This is What Happens When Headline Writers Don’t Know Their Statistics May 28, 2014

This is What Happens When Headline Writers Don’t Know Their Statistics

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a survey showing that being an atheist was the most negative trait a presidential candidate could posses:

You can see from the list that being an atheist was a worse quality than having never held office, having an affair, being in your 70s, being gay or lesbian, etc.

But then I started seeing headlines like this one from the Daily Caller:

For 2016, Voters Prefer Dope-Smoking, Philandering, 70-Something Lesbian Over Atheist

Even though that plays right into the narrative that atheists are virtually unelectable in America, I have to call it out for being inaccurate.

We have no idea if a candidate with all those other traits combined would still beat out a generic atheist running for president. All we know is that, in this one survey, those traits on their own weren’t as damaging.

It’s far more likely, I would think, that someone who had an affair AND was elderly AND never held office would fare even worse than someone who simply didn’t believe in God.

We don’t know what happens when these traits mix. We just have an idea of what happens when they’re discussed in isolation. As click-worthy as the headline may be, that’s not at all what the Pew survey said.

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