Friday, November 02, 2007

Do "67% Favor Birth Control for Students"? Really?

The Associated Press and Ipsos did a poll of attitudes toward distributing birth control in schools. The headline in many papers, our local one included, was "67% Favor Birth Control for Students." Yet when you look at the actual poll, here is the result to the crucial first question:

Which would you prefer for the public schools in your community?

37% Provide birth control only to those students who have the consent of their parents
30% Provide birth control to all students who want it
30% Not provide birth control to any student

How would you report that? I think the most honest way to present this finding would be to say that there is a bell curve of sorts: 30% are against school birth control, 30% are for school birth control, and 37% are in the middle, favoring schools administering parent-authorized birth control.

I think it is misleading to say simply that two-thirds of American adults favor school birth control. And none of the articles publish this breakdown of the answer -- you have to go to the AP/Ipsos site and look at the detailed results.

There is another finding of this survey, not reported in the AP article, that I think is more interesting:

What do you think is the better way to reduce the number of pregnancies among teenagers?

51% By emphasizing sex education and birth control
46% By emphasizing morality and abstinence

That is, the country is evenly divided on whether sex education should focus on abstinence or on birth control. Moreover, the survey did not ask any more nuanced question, such as should sex education teach both abstinence (the best plan) and birth control (not as good, but better than nothing)?

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