

“All the people know that something’s wrong, but they don’t know the full extent of it,” Vinson said.  “Our surveys are trying to raise that level of understanding.”

Josh Ryan, an associate professor in political science, challenged Vinson’s statement.

“This is not much more than a way to extract money from people,” Ryan said.

Ryan said these kind of surveys are released by both conservative and liberal interest groups in an attempt to raise money to promote their views on certain issues. A clear indicator of this is on the last page of the survey.

“At the very end it asks for money,” he said. “No legitimate survey is going to do that.”

Ryan said he thought the survey was biased not only in its questions, but also because it most likely did not have a random sample. Vinson confirmed Ryan’s observations.

“We rent a mailing list from various sources,” Vinson said. “Usually conservatives on the Republican party list.”

Ryan said these types of surveys are “priming” readers to give answers they think the surveyor wants to hear. The statement on the survey, “This organization supports a return to sensible immigration policy,” is an example of this, he said.

“A real survey would never prompt you by saying ‘Well I support this, what do you think?’” Ryan said.

Furthermore, the phrasing of certain questions and statements can bias a person’s answer, he said.

Associate professor Michael Lyons, who teaches political science at the university, agreed with Ryan.

Lyons said these surveys from interest groups serve the purpose of milking money from people who support a cause.

“It’s a fundraising device,” Lyons said. “What utility would anyone capture from the results of a mailed-out survey without any degree of over who responds, and with silly questions?”

“It’s meaningless,” he said. “The data produced by this survey mean nothing.”

Vinson said he would consider rephrasing questions to prevent bias in future surveys, including adding a space for respondents to write their opinions.

“Maybe I’ll put that in some time,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s perfect.”

While the survey’s credibility might not be important to Vinson, the issue of illegal immigration is not meaningless. He finds the idea of uncontrolled immigration unpalatable.

“I think all illegals are a problem for this country,” Vinson said. “We need to secure our border to stop the very worst of them from coming in, who indeed bring drugs and who indeed commit crimes.”

Lyons said a person generally forms a political opinion very rarely on objective evidence, and instead focuses on a personal range of experiences or unreliable data.

Vinson said illegal immigration is like a tidal wave that would overwhelm Americans if no changes to national immigration policies are made.

“We can’t be a haven for every aggrieved person on the face of this Earth,” Vinson said. “ We can’t take them all in. We can’t solve the world’s problems. America isn’t god.”

But the real sting of these interest groups may not come from their dissemination of biased surveys, Ryan said. An interest group can fool people into thinking its survey is an official U.S. document.

“That could potentially be an issue,” Ryan said. “I do worry that somebody could interpret it as an official document.” 

Farlin Paulino, a USU student getting his master’s in second language teaching, said he initially believed the survey was an official document released by the U.S. government. 

Paulino said a survey like this “isn’t impossible under this administration,” referring to President Donald Trump’s administration. But by the third question, he said he was aware and disappointed in the survey’s bias.

He said his disappointment came from a statement in the survey saying “The use of English as America’s primary language is under assault.”

“Attacked?” Paulino said. “Why use that word? This is not a terrorist attack.”

"It's misleading. It creates the wrong kind of discussions," Paulino said.