Polling the Corn

corn stubble

I realize that we live (here in South Dakota) in an economy which is heavily  based on agriculture. Regardless, I expected better of the Argus Leader’s story on a poll about corn:

In the past two years, some trade associations have indicted ethanol made from corn, saying it has raised the price of food.

The oil industry, the National Grocers Association and others also say ethanol has received unfair government subsidies and prompted farmers in South America to plow up grasslands and cut down forests.

The attacks coincided with a run-up in corn prices and the annually escalating federal mandate that renewable fuels constitute a greater percentage of motor fuel, to 36 billion gallons by 2022 under the Renewable Fuel Standards program.

“Indicted,” and “attacks” would seem that the people doing this are the baddies, no? Of course, the piece lets us know that the baddies are not winning:

But the message seems to have changed few minds.

A survey in September of 1,000 registered voters nationwide sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association found 65 percent of those polled support ethanol. Respondents have an even higher regard for the farmers who grow the corn to make it: Ninety-percent had a positive image of farmers in general and 75 percent had high regard for corn farmers in particular.

The survey was conducted for the corn growers by David Binder Research and claims to have a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

The first rule of commissioned polls is as follows: Polls which are commissioned by any organization are written in such a way as to cast that organization in the best possible light, regardless of who is asked the question. This rule remains in effect until it is explicitly removed for a given poll.

Where are the internals? Where were the people from (the farm belt, the coasts, the South, etc)? Was the poll done by people or an automated system?

In a post addressing the results of an “anti-ethanol” poll on the blog of the National Corn Growers Association a few months ago, the following question was asked:

So, haw [sic] many “Farm-Belt Voters” were surveyed for this poll? 500? 1,000?

How about … 40. Of the 802 voters surveyed, only 5 percent were what the pollsters considered farm belters.

Excellent question. Why didn’t anybody at the Argus Leader ask it about this obviously pro-ethanol poll? Back to the main article:

“Ethanol has taken a political beating, but the country loves ethanol,” said Lisa Richardson, executive director of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association. She suggests the survey shows most Americans see ethanol and agriculture as “part of the solution in a carbon-based economy. We are the next fuel. Americans believe it.”

There you have it. We all love ethanol. But how in the world is ethanol (carbon-based, if I remember my chemistry) part of the solution in a “carbon-based economy.” Kudos to Ms. Richardson for supporting her organization, but please, keep the science real. UPDATE: I see that I could have read that snippet backwards. Perhaps she is saying that we must continue to have carbon-based fuels and that this makes ethanol the “next fuel” to use. In any event, the statement is not very clear to me.

A solid signal as to whether that is the case might come in early December. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected then to decide whether to increase the percentage of alcohol distilled from corn and blended with gasoline to make ethanol. Proponents of renewable fuels say such an increase is needed if the ethanol industry is to continue to grow and meet the Renewable Fuel Standard program.

That thing called a Renewable Fuel Standard? It is an arbitrary number which was selected with about as much basis as FDR used to set the price of gold during the depression (picking a number every morning out of relatively thin air).

To say that this piece lacked any attempt at objectivity is not hard. Naysayers were referenced, discounted and then never heard from again. Who knows, perhaps we’ll hear from them tomorrow and I’m simply popping off too quickly on the matter.

2 thoughts on “Polling the Corn

  1. Do you really think that David Binder Research would put their 24 years of research credibility on the line? DBR is among the top research firms in the country. I would think an educated person like yourself would recognize a name like David Binder. The polling took place in a focus group format in three cities: Denver, CO, Indianapolis, IN and Westchester, NY. The focus groups were made up from men and women who are voters, with ages ranging from college on up and included both college and non-college educated participants.

    In my opinion, I felt the Argus Leader presented the story in a very fair and unbiased way with actual facts.

    Here’s a clear carbon fact for you, according to the U.S Dept. of Energy, the use of E 15 instead of gasoline would offset more than 40 million tons of CO2 per year.

    Hopefully readers understand how “off the trail” you are when they read about your completely false knowledge concerning the Renewable Fuels Standard. The Renewable Fuels Standard was put in place to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create economic opportunity and put America on a path to energy sustainability. The overall goal was for the United States to be providing 1/3 of its total energy consumption with American made renewable fuels. This of course will open doors to cellulosic ethanol and other future bio-fuels beyond corn ethanol by creating a market demand.

    I really hope people don’t consider your article journalism, but just another angered rant from a biased blogger.

    1. JesseJ,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Your response puzzles me to some extent. I did not say anything about the polling entity (David Binder Research). I pointed out that the outfit which commissioned the poll was coming from one perspective on the question of corn, so it goes without saying that the poll would tend to support that position. There is nothing illegal with this, but it is why one has to be careful with polls which are paid for by specific interest groups (regardless of which groups those may be).

      It would seem as though you have information about the poll which would be useful (seeing that I asked for the internals). I am still interested in knowing what the questions were and how they were presented, etc.

      You are welcome to your opinion that the Argus was fair and unbiased. I am welcome, in the same manner, to my opinion that they were far from it.

      Thank you for the clear carbon fact. It would be nice if it came with a link. But, that aside, lets say the fact is correct. What does that gain for us and at what price? The question of how much carbon affects global climate change is very much up in the air these days.

      As far as my “completely false knowledge” of the Renewable Fuels Standard, allow me to say that it does not matter in the least what reasons were given for implementing it. The standard was/is arbitrary. Why a goal of 1/3? Why not 1/5 or 1/2?

      One does not create a sustainable market demand by having the government tell people how much of something they can create (or that they all must consume it). That is central economic planning (and destroys any proper market forces).

      I do not believe that many will view my article as journalism. I do hope however, they understand that despite my “angered rant” I have pointed out some legitimate issues with Argus’ coverage on an important issue.

      Again, thank you for your comment and for allowing me to further explain myself.

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