Can 660 people represent "most Americans?"

Late last week, I received a press release from the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) telling me that “most Americans agree with professional truckers about Mexican trucks.” OOIDA picked up on a Rasmussen Report that said 66% of American adults surveyed do not want Mexican trucks to carry loads on American Highways.

OK, fine. I don’t doubt that it is true. However, the survey, conducted Aug. 10-11, asked 1,000 adults the following question: “Mexico wants President Obama’s help to end the ban on Mexican trucks operating in the United States. Should Congress let trucks from Mexico cross the border and carry their loads on American highways?”

For the record, 19% said yes, 66% no and 15% were not sure with a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. I wonder if the question had been framed differently, how different the results would have been. Perhaps put this way, “most Americans” would feel differently: “If Mexican trucks abide by all U.S. safety regulations when traveling on U.S. highways, should they be allowed to travel inside the U.S.?” Or, how about this question: “If allowing Mexican trucks to haul goods into the U.S. would reduce consumer prices, would you want the U.S. government to allow those trucks into this country?”

My point is simple: the answers you receive all depend on how the question is framed. I’m fairly certain that through a series of questions, I can prove that the sky is green. True? Of course not, but based simply on the questions asked, I could lead you to that conclusion if you take no other information into account.

According to Rasmussen, the poll has a “95% level of confidence.” I’m no polling expert and I’m not sure what that actually means, but I don’t see how 1,000 adults is a statistically representative sample of the 217.8 million adults (age 18 and over) in the U.S. according to the Census Bureau.

But, in the end, I guess 660 people is the “majority of Americans.”