Campaign fliers rely on run-of-the-mill cherry picking

Posted October 30th, 2011 at 11:33 pm on the blog Thinking Allowed, by Tim Kelly


Cherry picking is “pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.”

The recent campaign flier mailed out by People for a Better Port Orchard is run-of-the-mill cherry picking, all too commonplace in political advertising.

That’s what is revealed upon closer analysis of the city crime statistics that this group distorts in a transparent attempt to scare people into voting against Mayor Lary Coppola.

Look at the the flier’s claim of “a nearly 41% increase in drunk drivers roaming our roads.” Sounds alarming, but is it true?

Highly doubtful, but the real fallacy is implying that the number of DUI arrests is an accurate indicator of how many people are driving drunk.

When law enforcement agencies cooperate on DUI emphasis patrols, as they did most recently in August through Labor Day weekend, the number of arrests goes up. But this doesn’t mean there are more drunk drivers out there; it reflects the increased enforcement efforts of police officers, deputies and state troopers.

The flier notes there were 58 DUI arrests in Port Orchard in 2007 and 82 in 2010. Of course It doesn’t mention that in 2008 — the first year Coppola was in office — there were only 51. That inconvenient fact would have diminished their comparison.

And as Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend noted, if his patrol officers shifted their priorities and simply stopped issuing DUI citations in 2012, the statistics would show no arrests for the year. By the logic of the People for a Better Port Orchard flier, that would be an awesome crimefighting success, because it would show there are no drunk drivers on our roads.

The flier ratchets up the fear-mongering with the claim of “a 45% increase in robbers invading homes and businesses,” citing 102 burglaries reported in 2010 compared with 70 in 2007.

The flier could have provided some relevant context: After recent annexations the city’s population in 2010 was listed at 10,910, while it was 8,350 in 2007, which translates into an increase of more than 30 percent. But for the group mailing out these attack ads, the point is not to provide context, only to twist the stats in the most negative way.
Actually, the highest number of burglaries in recent years was 127 in 2008, and over the next two years there was a 20 percent decrease. But presenting the statistics that way doesn’t fit a message meant to disparage a political opponent.
What about vehicle thefts? The anti-Coppola flier cites 47 instances through August of this year, and ominously warns that the tally is “on a trend to hit 70 stolen cars by year’s end!”

Such an extrapolation is hardly a surefire prediction of what the year’s total will be, but clearly the number of vehicle thefts is up this year.

But take a look — as Paul Harvey would advise — at the rest of the story. There were 38 vehicle thefts in 2010, which is not a big increase compared with 30 in 2007 given the population increase. But that 2010 total was a lot more than 2009, when there were only 18, and 2008, when there were 22, according to the annual reports compiled by the Port Orchard Police Department.

And in 2006 the total was a whopping 52.

So you could truthfully say the number of vehicle thefts decreased during each of the first two years (by 27 percent in 2008 and 18 percent in 2009) that Coppola was mayor. Or you could accurately point out that the total number of vehicle thefts (82) in the two years before he became mayor were more than in the next three years combined (78).

That’s not the desirable spin, though, for a political committee trying to frighten gullible voters into voting against an incumbent that the unidentified financial backers of this committee can’t stand.

And in the case of DUIs, burglaries and car thefts — or urinating in public or most other crime categories — an increase or decrease from one year to the next probably has little to do with who is mayor.

Finally, the People for a Better Port Orchard flier notes that the city’s rate of property crimes per 1,000 residents has increased from 45.7 in 2007 to 53.1 in 2010 (which is actually incorrect; the police department’s 2010 figure is 54.3.)

OK, but what about the rate of violent crime? If that’s gone up too, surely these cherry pickers would have included that in their flier.

Well, no help there for the folks determined to turn people against the mayor.

The number of violent crimes — such as murder, aggravated assault, sexual assault, robbery — was 9.6 per 1,000 residents in 2007, and it has gone down each year and was 4.6 per 1,000 residents in 2010.

So obviously, that relevant statistic is ignored by this political committee that feigns such grave concern for public safety in its blatant attempt to discredit the mayor.
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