There is a very dumb journalistic tradition that will not die of “Let’s poll people about what they believe about purely factual things.” So you take a question that should be answered with reporting — say, whether climate change is an imminent crisis, or whether Saddam Hussein really had weapons of mass destruction — and then parse the responses as if they mean anything more than just a reification of the ideas that the media itself has been telling people. It is truly very, very dumb.
Today is Major League Baseball opening day, and so the question the Washington Post chose to ask random Americans is whether they would feel comfortable attending a live sporting event. The answer is a resounding “it depends”:
About two-thirds say they would feel comfortable attending an outdoor event such as baseball (66 percent), but fewer than half as many (32 percent) feel comfortable attending an indoor event such as basketball. Nearly 2 in 3 people (64 percent) say they would feel comfortable if all attendees were required to wear masks, compared with 22 percent who would feel comfortable if there was no mask requirement…
More say they would be comfortable attending a stadium limited to 20 percent capacity (69 percent “comfortable”) than 50 percent capacity (50 percent).
That is simultaneously unsurprising — being outdoors, masked, and distanced makes people feel safer — and utterly meaningless, for a couple of reasons. First off, the questions were all asked separately, so it was either “Do you feel safe at an outdoor event?” or “Do you feel safe if people are wearing masks?” or “Do you feel safe if you’ve been vaccinated?”, with no way to respond “Only if these other conditions are met as well.” If a Washington Post pollster had been unlucky enough to get me on the phone, for example, I would have said, “I feel pretty safe at outdoor, masked, and distanced events right now, and once I’m fully vaccinated would consider indoor events, but not if people are unmasked, unless maybe the case rate is really low by then because so many other people are vaccinated — are you getting all this? Should I talk more slowly? Are you crying?” (This answer would be very hard to fit into a “data visualization,” as fancy journalism types these days call bar charts.)
The poll results are also meaningless, though, because the most reasonable answer would be “You’re the ones with the resources of a giant journalistic enterprise here, you tell me whether I should feel safe.” Doing that would require asking people who actually know things — fancy journalism types call these “experts” — what is and isn’t safe, and then reporting their answers. For example, here’s Anthony Fauci telling the New York Times for its baseball opening day story what he expects to transpire over the coming weeks:
“I would expect that as we get through the summer — late spring, early summer — there’s going to be a relaxation where you’re going to have more and more people allowed into baseball parks, very likely separated with seating, very likely continue to wear masks,” he said.