Every year, elections are held for all sorts of positions. Depending upon how old you are, you may either be voting for student council representatives or the President of the United States.
Before elections are held, the people running for office — called candidates — will usually try to inform voters about their positions and why it would be a good idea to vote for them. You may hear these efforts referred to as political campaigns.
For local, state and national elections, political campaigns may use advertisements to promote their candidates’ views. These advertisements may appear in newspapers, on the radio or on television.
In addition to promoting a particular candidate, political advertisements may also make claims about the other candidates seeking the same position. These types of advertisements are often called negative advertisements, because their messages are against a particular candidate or issue rather than being for a particular candidate or issue.
Obviously, campaign advertisements are meant to persuade you to vote in a certain way. Advertisements often make interesting claims, and they may use statistics that sound impressive to sway you.
Statistics in advertisements are basically numbers used to support a particular claim. For example, an advertisement might include a claim that 90% of the population supports a particular idea.
But should you believe everything you hear? Not necessarily! Remember: advertisements of any kind, whether political or simply a commercial for breakfast cereal, are intended to persuade you to take action. That action can be to believe something, vote for someone or buy something.
When you realize that advertisements seek to persuade, you understand that you have to dig deeper to evaluate what is being said. Is it true or false? Do the claims made have any basis in fact? Are the statistics used accurate?
Some people find statistics very persuasive. After all, they’re based on numbers and actual data, right? How could they lie?
Statistics, though, are only reliable if the data used and the way they were created were fair and representative of the group of people they’re being applied to. Let’s look at a few examples.
If you wanted to know what sport is the most popular at your school, how would you find out that information? Would you ask only boys or only girls? You might be able to ask all boys and learn that 90% of the boys you asked said soccer. But would that truly represent the whole school? Nope!
Likewise, if you wanted to know how the public as a whole feels about a certain issue, should you ask only members of one particular political party? Of course not, because that would not be a representative sample of the whole public. But sometimes advertisers will confine their samples to achieve statistics that seem to say what they want them to say.
So be cautious! Don’t believe everything you hear just because it’s in the newspaper, on the radio or on television. Do your own research and test what you hear to find out what’s true and what’s false!