Manipulated statistics give voters wrong idea

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

With the upcoming election, we as citizens and potential voters are subjected to a veritable storm of political advertisements.

One campaign advertisement supporting President Barack Obama called Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney a “corporate raider,” saying that he sent thousands of jobs overseas at Bain Capital while showing pictures of him smiling. It clearly casts his past business career in a malicious light, making it seem like Romney enjoyed outsourcing American jobs. On the other hand, various Romney campaign advertisements criticize Obamacare and suggest that Obama has it out for old people. Pictures of depressed and lonely-looking senior citizens flash by, while the advertisements talk about raising the costs of services for the elderly.

While the accuracy of either of these claims is debatable, our candidates are clearly attempting to manipulate voters’ emotions. Such strategies have always been in American politics; politicians will always manipulate their opponents’ images and mudsling. It is far easier to convince the average voter by playing to his or her fears and desires rather than by using concrete facts.

I find these advertisements distasteful, regardless of the side they are aimed at. However, these personal attacks are not the politicking technique that makes me the most furious. Politicians toss around statistics, often using the same one or two numbers in order to make a point. These statistics are usually simple and therefore easy to use as a talking point and a buzzword. The trouble with these sound bite-style statistics is that they are often misleading, out of context, or just plain wrong.

To illustrate, on Sept. 8, Obama claimed at an appearance in Seminole, Fla., that, “We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy.” However, there is more to this catch-all statistic that meets the eye. When one digs a little deeper, it is clear that this accomplishment is far less important than it seems. The use of all types of renewable energy has actually only increased by 55 percent, according to Solar and wind power match up to Obama’s statistic, but they make up only a fraction of renewable energy sources. After including the less impressive growth in sources like hydroelectric and geothermal power, Obama’s claim becomes completely false.

The president is by no means the only one doing this: Romney spouts similar misleading statistics. In a recently released video of a private Romney fundraising event, he said that 47 percent of households don’t pay taxes. It appears to be a shocking failure in the American tax code.

But there’s a catch. First, that fact is no longer accurate, as it’s based off data taken from 2009. In addition, the statistic only refers to federal income taxes. Many families make so little that they don’t pay federal income taxes, but they still pay state and local taxes as well as investment and payroll taxes.

In both cases, the statistic is technically true, but only by a caveat that is either made or disregarded by the candidate. It’s clear that politicians can use statistics to control and manipulate us. The real question is, why are we as a society allowing that to happen?

The reason politicians get to depend on statistics is because people are ignorant of their true nature. We need a populace that gains skepticism of all simple sound bite statistics by understanding them at a basic level. This means we need to reprioritize our mathematical education system. We need a bigger emphasis on statistics and statistical analysis at an earlier age.

By helping the population see through the haze and fog of twisted statistics, we can have a voting populace that is far more capable of seeing beyond politicking and mudslinging. Another aspect of democracy is its goal to represent the common man’s opinion and serve the people. If the people can see clearly what is happening in their country by interpreting data, they can more easily cast their vote in accordance with their beliefs and opinions.