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Splitting Apart: American Polarization, Part 1

This is part one of a two-part series on polarization in America. This post focuses on Americans' views on, and roles in, polarization. Part two addresses the systemic causes of polarization that result from our ... Read Now >

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1/4: New Year’s Resolutions: More Harm Than Good?

It was the best laid plans.  Going into 2011, I planned to refrain from making a New Year’s resolution.  And, I was in good company.  According to the latest national Marist Poll, 56% of American adults said it was not likely at all that they would make a resolution for 2011.  Ultimately, though, I caved.

azzoli-caricature-445As the hours ticked down to 2011, I questioned my decision.  “There are definitely plenty of bad habits and personality flaws that I can work on correcting,” I thought.  So, my ultimate decision was to resolve to worry less and enjoy life more.  (No small task for the ultimate Little Miss Worry Wart.)

The ball fell, I ushered in the New Year with my loved ones, and I was on track to be more laid back.  Think positively, I said to myself.  This is the beginning of a whole new you.  January 1st was a wonderful day, filled with family and friends.  And, then, it happened.  My brother, his fiancée, my fiancé, and I were gathered around my mother’s dining room table discussing our respective wedding plans.  As my brother’s well organized fiancée ticked off their well-thought out arrangements, I started to panic.  Granted, they are getting married before us, but that still didn’t stop my mind from racing.  Are we behind?  Does our more traditional style stink of boredom compared with their more avant-guard taste?  Should we be doing more? I painfully held my concerns until later that evening.  When I shared them with my fiancé, he stared at me and asked, “You couldn’t make it through one day, could you?”

He was right.  And, so, I started anew with my resolution.  But, here is the question that has been going through my mind: do resolutions do more harm than good? Think about it.  Each year, many of us promise to make a change going into the New Year, but for those who don’t keep them, there is often a sense of self-disappointment and failure?  In Marist’s holiday survey, nearly six in ten American adults considered the holiday season to be more stressful than fun.  Is this yet another holiday tradition which ultimately stresses us out?  It could be.

Mental note for 2012: resolve to stop over thinking.

12/20: Kids and Cell Phones

By John Sparks

When should a child be given his/her own cell phone?  Who is the phone really for — the parent or the child?  What rules and restrictions should be placed on the phone’s use?

Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell

The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks with Marist Poll Contributor Carol Ann Riddell about the plusses and minuses of equipping your child with a wireless phone.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, let’s talk about cell phones.  Specifically at what age do you think a child should have his or her own cell phone?

Carol Anne
Well, I think that it’s a very individual decision, like so many things in parenting, you have to make the decision is that right for your own family. In my case, my children are young.  My daughter is seven years old and has a cell phone.  Now before everyone would jump up and down and say that’s completely inappropriate, I would point out that because her father and I are divorced, she’s traveling with a sitter back and forth between my home and school and her father’s home, and I want her — I want both my kids to know that they can reach me whenever they want to.  Now that said, nine and seven years old are probably too young for phones in many people’s opinions, but I had to make a decision based on what I felt was appropriate to my specific situation. Now there have been some pitfalls with it.  I do think that my children are still at an age where there really a bit too young to be fully responsible for something as valuable as a cell phone, so it ends up that I’m the one finding the phone, making sure it’s charged, that sort of situation.  But again, because of our specific family situation, I think the benefit of being able to be in touch outweighed the downside for me, at least at this point. For most people, they think about cell phones older, more to the point of, you know tweens, I would say 10/11 years old is a more typical time to do it.

John Sparks
What are some other reasons you might give a child a cell phone?

Carol Anne
Well, I think there’s a lot of reasons, but for most parents it has to all do with security, with convenience, and with piece of mind for all of us.  My children are too young to be traveling on their own, but there still are times where they may want or need to call me, and I want them to have the security of knowing that they can reach me.  I want to have the security of knowing that I can reach them. There are things like day to day logistics, a piano lesson gets cancelled, a soccer game goes late, and I don’t want to be an alarmist, but you know you can’t ignore the potential for crisis situations in which we would want to be able to reach our kids first and foremost. When you think of things like school shootings, what we all went through here in New York on 9/11, the potential for natural disasters, those are all times when we, as parents, have to be able to get to our kids immediately and first and foremost.

John Sparks
So, who does the cell phone benefit most, the parent or the child?

Carol Anne
I think both. I admit that getting my kids cell phones was very much also about me.  As I said, as a divorced parent, I really want to be able to contact my kids even when they’re not with me, and a cell phone gives me that access. But there’s also a very big benefit for them because they feel connected. They feel connected to me emotionally, and that’s really important to me. I think that there is another piece of this for kids which has to do with sort of the status symbol of having a cell phone, and that can be very counterproductive for kids.

John Sparks
What kind of rules or restrictions do you place on the use of the phone by your child?

Carol Anne
As many as I can come up with, John, and I think that that’s generally a good rule to follow, at least in the beginning.  There’s lots of options that you can consider when you look at a cell phone for your child, like a prepaid plan. You can look at restricting what the phone can actually do, like Internet browsing and texting. We also have a habit of really looking very closely at the bill every month because I don’t want the kids downloading tons of games and ringtones. The point is that the phone is not a toy.  It’s a way for us to stay in touch.  Now, so far we haven’t had issues with the kids downloading expensive, unnecessary stuff, but we do have to keep a close eye on that because I think that that comes with the territory eventually. Another thing that we thought about it, and I think it’s an important thing to remember as parents go through this, is really thinking about limiting who your kids can talk to on the cell phone.  Behold, don’t talk to strangers policy applies to the wireless world too and there are options with phones where you can specifically program who they can speak to, and I think that that’s a really good option for people to consider.  Phone cameras, that’s another area you have to be really careful in. Kids can end up taking or receiving really inappropriate pictures, and that’s something you’d want to think about when buying a phone. I’m a big fan of going with sort of the most basic phone you can possibly get for kids. I think it’s more than enough and plenty.

John Sparks
You know in the classroom, teachers usually have rules about the phones being turned off. Do you run into problems there in equipping your kids with their cell phones?

Carol Anne
Yeah, we certainly talk to them about it.  My kids will stick their cell phones in their backpacks, but they remained turned off until they get out of school and they need to call me. I think parents have to be really very aware of that.  You’ll probably remember in New York City there was a lot of controversy around this issue because of the policy not allowing cell phones in the classroom and kids not knowing what to do with them when they got to school, but there are some very valid arguments for why they don’t want them in the classroom that are very obvious too.  There… A cell…  A ringing cell phone is disruptive to everyone in the class.  So in addition to the rules about I think who kids can talk to and what they can download, you really have to have rules about when they can use the phone, and the school day is absolutely off limits.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, are these phones addictive?  Do they keep your child from doing homework, taking care of the chores, keeping focus on school?

Carol Anne
I don’t think that we can say that yes, phones are bad, phones are addictive or video games are bad, video games are addictive, but I do think that when parents allow kids to use cell phones inappropriately, yes, they can be bad and, yes, they probably can be addictive in some sense of the word. I think distraction is a very serious issue.  We have to have strict rules about when the phones can be turned on and they can be used, but I think that this is all through the same way that you monitor things like video games and TV watching, common sense applies, and when the rules get broken, there are consequences for that.  In our case, the phone gets taken away for a period of time.  There is a real downside I think to kids using the phones constantly to communicate rather than sort of walking to the next room and speaking to the person in it, and I think that’s something we want to avoid.

John Sparks
You know, I was going to ask you if all this texting and tweeting and telephoning kept them from developing their social skills and makes them want to avoid face-to-face contact.  What do you think about that?

Carol Anne
It’s such a fascinating topic, and I think we have to as parents, really consider how technology is affecting this generation of children because, as we know, it is a completely wireless generation. They are always connected, and we just didn’t have that as part of our experience growing up. I do think there’s a risk when kids spend too much time communicating via text and email that they lose out as far as building those face-to-face communication skills, and I think that we — there’s evidence of that.  We’ve seen that, and we’ve heard that talked about a lot.  On the other hand, we can’t ignore that this is our reality. Technology is here. It’s not going away.  What we try to do is sort of manage screen time generally in our house, and by screen time, I mean computers and TV and iPods and phones, the whole thing, anything that has a screen. Play a game of cards or Uno instead. But I have… And we do have to remember that you can’t turn back time, and I don’t think we would want to either.

John Sparks
I agree there. Is a cell phone a necessity for my child?

Carol Anne
Ah, you know that is a very interesting question. I think it really depends on the individual family, and I think in many, many cases parents would say, “Yes,” particularly for an older child. For example, a child in New York City who is traveling alone to and from school and may be taking the bus or may be taking the subway and that parent really feels that it is an absolute necessity to check in with that child when he or she gets off the subway or gets off the bus. I think there are certainly situations where parents and kids would say, “It is absolutely a necessity.” I think there are also situations where parents are simply indulging kids like they do with any other luxury item, having the coolest, newest, fastest thing, and cell phones can fall into that category because they have become a real status symbol for children. I think that the cell phone conversation is a great chance to talk to kids about some of these things.  For starters, what you just mentioned, John, what is a want versus what is a need?  And what does it mean to be responsible for something that’s really valuable because a cell phone costs money.  There’s real value to do that. And what’s the repercussion if you do lose that item?  We have… In our house, we have this three-month replacement policy for all those types of valuable items, things like an iPod or a Nintendo DS or phone, and we’ve had to use that. That is an extremely hard lesson because 12 weeks feels like a lifetime to a child, but it’s a really valuable lesson, and you know the hard, sad, last thing I would say on that also is that don’t think that giving your kids a phone means that they’re always going to be available to talk to you because it’s amazing how often they’re too busy to pick up.

John Sparks
Well, that’s what I was going to ask.  Say you get in a spat with your child, your child gets in a huff and won’t take your calls anymore, it’s kind of a power play.

Carol Anne
It can be, and I think that it’s absolutely true and sad to say, but I think in those situations what we always have to remember, right, is that we’re the parent, and you have to then reserve the right to take that phone away. If my call keeps getting declined, and that hasn’t happened to me yet, but if it does, I’ll be the first one to be putting that phone in the top dresser drawer for awhile.

John Sparks
Anything else you’d like to add, Carol Anne?

Carol Anne
You know, there’s just one other thought that I had about some of this as we were talking and that is when we think about things like the texting and the e-mailing and the sort of digital shorthand that kids have, one thing that I’ve noticed, and I’ve done some stories about this in the past as well, is that kids use so much shorthand now because of the language of texting that I think sometimes things like spelling and handwriting can suffer. I’ve interviewed teachers before who have complained about even older students really having terrible spelling skills because they haven’t really learned appropriate ways to spell, and they have a computer correct it for them so it’s not part of their knowledge base, or they will use text shorthand in a formal paper, and I think that that’s something also that as parents, we have to really watch for as kids use this kind of technology, particularly at very young ages. They’re just developing these skills to write and speak and read fluently, and when they’re young and they sort of fall into the habits of texting shorthand, I think it can be disruptive to those skills.  So, I think it’s just another thing that I’ve noticed, and I’m keeping an eye on myself.

John Sparks
Certainly I’ve noticed that, or I’ve been told rather that kids no longer write nor can they read or decipher cursive because of this.

Carol Anne
I think that’s a very common thing.  I think cursive is not as widely taught as it once was, and I think kids really have their own shorthand language that is part of a digital world that we just didn’t — you know we didn’t have anything like that growing up, and you know again, I think there is something to moving forward, and we can’t turn back time. We don’t want to turn back progress, and we don’t want to turn back technology, but there are some very basic skills that are not debatable in terms of their value, and I think like learning to write clearly and spell well, and I think that to the degree that texting and that kind of shorthand interrupts that is a real problem.

John Sparks
Thank you, Carol Anne. It’s always a pleasure talking with you.

Carol Anne
Thanks, John. I appreciate it.

12/2: “The 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time”

By John Sparks

Sports journalist and Marist Poll Contributor Len Berman has stirred up a little controversy in his new book, The 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.  Find out what the fuss is about in his interview with the Marist Poll’s John Sparks.

Len Berman

Len Berman

John Sparks
Len, you had to have opened up a real hornet’s nest with a book titled “The 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.”  That’s a pretty tall order. What kind of responses have you been getting from the book?

Len Berman
Well, it’s …   I probably should’ve given this some more thought before I decided to do it, but what happens is people are passionate about their local teams.  So anybody who gets left off the list, they think I’m nuts.  How could you possibly leave off Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan or Yogi Berra or Roberto Clemente?  So I’m in the weird position of talking about my book, and most authors get to talk about what’s in their book, I have to spend half the time talking about what’s not in there.

John Sparks
Now, since I’ve read the book, I know, of course, that you didn’t come up with the list all by yourself.  I can’t blame you for not wanting to take all the heat.  In fact, you had a Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel. You had Bernie Williams and Jeffrey Lyons and Ralph Branca and Frank Deford, just to name a few. How did you go about selecting your partners in crime?

Len Berman
Well, first of all, when you’re trying to do something, you want to reach out to people you know and will get a response from, so clearly I looked for initially people I knew and journalists I knew and respected, and then I asked the Hall of Fame for a suggestion. I knew they couldn’t get involved. That wouldn’t be proper for them to vote, and the Director of the Hall of Fame suggested Roland Hemond, who’s a longtime baseball executive in Arizona who’s seen it all. So, I tried to spread it around as much as I could to different ages and generations. People have seen a lot of ballplayers and seen a lot of games, and I told them just vote. Give me 25 names, and you don’t have to say what position they play or what era they played in, and that’s how we got who we got.  And I don’t think I agree with all of them, but I do agree with most of them.

John Sparks
Well, let me follow-up. You wrote that there were 11 unanimous choices. How did you settle on the other 14?  Was there a weighted vote?  Was your vote the only one that mattered?  Did you ever get outvoted by your own panel?  Did they change your mind on anybody?

Len Berman
I didn’t vote at all, and the 11 unanimous choices were Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Mickey Mantle, Christy Mathewson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams, and I can’t argue with any of them.  The other 14 were just whoever got the most votes.  And, since I had seven panelists, luckily it broke down where four votes got you in and three didn’t.  Well, listen to this collection of ballplayers who got three votes and just missed: Grover Alexander, Barry Bonds, Lefty Grove, who some considered to be the greatest pitcher ever, Satchel Paige, and Roberto Clemente.  So, those were the people that just missed.  The shocking thing to me was Yogi Berra got one vote out of seven, just one that came from Bernie Williams, and yet there’s ten World Series rings.  I mean somebody had to catch all those pitchers.

John Sparks
You know, the book’s been out a little while, is there one player that readers have taken the most exception with?

Len Berman
Well, sure. That would be the only active player who made the book, and that’ll be Alex Rodriguez, who’s controversial for any number of reasons. Number one of which, he took performance-enhancing drugs and admitted to it. Number two, there are active players, such as Albert Pujols, who, if this book were written 10 or 15 years from now, might receive even more consideration. But Alex Rodriguez got four votes, and what I found most interesting was not only did he get a vote from Bernie Williams, which you’d expect, I mean Bernie Williams also voted for Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, but I mean — but he also got a vote from Roland Hemond.  So, that tells me that there’s widespread belief that his talents just rise above anything he may or may not have done. And the truth be told, if it weren’t for Derek Jeter playing shortstop, Rodriguez would be ensconced at shortstop and would be considered the greatest shortstop ever this side of Honus Wagner.

John Sparks
When going through the book, I couldn’t help but think about that age-old controversy about whether ballplayers should be considered role models.  You mentioned about A-Rod and the steroids, some of your other 25 had their personal demons. Cobb was snarly. Ruth was a drinker and carouser. Mickey Mantle wasn’t a saint, and Pete Rose liked to gamble. Did you have any difficulty in trying to go beyond that issue? Did you judge strictly on talent on the field?

Len Berman
Well, you’d have to ask the panelists, but as far as how I addressed this, since the book is primarily aimed at young readers, I certainly did not skirt the issue. So I addressed the Alex Rodriguez issue head-on and the Pete Rose gambling issue head-on.  I didn’t get into Babe Ruth’s carousing and Mickey Mantle’s drinking. The publisher did take out one story, though. I did write that Ty Cobb’s mother shot his father to death in an accident, thought he was an intruder and shot him to death. He thought she was fooling around and was sneaking into the house. The publisher, I think, decided it wasn’t a warm and fuzzy enough story for young people to read about, so that’s out of the book.

John Sparks
You know, I’m glad you mentioned that because I noticed that omission as well, and I recall seeing a — I think it was a two-act play that Gabe Pressman and I went to, believe it or not, and it was about Cobb, and according to the play, he had witnessed that incident, and the whole thesis was that that affected his demeanor in the way he interacted with other players.

Len Berman
Well, an amateur psychologist would tell you that, gee, if mom shoots dad to death, it’s going to affect your personality in later years. I don’t know if he actually witnessed it. There’s some debate over how the incident took place. Cobb has a descendant, like a great, great something, nephew or grandson who’s debunked part of the story. Some of it’s shaped in myth, but I would … yeah, anything you write about these guys from way back when is kind of speculation. We don’t know much about, for example, the great Negro League catcher Josh Gibson who made the book. We don’t. What’s written about him or what’s said about him is not really well known because it didn’t get the press coverage, and the statistics weren’t really accurate, and a lot of what he did may have just been the stuff of myth. So, you just don’t know about a lot of these people when you go way back when.

John Sparks
You mentioned a minute ago about aiming the book at young fans, but I’ve got to tell you, I think you did a masterful job at aiming your book at fans of all ages. That’s the beauty of baseball, I think.  I remember my late father at the age of 80 sitting in the back seat of my car on the way home from a Texas Rangers’ game talking to an eight-year-old son of my neighbor, and baseball bridged a 72-year-old age gap when it came to conversation. I really thought you did a great job at trying to talk to people at all ages.

Len Berman
Well, thank you.  There’s a couple of factors involved there.  Number one, I think baseball’s the one sport that does bridge the generations.  My dad told me about seeing Babe Ruth bat, and my eyes just lit up, so I think that’s one.  And number two, I’ve always — this is my second — or actually it’s my fourth kids’ book, but my second of this kind of style. Last year it was the 25 Greatest sports moments of all time, “Greatest Moments in Sports” it was called, but I’ve never tried to write down to kids.  So I think if you — in some respects maybe the vocabulary might be on the high level for youngsters, but I just always — I wrote simply. I didn’t write complex sentences, but I always tried to just write simply, and I think the publisher did a wonderful job of putting picture — the old pictures are just great, which I had nothing to do with, and I think that’s why kids, as I like to say, of all ages might enjoy the book.

John Sparks
No, it’s really packaged well.  Any plans for a sequel, and if so, what would you call it?

Len Berman
Well, I don’t know if I want to follow-up on the baseball. I’m not sure of the other sports.  We’ve had some ideas we’ve been running back and forth with the publisher. Nothing that’s in cement just yet, but I think the publisher wants to keep the series going.  It’s just a matter of hitting on the right …  I mean one thought is greatest athletes of all time, then you incorporate people like Jim Thorpe. Although Jackie Robinson’s, who’s made my last two books, would also make that book as a great.  Jesse Owens, so there’s some great, great athletes.  Jim Brown.  So I don’t know. That’s a possibility. Another possibility would be a blooper, like the greatest craziest sports moments of all time, some serious and some not so.  You could do Buckner and Bonehead Merkle and Wrong Way Corrigan and some of those other classics.

John Sparks
You generate a lot of controversy when you go after the 25 greatest, but I got to thinking: You’d probably generate just as much controversy if you wrote about the 25 worst baseball players of all time.  I mean I just wonder who might be on that list?

Len Berman
I know.  I don’t know how you would figure that out.  I mean that’d also be kind of mean.  I mean could you imagine telling your grandkids: Look at this, I’m one of the 25 worst of all time.  There are some interesting stories.  I once interviewed a guy who passed away who played with Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators and got into exactly one Major League game, and I asked him how he did, he said he couldn’t remember.  So, I don’t know.  I don’t know how you’d pick the worst.

John Sparks
It’s a great book, Len. You always do great work, and it’s always a pleasure talking to you.  Before we go, could I get you tell the Marist listeners how they can subscribe to your Daily Top Five for those that don’t know that?

Len Berman
Yeah, just simply go to my website, https://www.thatssports.com and I send out a free daily email, if anyone’s interested.  It’s on my musings on sports, and there’s always something to talk about.  So, thatssports.com is the place.

11/23: Hard Hits on the Gridiron

By John Sparks

What should be done to reduce the number of head injuries in, both, the NFL and college football?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks took up the topic with Marist Poll Analyst and CBS Sports Play-By-Play Broadcaster Verne Lundquist.

Verne Lundquist

Verne Lundquist

John Sparks
Verne, there’s been more talk about football and head injuries this season than any other that I can recall in quite some time.  What’s the reason?

Verne Lundquist
Well, I think it’s the growing awareness that there’s been trauma because of head injuries, not only in the National Football League, but also in college and on down to high school.  It just seems to me that the more science explores the impact of football and head injuries, the more they learn and the greater the safety precautions need to become, and so, I think that there’s just a heightened awareness about all of it.

John Sparks
You know even Congress has gotten in on the act.  There’ve been hearings.  You think there’s an answer on how we can reduce or eliminate concussions suffered on the gridiron?

Verne Lundquist
I don’t know, John, unless it’s in the increased safety level and increasing technology in the development of the helmet.  It is and always will be a contact sport as long as football is played with the current rules.  I think you can change some of the rules too to — but you can’t change the nature of the game. I think it’s all going to be dependent upon technology and an increase in the safety of the helmet.

John Sparks
You know hard shell helmets, as we know them, were developed in the late ’40s to prevent fractured skulls, and some say that the helmets actually encourage players to hit harder and with more force because they feel they’re so protected.  Do you think that’s true?

Verne Lundquist
Well, I think for years the technique was taught to lead with the helmet. I think it was a coaching technique, and kids, probably not in junior high but in high school and certainly in college, were taught that technique and then perfected the — not the art of it, but the technique of it as they advanced into the higher levels of the sport. And, this goes back to the increasing awareness of the damage of helmet, not only helmet-to-helmet hits but helmet-to-body part hits.  I just… I think that the technique…  Well, not the technique, the coaching aspects of it need to change, and I think they are.  I… You know the NFL is cracking down now on helmet-to-helmet hits.  The college game is.  We had an example in a recent big time game, Georgia and Auburn, where one of the Auburn defensive players was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. He used his helmet to spear the opposing quarterback in the small of the back long after the ball had been released and was gone. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike, but that was a potentially serious injury, a potential serious injury, and there’s a school of thought that he should’ve been suspended for a game, and the more suspension…  I did see somewhere someone was suspended just this past weekend in college, and I think we need to have more of that.

John Sparks
So, in the NFL, for instance, a player who commits an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit, think they ought to be fined or suspended then?

Verne Lundquist
Well, I think suspension works better than fines because it’s so — it’s such an incidental part of their financial compensation package.  For these multimillionaire athletes, I think suspension without pay is much, much more effective than strictly a fine.  It’s a pittance for most of them.  It sounds great to the average American, you know $25,000.  That’s a salary — a yearly salary for some folks, and at least a half yearly salary for most people.  But, for a guy who’s making $3 million a year, it’s the cost of doing business.  So, I’d rather see them suspended without pay for a game or two.

John Sparks
There’s been a suggestion by some folks that we just do away with helmets; we slow down the game; we change it. That would ease parents fears who worry about injuries to their kid.  Do you think we’d ever seen anything like that happen?

Verne Lundquist
Well, we have a sport; it’s called rugby, and it’s as violent as football is except it’s played with no pads and no helmets, so I don’t see it happening.  I think the sport is so popular that they’re not going to do away with helmets in the game.  At the base of the attraction of football for most of us is the anticipation.  It’s not anything we should be proud of, but I think there’s an attraction to… not the violence of the game, but the aggressive nature of the sport.  I think that is part of what makes it attractive to fans and players, so, you’re not going to completely get away with that — get away from it rather.

John Sparks
I didn’t realize it, but I’m not surprised, there is an organization called the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.  Now, that’s a mouthful.  But, one of its board members who is a…

Verne Lundquist
I didn’t know that either.

John Sparks
One of its board members, he’s a neurosurgeon up in Massachusetts, and he says you can prevent concussions, but to do that, the helmets would have to be much larger and the padding much larger.  And, he add that other than making players look like aliens from another planet, the hit of your helmets would be more likely to cause neck injuries.  So, here we again.  Do you see that we might get to this stage where we drastically reformat/redesign the current paraphernalia that we wear?

Verne Lundquist
No, I don’t think so.  Remember there was a kid — a kid, a young man from Buffalo Bills, I want to say his name was Mark Kelso, and he had his helmet designed with the padding on the outside of it, and so his helmet was much larger than most.  And, God bless him, he did look a little like an alien, and he paid a price every week in the taunting that he received from the opposition, and I just think the innate  narcissism of most athletes is that they’re not going to go for anything that makes them look less attractive, and that certainly would.

John Sparks
I guess the bottom line is that really football wouldn’t be football if you changed the game, and everything I sense is that it’s the most popular game in the country.  I know you’re preparing for the current CBS Game of the Week. I presume that ratings are as high as ever.

Verne Lundquist
Well controversy helps, doesn’t it, John?  And, we’re in the midst of this Cam Newton scandal or non-scandal, depending on your perspective, and so last week we had Georgia/Auburn game featuring Cam Newton: Will he play?  Won’t he play?  And, we had our highest rating of the year.  So, I mean we all know that.  P.T. Barnum taught us all that 125 years ago that if you can get them into the tent, keep them entertained, and it’s kind of sad.  It’s not a grateful — gracious commentary on the fan base, but it’s true, and we know it.  And, it goes back to the point I made: I think the element of violence is part of the attraction of the sport of football. I really… I’m not proud to say that, but I think it’s true.

John Sparks
Hey, I appreciate your time, Verne. It’s always a pleasure talking with you.  Good luck with the broadcast this weekend.

Verne Lundquist
Thank you, John. I’ll talk to you down the road.

Related Story:
Poll: Helmet-to-Helmet Hits — Football Fans Define the Penalty

11/8: The New Political Reality 2010

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

Although the political leadership in Washington is offering up its carefully crafted conclusions for Election 2010, I’m checking out pre-election and exit polls to find out what voters nationally were actually saying.

miringoff-caricature-430To the degree this election was a referendum on the president, something the GOP had hoped for, and not the choice between national parties or localized issues the Democrats had wanted, then President Obama’s forty something approval rating was a prescription for Democratic disaster on Election Day.  There was no reason to suspect he would overcome the historical trends.

Also, generic questions about voter preferences for Congress pointed to the same conclusion.  The McClatchy-Marist national poll numbers, like many other polls, thought the gap in voting for Congress would hover around 6% in favor of the GOP among those most likely to vote.

Team Obama’s efforts to rally the Democratic base to close the so-called “enthusiasm gap” clearly came up short.  Although the McClatchy-Marist national poll found a narrowing gap in the closing days of the campaign from a plus 23% in favor of the GOP over the Democrats to a plus 14%, this was clearly a case of too little, too late.

The turnout recipe for this midterm election had a decidedly different flavor than 2006 or 2008.  This year’s electorate was older and more conservative.  Not a good sign for the Democrats.

This data all identifies the strong headwinds that President Obama and the Democrats had to navigate.  With the energy of the Tea Party, the sleepiness of the president’s electoral base, and the shifting tides of independent voters, the White House was truly in for a “shellacking.”

A few additional sidebars.

  • More of the same from President Obama?  Following the vote, President Obama said what president’s typically say in defeat.  He learned his lesson.   But, is he planning to change his approach or improve on his communication?  So far, he put the Bush tax cuts on the table.  He also said he failed to convince voters of his policy successes.  These are mixed signals and don’t speak well to the “lesson” he claims to have learned.
  • The Tea Party giveth and the Tea Party taketh away.  The dugout chatter this election season has been about the Tea Party.    According to the Exit Poll, approximately, 40% of this year’s electorate was supportive of their efforts. Tea Party candidates for the U.S. Senate, for example, in Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin were victorious.  But, in Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado their Senate candidates went down to defeat.  In the House of Representatives numerous candidates with Tea Party backing will be taking the oath of office in January.
  • What’s a GOP leader to do?  Nationally, voters want the new Congress and the White House to work together on a common agenda.  But, Republican voters and Tea Party sympathizers are divided over whether the GOP should compromise with President Obama or stand firm even if it means things don’t move ahead.
  • Out of the starting bloc, Speaker-to-be John Boehner seems less confrontational than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. This may reflect nothing more than the fact that Boehner already has his majority and McConnell is still in search of his in 2012.

What does this mean for the next few years?  As The National Journal’s Charlie Cook writes, the biggest post-election sin is over reading a mandate or creating one that simply isn’t there.   On health care, the plurality of voters want the recently passed law repealed,   But, a similar number want it either left alone or expanded.  On the fiscal side of the ledger, voters who want to reduce the deficit or spend to create jobs outnumber those who think cutting taxes should be the highest priority for the next Congress.  Yet, tax cuts may take all the oxygen out of the committee rooms.

What’s the bottom line? What a difference two years has made for President Obama.  But, neither party is particularly popular.  The GOP is viewed unfavorably by 52% and the Democrats are seen that way by 53%.

The election may have been more about President Obama losing the war on expectations and the winds of change swirling for the third consecutive election than about a specific policy mandate.

Looking ahead to 2012?  President Obama will have to do more than hope the Reagan comeback of 1984 and the Clinton comeback of 1996 are in the cards for him, as well.  The GOP will have to find a way to reconcile the Tea Party movement with its established leadership.  Did anyone mention jobs and the state of the economy?  That may, again, be paramount for everyone’s chances next time.

11/8: Governor Cuomo: Take Two

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

It’s Election Night in New York State.  The winds of change are strong as the Attorney General has just been elected governor by a wide margin.  The promise:  shake up the system and clean up the government.  Of course, the year was 2006 and the newly elected governor was Eliot Spitzer.

miringoff-caricature-430But, the 2006 vote also represented the improbable first step in the political resurrection of Andrew Cuomo.  Cuomo came off the canvass that night, following his political debacle of 2002, and was elected to replace Spitzer as New York’s Attorney General.

Following Spitzer’s abrupt exit in 2008, slightly more than one year into his term, then Lieutenant Governor David Paterson assumed the top position.  But, Paterson’s messy appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the unexpired term of Senator Hilary Clinton, while the economy teetered and the budget gap widened, made his stay in the governor’s mansion short-lived, as well.

How low is low?  Paterson’s approval rating during his time as governor even fell below what Spitzer received during that troubled, sex scandal plagued week that ended in his resignation.  So, Paterson declined to run sparing New Yorkers and Cuomo the unpleasant prospect of a primary.

If ever there was an opportunity for the GOP to make inroads statewide in New York, 2010 was the year.  The winds of change were still blowing strong but, with the Democrats nationally and in New York State as the party in power, the gusts were swirling in the opposite direction.  Voters in New York were experiencing a dual nightmare.  Not only was the economy in dire straits but the state government, often characterized as a circus, was viewed by voters as totally dysfunctional.  Approximately 3 in 4 New York voters thought the state was headed in the wrong direction.  A similar number proclaimed major changes were needed.

Demands for change in New York ironically echoed 1994 when three-term Governor Mario Cuomo was defeated.  It’s easy to see why Andrew Cuomo, despite being the most popular elected statewide official in New York, might have been concerned.  The national GOP tidal wave trickled down to the congressional level in New York but statewide the water still had a decidedly blue tint.

Then, there’s round 3.  Enter Carl Paladino, the baseball bat swinging businessman from upstate.  Imagine, the GOP nominated a candidate who was even less shy than Andrew Cuomo.  Voters quickly found this candidate from Erie County to be, well, let’s say it, eerie.  The emails, the tussle with New York Post legend Fred Dicker, the off-the-cuff and often offensive comments all contributed to voters concluding that Paladino was not fit for state office.

The voters had had enough… a TKO after three rounds.  The winner:  Andrew Cuomo.

This is not to take away from the practically errorless campaign Cuomo ran this election cycle.  As is said, you need to be prepared for luck.  To his credit, Cuomo earned the title of, “The Great, Political Comeback Story of 2010.”

Still, New York voters are dismayed over the condition of the state and its government.  The tasks Cuomo faces as governor are daunting.  Will voters find Andrew Cuomo a tough guy who matches their desire for tough leadership?  Will the direction of the state, long a source of voter angst, reverse itself under Governor Cuomo?  Will Andrew Cuomo reach the levels of popularity enjoyed by his father for much of his years as governor?

Although premature for this “The Son Also Rises” governor, there’s already talk between Albany exits 23 and 24 on the thruway of a possible presidential bid down the road… or, if history beckons this time, down the tarmac.

10/28: The Ramifications of the Midterm Elections

By John Sparks

Will the GOP retake the House? Will the Senate be gridlocked? And, what are the lasting effects of Tuesday’s midterm elections? The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

John Sparks
Carl, we’re right on top of the midterm elections. I read an estimate that said in the House, about 168 seats are solidly Republican, 155 solidly Democrat, about 112 seats in play.  Do you think that the Republicans have a chance to retake the House?

Carl Leubsdorf
Oh, I think most people think that the Republicans are going to retake the House, and the only real question is by how much they take it.  All signs are, and I’ve been just looking at a lot of polls of House Democratic incumbents, and there’s so many districts in which the Democratic incumbents are polling in the low 40’s, some that are ahead by a couple of points, some that are behind by a couple of points.  An an incumbent who’s in his low 40’s at this time, two weeks out from the election, is in very deep trouble, and undecided vote is unlikely to go with the incumbent. So if the national polling on intent and Congressional elections is anywhere close to correct and you’re seeing those have anywhere from a five to a 10-point Republican lead, the Republicans are going to gain between 50 and 60 seats, and they need to get 39 to take the House.

John Sparks
You know, we’ve both seen polls that indicate that voters are angry. They say, “Throw the bums out regardless of the party.”  They want change which is kind of ironic since President Obama campaigned on change just two short years ago. But, do you really think that incumbents are in trouble?

Carl Leubsdorf
Oh yeah, I think they are, but they’re mostly Democratic incumbents who are in trouble.  One reason for that is there are many more Democrats who represent swing districts. As a result of the 2006 and the 2008 elections, the Republican representation in the House was reduced substantially, and most of those districts are pretty safe Republican districts, but, for example, you have 48 or 49 Democrats who represent House districts that John McCain carried in the presidential election. That kind of a district can go either way and has in different years, so the Democrats have to defend an awful lot plus, they’ve been running the government for the last two years, so they’re the — any anti-incumbent wave is going to strike them and inordinately high.

John Sparks
Do you think that we could wake up on November 3rd to see a repeat of say, what we saw in 1994 with the Contract with America when the Republicans won in droves?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, the Republican… The difference between this and 1994 is that in 1994 most of us thought that the Republicans would win the Senate, which they did, and we had that pretty much pegged because there were so many open Democratic seats in the Senate. But in the House, most of us were quite surprised by the Republican landslide in the House.  It broke very late.  A lot of Democrats were quite unprepared for what happened. There’s no surprise this time.  For the last year or more than a year, some analysts have been saying that the Democratic hold on the House is in trouble, that many Democratic freshmen and sophomores in districts that are not particularly Democratic would have a tough time. So, we won’t be surprised at all. I mean, we’ll be surprised by two things.  We’ll be surprised if the Democrats keep the House, and we’ll surprised — be surprised if the Republicans win a majority, win 70 or 80 Democratic seats as opposed to more like 50.

John Sparks
Let’s take a look over at the Senate side of things. What do you think is going to happen?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, that’s interesting because it looks at this point like the Democrats have a pretty good shot of holding the Senate.  Now some analysts have pointed out that there has been no election in modern time where the House has switched parties where the Senate has not switched parties, and yet it looks at this point like the Republicans are likely to fall a seat or two short in the Senate.  Not only that, but a couple of races where the Republicans have had fairly comfortable leads, the polling shows they’ve tightened up a lot.  For example, in Pennsylvania where Arlen Specter, the incumbent, was beaten in the Democratic primary by Joe Sestak, a congressman.  Ever since then, the polls have showed that Pat Toomey, the conservative Republican challenger, has been ahead of Sestak by anywhere from 7 to 10 points.  In the last two or three days, we’ve had a couple of polls showing Sestak pulling ahead by 3 points.  In the primary, he came on very late, and it’s always possible that that will happen here again, and what makes the polls somewhat credible is they continue to show a comfortable Republican lead in the governor’s race there. So we’ve seen that there.  We even saw a poll in Wisconsin where, I think, most many Democrats gave Senator Russ Feingold up for as a loser this year, that someone came out with a poll this week that showed him a couple of points ahead. So, we’ve got half a dozen at least very close Senate races, and there is some history that in a wave election where there’s a big swing to one party, all of those close races go one direction, and that’s certainly possible that at the end all these close Senate races will go Republican along with the House, and the Republicans will win the Senate. One other thing about the Senate, whichever party wins the numerical majority in the Senate, whether it’s 50/51/52 seats, it’s going to be a very small majority, and given the fact that the Senate has decided you need 60 votes to do almost anything, the Senate is certainly headed for gridlock city.

John Sparks
Carl, you know we’ve been talking about the immediate election, but there are some down ballot races, state results that are going to have an impact on the makeup of the Congress, and I talk about redistricting.

Carl Leubsdorf
I think there is a real danger for the Democrats of what I call a double whammy in this election that not only will they lose the House and possibly the Senate, but certainly a lot of their Senate seats, but that what’s happened in some of those down ballot races, especially legislative and gubernatorial races, will set the Democrats up for another defeat in two years, and let me explain what I mean. As you know, every 10 years, legislative and congressional seats are —  the boundaries are redrawn according to population changes. Some states gain Congressional seats, some lose Congressional seats, and in other cases, the population is shifted within the state, so the boundaries get redrawn.  And, it looks like that because this is going to be such a Republican election, and that’s going to carry through into state legislative races, that the Republicans will have a real advantage in redrawing the district lines. For example, in Texas, which will probably gain four seats, and Florida, which will be probably gain two seats, the Republicans will probably control the legislature in both.  Probably win the governorship in Texas. Florida is closer. They might not win there. But a couple of Northern states like Michigan and Ohio, which are losing seats in Congress, the Republicans are doing well there, too.  So, if they redraw the lines in these states to favor the Republicans, it could make it that much harder for the Democrats to rebound in two years, even if the economy improves and President Obama gets re-elected. There’s another factor in this.  The Senate seats, of course, come up every six years, and the Senate seats that are going to be up for election in 2012 are the ones that were elected in 2006.  Well, 2006 was a big Democratic year so as a result of the 33 Senate seats up next time, only 10 are Republican seats, and most of them are pretty safe.  So this is why Republican leaders are talking about, even if they don’t win the Senate this time, they think they can win it next time.  And, if it’ll rebound, then the House would be very difficult for the Democrats.  So, they may be in the minority for more than two years here.

John Sparks
You know, the president and first lady are traveling now stumping on behalf of Democratic candidates.  Former President Clinton has been out on the campaign trail too I understand.  What will it be like for the president and the — his administration with Republican control of the Congress?  What can we look for in the way of running the government for the next two years?

Carl Leubsdorf
Of course, the president will continue to run the government in terms of the executive branch, and it’s going to be very difficult for the Republicans, even if they win the House and even if they get a small majority in the Senate to be able to follow through on some of their promises to basically stop what Obama has done and, for example, repeal and replace major parts of the health reform bill.  The president will still have the veto.  He certainly will be using it, and that requires a two-thirds vote in either — in both houses to override him, and that will be very difficult. For example, if the Republicans try to deny funding to carry out the health bill when the appropriation bill is up for the Department of Health and Human Services, the result of that will be that it’ll be very hard to pass an appropriations bill for those departments. Even if they get it through both houses, again, the President will be in a position to block it, so I think there’s going to be a lot of — they’re going to be at each other’s throats a lot, and unless they can find some areas to do some cooperating, you’re not going to see much of that. Now, the other thing that will happen with a Republican Congress and especially Republican House is, we’ve seen this before, that when the other branch has the control of the Congress, they have control of the committees, and they can conduct investigations. And Darrell Issa of California, Republican congressman who’s due to the head the committee that the government — used to call it Government Operations Committee, has already said that he’s going to hire a lot of FBI agents, and he’s going to conduct a whole series of investigations of the way the Obama administration has done its business. So, the administration, if that happens, can expect to have its top officials spending a lot of time testifying on Capitol Hill as the Republicans try to poke holes in its record in advance of the presidential election.  So, the administration will have to do the best it can with this. It’s not a unique situation obviously. President Clinton faced it after the 1994 election. He really stood tough on budget issues, but — and in the end forced a confrontation which rebounded in his favor.  So, I think we’re in for a lot of acrimony and not much cooperation.

John Sparks
When I think back about a Democratic president losing popularity, I think back to Jimmy Carter and the scenario that we were in prior to the election of 1980 where we had a Democratic president who was slipping, who was hurt.  He was stymied by the Iran hostage crisis, but at that time the Republicans had Ronald Reagan who came in waiting in the wings and took the election of 1980.  When I think about our present times, I see Obama losing the confidence of the American people, but I see the Republican Party this time in much of a disarray. Would you agree?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think two things to that.  First is for all the talk about how badly Obama’s doing and all of his problems, his job approval isn’t that bad. There was a new poll today, I think he was — his job approval was 47%. It’s never gone below the low 40’s, and it sort of stabilized in the mid to upper 40’s, so it’s not like he’s in the high 20’s, which is where former President Bush ended up, and Carter ended up pretty low too at the end.  So that’s one thing. He’s not as unpopular as people think, and the electorate and presidential elections is very different from Congressional elections.  Young people vote more. Minorities vote more, and things that help the — those help the Democrats.

As for the disarray in the Republican Party, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, and I mean that’s really what it is, it’s the right side of the Republican Party, is really feeling its oats after having won a bunch of primary fights with establishment Republicans.  Now, ironically some of those primary fights may be the reason that the Republicans don’t win the Senate, that there are a couple of Senate seats that they probably would’ve won with the establishment candidates and might not win with the Tea Party candidates.  But in any case, it’s clear that the Tea Party group has a lot of support in the Republican rank and file, and you can see a really bitter fight developing for the Republican presidential nomination in which one or another or several candidates backed by various Tea Party groups and bowing to really shake up the Republican Party take on the more established wing.  For example, if former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska runs against — as a Tea Party candidate against Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, who’s more of the establishment type, you can see a really divisive primary fight and possibly the nomination of someone who’s not electable. I mean, we’ve seen that before. The Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964.  He was not electable and lost to President Johnson. The Democrats nominated George McGovern in 1972. He was not electable.  In both cases, they would more acted the swing of the party forced the nomination on the establishment wing, and they took a licking in the election.  So, so much is going to depend on the economy and how things go in the next couple of years.  If unemployment is still near 10% in the spring of 2012, President Obama is going to be in trouble no matter who the opponent is, but if unemployment drops to say the 8% level, which these days would look pretty good, and put people in much more optimistic about the trend, it’s going to be much harder for the Republicans.  Elected presidents tend to get re-elected in this country.  Jimmy Carter did not, and he was — that was an unusual situation.  He had regained the White House for his party in  the 1976 election and lost four years later. The other incumbents who’ve been beaten were President Bush who was beaten in 1992, but that was the third Republican term after the two Reagan terms, and same thing is true many years ago President Hoover in 1932.  So someone who brought his party back in to then lose in four years, that would be unusual, but of course, nothing’s impossible in politics.

John Sparks
Carl, the mention of acrimony a moment ago certainly resonated with me. I am very concerned about that. It seems like to me that the bitterness has been responsible for the lack of productivity on the Hilltop, and now we see polls where voters are angry…throw the bums out… what in the world would it take to get folks on both sides of the aisle to work together, to have logrolling, to do deals, to live to fight another day?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, you know logrolling has been made a dirty word, too. It’s one of the problems.  We used to say, and that it would be good if the parties, if the all liberals were on one side and all the conservatives were on the other side.  I’ve just been reading a book about the 1938 Congressional election where President Roosevelt tried to defeat several conservative senators in the Democratic Party so that the Democratic Party would more reflect his liberal progressive point of view.  And what’s happened is that with one party — instead of two parties that are coalitions where there’s sort of a natural effort in the middle to work together, we have one on one side and one on the other, and it’s not only personal acrimony, they — there’re two things. They act… They really disagree with each other on the approaches. You see that in this debate about taxes where the Democrats want to increase the taxes on those over a certain income level, and the Republicans don’t. You see it on the role of the government in the stimulus bill that has become such a controversial issue. That was one of the first things that passed after President Obama came in. By all independent analyses, the stimulus bill really saved the economy from going off the cliff even worse than it was. It saved about 3 million jobs, and it got some things going that really were helpful to the economy. But, all you hear from the opponents of Obama and most of the Republicans saying that they wasted $800 billion. Well, no… independent analysts don’t think it was wasted.  The bank bailout, the bank bailouts have had a terrible press, but the fact is that they stabilized the banking system.  So, it seems like as soon as one side gets in, the other side is determined to prove what a bunch of failures there are.  You would’ve thought with a big economic crisis two years ago and Obama having won by a fairly considerable majority, that there was a basis for the parties cooperating more, but that didn’t happen, and I’m not sure now what it would take to have that happen.

John Sparks
Anything you’d like to add before we call it a day?

Carl Leubsdorf
No, I mean I think one thing that’ll happen of course is there always are some surprises on Election Day.  Some people we thought we were going to lose are going to win. Some people who were going to win going to lose.  But, I think everyone in the political world would be shocked if, for example, the Democrats retained control of the House of Representatives, or something like that happened or if some of the candidates on the Republican side, like you know, some of the more conservative candidates if they won, but some of them probably are going to win, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the Republicans deal with that. But, there will be some surprises. Something will happen that we didn’t expect.  But, with — modern polling has gotten very sophisticated. There’s an awful lot of it being done. There is a lot of comparing of apples and oranges in different polls, but the polls this time are so consistent and so uniform both on the district and state level and on national level, that it’s hard to see the major result of the election being a surprise.

10/28: Too Little Too Late?

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

The latest national poll numbers from McClatchy-Marist point to some late movement for Team Obama and the Democrats.  But, if you’re Speaker Pelosi, you’re still likely to lose your day job.

miringoff-caricature-430The president’s approval rating is up to 48% from 43% earlier this month.  This is nothing exactly to write home about, but an improvement nonetheless.    The so-called “enthusiasm gap” which has been the center point of much political discussion this election cycle has also narrowed.  Among those who say they are “very enthusiastic” about voting next Tuesday, the GOP advantage over the Democrats has decreased from 23 percentage points to 14 percentage points.

On the economic front, there has been a five percentage point swing in the number of voters who think the economic glass is half full and that we’ve turned the economic corner.  Another good sign for the Democrats.

But, before the White House breaks out the champagne, the pre-election poll numbers for the Democrats still look pretty bleak.  Most telling is the question on the generic vote for Congress.  Here, the Democratic advantage of 6 percentage points among the entire potential electorate melts away as consideration is first given to likely voters and, than dramatically, to those who are most likely to vote.  It is with this group of definite voters that the GOP enjoys a 6 percentage point lead over the Democrats.

Then, there’s the enthusiasm question.  The GOP continues, despite the narrowing gap, to have a double digit advantage over the Democrats.  More than half of those voters who identify as politically conservative are “very enthusiastic” about voting next Tuesday compared with only about one in three political liberals.  And, 44% of those most likely to vote self-identify as conservative.  Only 20% sees themselves as liberal.   And, perhaps, most telling is the weakest group on the enthusiasm question is those under 30 years old.  What a difference two years has made.

The wrong direction numbers, also a sign that the party in power has some explaining to do, dwarfs the right direction numbers by 52% to 38%.

So, we head into the final few days of campaign 2010.  But, this time it’s the elephant herd that’s fired up and ready to go.

Perri Peltz

Perri Peltz is a distinguished television news journalist and public health advocate. Perri currently hosts, “Dr. Radio Reports”, a one hour weekly program about public health issues for the Sirius-XM Network.

Perri Peltz

Perri Peltz

Prior to that, she served as an anchor and reporter for WNBC-TV and NBC News where she focused on issues relating to poverty and health. Perri first joined WNBC in 1987, serving as a reporter, then as a co-anchor, of the weekend editions of “Today in New York” and the evening newscasts. She went on to serve as a contributor for NBC’s “Dateline” and as one of the first anchors at MSNBC.

A news correspondent for ABC’s “20/20” from 1998-2000, Perri won numerous awards including several for her reporting on the misdiagnosis of melanoma.  She also worked at CNN as a reporter and anchored the award-winning show “CNN.com.” While at CNN, she reported a story about a chess team from a public school in the South Bronx that became national chess champions. Inspired by their story, Perri produced the feature film, The Knights of the South Bronx, starring Ted Danson, based on their improbable accomplishment.

Both in and outside journalism, Perri has pursued her passion for public health and medicine.  Working at the Robin Hood Foundation, she developed volunteer programs to assist organizations in their fight against poverty. Her contributions to public health advocacy were honored by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, and she continues to serve on the boards of the Medicare Rights Center and Singlestop USA.

Perri holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Columbia University where she is presently a Doctoral Candidate. Her most recent project, a documentary about breast cancer and disparities in care, is scheduled to air on HBO in 2011.  A life-long New Yorker, Perri resides in New York City with her husband and three sons.

10/27: Cross-Cultural Research

There has been a growing interest among our U.S. clients to compare the opinions and perceptions of Americans to residents in other countries.   This prompted me to recount some methodological issues discussed at a workshop I attended last spring in Switzerland.

mcculloch-caricature-460The Workshop on Comparative Survey Design and Implementation (CSDI) was a small, international conference of survey methodologists who share a strong interest in cross-cultural, multi-national, and multi-regional research.  Gathering at the University of Lausanne, the attendees were as diverse as the populations we study.  Yet as we discussed the current literature and measurement issues of our global research, the cultural differences blurred while we convened to answer the same question:  What are the best methods, tools, strategies, and protocols that help maximize comparability across countries, languages, and cultures?

Like nearly all fields, survey research certainly has its fair share of challenges…only to be exacerbated when conducted globally since much can be “lost in translation.”  One presenter reminded us of the Chevy Nova story:  a lovely car of the 60’s and 70’s that, reportedly, lacked sales in Spanish-speaking countries.  Well, ‘no va’ in Spanish translates to ‘no go’ – not exactly a good marketing campaign for a car.  And then, there was NASA’s $125 million orbiter that crashed into Mars when one engineering team used metric units while another used English units to estimate the distance from Earth.

No, we’re not launching rockets, but survey methodologists struggle with similar issues in international research.  How do we design a question that precisely translates into multiple languages while adhering to various social norms?  For example, does the term “strongly agree” elicit the same interpretation and emotion for the Chinese as it does to Americans?  Well, research shows it doesn’t.  How do we construct a representative sample when the accessibility, availability, and cultural expectations vary drastically across regions?  A telephone survey in the United States is quite easy but definitely not as straightforward in many African…or even European countries.  Given the mode of data collection affects survey data, how do we ensure that everything is comparable?  And, how do we conduct sound research within reasonable costs and timeframes?

During the three day workshop, we discussed ways to test equivalence across multi-national survey instruments.  In other words, methods to ensure that questions and response options, once translated, are understood and interpreted in the same way by all global survey respondents.   Since quality control is challenged by the de-centralized nature of global data collection, we investigated innovative ways to implement quality assurance steps through interviewer management and monitoring, as well as strategic review of respondent data.  Workshop participants also sought to better understand differential non-response across countries – that is, why survey participation and response rates may be higher in one country than in another and what can be done to increase cooperation without compromising data.  We certainly didn’t solve all of the cross-cultural methodological challenges but strides were made…as were global connections and friendships.

Related Link:
https://www.csdiworkshop.org/