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Letter to the Editor: A response to ‘The problem with debates’

To the Editor:

I found this article to be immensely flawed, not only in its use of intentionally misleading, out-of-date statistics, but also in its disingenuous monopoly-on-truth manner, attempting to be didactic regarding proper debate format. Like many at Stanford, I debated in high school and led my team senior year, but I have never heard the line, “But does this position really deserve half the stage? Does it really deserve any part of the stage?” I wish I had added the italics to show the disdain in the writer’s voice, but the writer did that on his own. The crux of the May 24 piece was to explain why the Stanford Political Union’s decision to hold the debate, “Should We Repeal Obamacare,” was wrong, because “at the time of this event, only 17 percent of Americans support the [repeal].” First off, I didn’t believe this. After Googling “polling replace Obamacare” while considering my rebuttal, the first result was an ABC News/WaPo poll released on April 25 that said 37 percent of Americans were in favor of replacing and 80 percent of Trump voters were in favor. But, as with any poll, let’s look at the sampling methodology – very easy to find – to better understand the poll: Running April 17-20; in English and Spanish; among a random 1,004 adults; “partisan divisions are 31-24-36 percent, Democrats-Republicans-Independents.” So, clearly, this poll, which states that 37 percent are in favor of repeal/replace with 80 percent of Trump voters favoring, under-represents Republicans. Good to know.

But, let’s take a look at the poll the author used on May 24, getting around using the most relevant data by stating, “at the time of this event,” a mere throwaway line that should raise flags in any reader’s mind. It was administered by Quinnipiac from March 16-21, interviewing 1,056 adults, with a partisan division of 31-24-37 percent, Democrats-Republicans-Independents. To find the author’s fabled 17 figure, one must go to the fourth similarly phrased question on healthcare. The first question asked on healthcare, “As president, do you think Donald Trump should support efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, or not?” has 45 percent affirmative with 82 percent of Republicans supporting. This figure has hovered around 46 percent since January.

So where can I find this 17 percent figure? To the question, “There is a Republican healthcare plan to replace Obamacare, known as the American Healthcare Act. Do you approve or disapprove of this Republican healthcare plan?” 41 percent of Republicans approved, with an overall percentage of 17 percent. Yet Republicans were heavily underrepresented in this poll, and when asked in a different way, respondents answered affirmatively at much higher rates. The author’s selective use of a single question in an outdated poll is a classic case of data manipulation to find a specific phrase or poll that fits one’s already decided viewpoint. This type of “debate” is not productive; it’s actually closer to “fake news” and is certainly disingenuous.

The author’s self-righteous tirade against SPU for “legitimizing” a “fringe idea” reveals more about the author’s biases and his own closed views than it does about a debate between our own Mark Duggan, a fair and intelligent economist who co-authored Obamacare, and an eloquent and informed conservative opponent and the student on either side. I actually attended this debate, and it was well-run with a fluid question-and-answer session. A skeptic of large programs that continually grow without balancing expenses, I asked Dr. Duggan, with whom I took a class related to this topic in the fall, a question on this, and he responded that the goal for healthcare costs today is to merely reduce the rate of growth – a fair viewpoint.

To conclude, this article proved to be a mere caricature of the hard left, pretending that ideas they don’t agree with are “fringe” and that speaking about them “legitimizes” them. I simply don’t care if this idea has 10 percent of the vote in your specifically selected poll. If so, debate it and change minds. Don’t pretend with moral certitude — and while using incorrect data — that because you and all of your stated “85 percent of undergrads [who] voted for Hillary” friends don’t like it, our college campus can’t have the debate at all.

– Russell Clarida ’20

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