Biased Poll Has Florida Voters Against Helping Terri Schiavo

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 1, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Biased Poll Has Florida Voters Against Helping Terri Schiavo

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 1, 2004

Tallahassee, FL ( — A new poll reveals that a majority of Florida voters disapprove of Governor Jeb Bush’s decision to ask doctors to reinsert the feeding tube that is helping Terri Schiavo stay alive. But, thanks to a biased question, the results may be significantly skewed.

According to a poll, conducted for The Florida Times-Union and South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspapers, only 29 percent backed the governor while 67 percent said Bush and the Legislature were wrong to get involved.

But, pro-life advocates say the question used by Maryland-based polling firm Research 2000, is extraordinarily biased, and that a fairer question could turn up significantly different results.

Respondents were asked: "Do you think Governor Bush and the Florida legislature were right to order the continuation of life support for Terri Schiavo, who has been in a vegetative state for more than a decade?"

However, Terri Schiavo is not on life support nor is she in a vegetative state.

In October, three doctors, including a radiologist and Dr. William Hammesfahr, a recognized national expert on PVS and a Nobel prize nominee, assessed Terri’s condition. "This woman is not in a persistent vegetative state," the doctors said at a press conference to announce their findings.

Although a gastric tube provides Terri with food and water, she is not currently on artificial life support and is able to breathe entirely on her own.

Del Ali, president of Research 2000, told the wording for the question came form the Sun Sentinel newspaper, though he said he’s not sure whether Terri Schiavo is on life support or in a vegetative state.

"Who really knows the entire facts, I’ve heard both sides of this issue," Ali said. "We try to be as objective as we can. What the definition is of [vegetative state], I couldn’t tell you … that’s what was controversial."

Linda Kleindienst, a Sun Sentinel reporter who wrote a story concerning the poll, told she didn’t submit the question to Research 2000.

Both Kleindienst and Sharon Rosenhouse, an editor with the Florida newspaper, said staff writers and editors collectively created the polling questions on various political issues used in the Research 2000 poll. They were later reviewed by two editors prior to sending them to the polling firm.

Neither Kleindienst nor Rosenhouse could confirm which Sun Sentinel reporter or editor wrote the language in the Schiavo question.

Despite the poll results, a spokesman for Governor Bush (R) said he stands by his decision.

"This was very important to the governor, and he felt strongly he had to save someone’s life," said Alia Faraj, Bush’s press secretary, told the Sun-Sentinel.

According to the poll, men and women viewed the situation in similar terms with only 31 percent of men and 27 percent of women backing the governor.

Only Republicans backed Bush and the legislation (47-44%) while Democrats (14-86 percent) and independents (26-71 percent) strongly opposed the actions to save Terri.

White and Hispanic voters were more likely to favor Bush’s actions (33 and 39 percent respectively) but only 7 percent of black voters supported the governor. Younger voters (between 18-34 years old) and older voters (above 60) were most likely to oppose Bush and the legislature’s actions saving Terri’s life than adults in general.

This isn’t the first time Florida newspapers have produced a poll with disputed results.

A poll conducted by The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times newspapers in December showed that 65 percent of Flordians said they opposed Terri’s Law while 23 percent favored it.

Pat Anderson, attorney for Terri’s parents Bob and Marcy Schindler, blasted that poll, which also described Terri as being in a persistent vegetative state.

"Any first-year political science student knows that poll results are only as good as the bias of the questioner," Anderson said.

The Research 2000 poll of 600 registered voters was conducted by telephone Feb. 18-22. The poll had a 4 percent margin of error.

Related web sites:
Terri Schiavo’s family –
Research 2000 –
South Florida Sun-Sentinel –