By Noah Ginsberg and Bill Holmberg 10/4/13
In a recent poll commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, Harris Interactive found that 77% of Americans are “concerned” about putting ethanol - particularly E15 - in their vehicles. It’s sad to hear that, considering vehicles made beginning in 2001 have been approved by the EPA for E15 ethanol blends. These blends provide important benefits to American consumers and our environment. But here’s the thing about the API poll: outside the world of skewed polling, you will not find that 77% of Americans are concerned about putting E15 in their vehicles.
The polling tool employed to come up with this specious finding is called a push poll. It’s a commonly used tactic that some organizations use to demonstrate strong support for their point of view, even if those levels of support don’t actually exist. Often these polls become news as journalists ignore or fail to mention the disingenuous polling tactics used to shape the responses.
Here’s how push polls work:
You start off by gathering a legitimate polling sample of 800-1000 random responders. You ask the 800-1000 responders easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions like every poll does – “Are you an American citizen? “Are you currently registered to vote?” Then you ask a series of vague questions such as, “Do you agree or disagree that federal government regulations could drive up the cost of gasoline for consumers?” Finally you ask a question while providing the desired answer all at the same time.
“As you may know, much of the gasoline in the U.S. market currently contains a 10% ethanol blend. However, a recent study found that higher percentage blends of ethanol - above the 10% level – can cause severe damage to car engines and fuel system components in millions of vehicles on the road today. Most auto manufacturers do not warranty their vehicles if the car's owner fuels up with a 15% ethanol blend. Given that situation, how concerned are you about putting a 15% ethanol blend into a vehicle?"
Imaginary responder might think: “Holy moly! I didn’t know anything about ethanol but now I do! This does sound scary! Yes, I am very concerned with putting a 15% ethanol blend in my car!”
And voila. There you have it, clear ‘results’ that show 77% of Americans are “concerned” about putting ethanol in their vehicle.
But not so fast. The question purposefully neglects to inform the responder that E15 has been approved for all cars made from 2001 to the present. Considering these vehicles make up over 70% of vehicles on the road today, this means that out of the 796 responders who are concerned about E15, approximately 557 – or 70% of the respondents – could safely use it. In fact, it’s likely that many currently have a warranty to use E15 in their vehicles.
So no, 77% of we Americans are not concerned about putting E15 in our vehicles. Rather, 557 drivers who were fed the wrong information on a polling question are “concerned” about E15 in their vehicles.
The truth is that ethanol is significantly contributing to the American economy. For one, it’s saving you money at the pump, in some cases to the tune of $1.09 a gallon. It decreases our reliance on foreign oil while supporting over 400,000 jobs at home in America. And it protects our environment by mitigating the amount of carbon emissions from our transportation fleet. So instead of being concerned about putting E15 in your engine, you should be concerned about the people telling you that.