Analyzing the Evidence Exercises

In this chapter you’ve been presented with an overview of how political scientists obtain and assess empirical evidence. Once an argument about politics has been made, testing a hypothesis drawn from that theory requires data. As a consumer of arguments and the evidence that accompanies them, it is important to understand how the data was collected, what is being measured, and how it is presented.
1. The Gallup organization regularly produces a significant amount of data on public opinion. If a friend tells you that a particular claim or fact is based on the results of a Gallup poll, would you consider it reliable? Why or why not?
Now let’s imagine that your friend says that, based on the same Gallup poll, the president is more popular now than he has ever been, and that the president is more popular at this point in his presidency than any of his predecessors since the beginning of regular polling. What questions should you ask of your friend in assessing this claim?
As described in the Analyzing the Evidence section of your textbook, a variable (such as presidential job approval) can be sliced in a number of ways (or according to a number of other variables, such as gender, age, income, partisanship, and ideology). Go to the latest Gallup Poll on presidential approval.
3a. When was the poll conducted (i.e., when were the data collected)?
Describe how approval varies as a function of race.
3c. … as a function of partisanship.
3d. … and as a function of whether or not the respondent graduated from college.
Finally, let’s return to the claim your friend made about presidential popularity. Click the “Historical Trend” tab under the list of presidents on the Gallup poll page.
4a. How does the president’s current popularity compare to the rest of his term in office?
4b. How does it compare to his predecessors?
5. Based on your examination of the full range of presidential job approval from 1945 to the present, what is one recurring pattern you observe for which you might offer a hypothesis?

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