Written By: Heather Clemenceau
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
Like the ever present threat of “la guillotine” in Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” horses in the United States are again living under the spectre of horse slaughter in Oklahoma. Ring-boned political opportunists, who are full of the stuff that we spread on the fields in the spring, have passed this legislation with nary a debate. It’s quite painful to listen to the “debate” of HB 1999 in the Oklahoma legislature since Republican sponsor Skye McNiel continued to claim that only horses that are starved and are almost dead are the ones to be slaughtered. What can we say about a Senator who even claimed that slaughter will prevent such atrocities as horses dying slowly of broken legs, an observation he made while watching a horse in a neighbouring pasture suffer for 30 days before it died. Is this not akin to watching a felony transpire over 30 days but doing nothing to intervene? The only mention of drugs in horsemeat in any part of the debate of the bill came in the form of a claim that it’s “out of the system in 21 days.” Who knew there were so many toxicologists in the Oklahoma legislature?
We now know that the devil is not in the details any longer. The devil now resides in the sound bite.
In that vein, two contrasting polls on horse slaughter have recently emerged from embattled Oklahoma. The palpably ridiculous survey by the conservative McCarville Report claims that Oklahoma farmers and veterinarians almost universally supported horse slaughter in Oklahoma. It’s a ploy to convince people that there is support for horse slaughter beyond the special interest groups who commissioned it. I wrote previously about the Lake Research survey on horse slaughter opinions in the United States a few months ago, and I explained why it represents responsible data-gathering. The McCarville survey is so egregious that it requires some response, regardless of how burned out on the topic of Oklahoma corruption and cronyism we might feel.
The narrative accompanying the survey describes how the poll was made to wildly fluctuate AFTER responses originally opposed horse slaughter:
“While it had a 14-point disadvantage when originally asked, the support flipped in favor of horse slaughter and processing after the survey respondent heard the opinions of Oklahoma agricultural experts compared to those of national animal rights groups. The issue was then a +7.3 for horse slaughter. The survey found 43.3% more likely to support horse processing when it was explained that: The Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the state’s veterinarians say “horse processing is good for the environment and will dramatically reduce horse abandonment and neglect while national animal rights groups “oppose horse processing because they say it is cruel to slaughter animals.” There were 36% who were still less likely to support it.”
Trying to flip the results of the survey mid-survey is not all right and it’s not OK. The survey was commissioned by Protect the Harvest, an Iowa group dedicated to opposing animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States. This survey relies on methodologic slight of hand techniques in order to distract from the fact that the survey responses started out as being opposed to slaughter. It violates one of the cardinal rules in conducting a survey, in that it asks a leading/loaded question (highlighted in bold above) that suggests to the respondent that the researcher expects a certain answer.
The term “leading question“ is most commonly referenced in the fields of psychology or law, where evidence is inadmissible if the witness is given a hint of the answer in the question. We are given no information as to how the poll was conducted or by whom. There is no explanation as to the randomization methods, how the survey respondents were selected, nor the number of people surveyed, nor the number of standard deviations in the polling sample. The Margin of Error of ± 4% leads us to believe that the sample size consists of about 500 people, since a properly conducted survey of 500 people will produce a MOE of no more than about 4.5 percent. However, since there is no supporting documentation that includes, at the very least, the number of people polled, I’m calling bullshit on their MOE.
Whoever delivered the survey obviously knew that people are far more likely to agree with you if you tell them that they are on the side of the majority. This is why bogus statistics are so effective in moralizing survey responses. It’s a lot easier to say, “hey, most people agree with us” than try to convince someone with facts.
Contrast the McCarville survey to the Sooner poll, where we can clearly see that it’s a sample of 452 people, with an MOE ± 4.61%. The complete survey methodology questions and responses are plainly laid out in 7 pages here. The actual survey questions are unbiased and open-ended. Here’s the conclusion:
“A strong majority (66 percent) of Oklahoma likely voters opposes passage of proposed legislation allowing for the slaughter of horses here in Oklahoma, and of those that oppose, 88 percent strongly oppose the legislation, according to a new poll.
The Oklahoma legislature is currently considering two bills, House Bill 1999 and Senate Bill 375, which would allow for slaughter of horses here in Oklahoma for human consumption in other countries but would maintain a ban on the sale of horsemeat in the state.
A strong majority, 65.1 percent, of respondents in rural counties opposes the legislation, despite claims by the horse slaughter proponents that rural communities support it. Counties within the Tulsa MSA, 69.6 percent, and counties within the Oklahoma City MSA, 64.3 percent, also have high levels of opposition to horse slaughter.
Significant majorities of all political parties also oppose horse slaughter: 72.5 percent of Independents oppose this legislation, followed by 67.6 percent of Democrats and 63.4 percent of Republicans. Another strong majority, 60.5 percent, of conservative respondents, who make up more than half of all likely voters, is opposed to the horse slaughter legislation, as well as 74.7 percent of moderates.
When asked about having a horse slaughter operation in their community, an overwhelming majority, 72.3 percent, of likely voters is opposed, with 91.9 percent of these likely voters in strong opposition. Sixty-eight percent of rural likely voters oppose having a horse slaughter facility in their local community, followed by 74.6 percent of likely voters in the Tulsa metro area and 75.8 percent in the Oklahoma City metro.
A majority of likely voters, 54.1 percent, would be unlikely to vote to re-elect their senator or house representative if he or she voted in favor of this horse slaughter legislation regardless of whether or not it becomes law.
Voters were also asked about particular organizations. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and The Humane Society of the United States, two groups opposed to horse slaughter, received combined favorability (strongly and somewhat favorable) of 69.5 percent and 64.4 percent, respectively, from likely voters. The Oklahoma Farm Bureau, a group advocating for horse slaughter, had combined favorability among 63.4 percent of respondents.”
Bill Shapard, the creator of the poll, was compelled to write to Governor Fallin:
“I write to you today to share with you results of our most recent polling regarding legislation to repeal the ban on horse slaughter in Oklahoma.
Given the rather fast pace this legislation has made its way through the legislature, my intent is to make sure that the collective voice of the voting public is heard and taken into consideration on this issue.
As Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, it is NOT my mission, directly or indirectly, to advocate for or against any particular legislation or public policy. While this particular poll was commissioned by two organizations that have taken a position on the legislation, I wrote the survey instrument with the full intent to ask a probability sample of likely voters unbiased questions and present both sides fairly.”
You can read the full PDF of his letter here.
National surveys repeatedly prove that 60-80 percent of Americans do not want horse slaughter to return to the US. However, anti-animal groups and Oklahoma politicians such as Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon and Skye McNiel, who co-sponsored House Bill 1999, have conspired to demonize animal welfare and rights activists in a conscious strategy where such demagoguery is not only a political style but apparently a career path. Several of the Oklahoma Facebook pages opposing animal welfare/rights and HSUS are being also operated by the Varners (Skye McNiel’s family). The two other main front groups mentioned in the McCarville report are the Oklahoma Farm Bureau (contact them here to cancel your insurance), and another Big-Ag mouthpiece, Protect the Harvest, which is funded by billionaire Forrest Lucas of Lucas Oil fame. He has a cattle ranch in Missouri, where he bankrolled efforts to defeat puppy mill legislation that the Humane Society of the United States supported. Ever since, PTH has taken the place of industry front group HumaneWatch in going after HSUS.
There will be little recognizable as compassion in the actions of the politicians or front groups who have paved the way for horse slaughter in the US. They would like us all to believe that “aw shucks, we’re just farmers,” but In the past few weeks we’ve seen them set up fights with straw men rather than legitimate debate. The Oklahomans Against HSUS Facebook page, which has had at least 3 names changes in the last week, even claims that a flash mob on House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s political page was initiated by HSUS, when in fact the concept came from a small number of horse people and had nothing to do with any larger animal welfare group at all. But perhaps they’re just trying to prove at long last that Okies can excel at something other than meth labs and drive-by shootings.