THEY'RE POLLS APART
The New York Times has come out with a telephone poll of NFL players that shows strong support for a strike, although not as strong as that indicated in a mail survey announced by the NFL Players Association last January. The key question in the Times' poll: "If the vote were held today, would you vote for a strike over the percentage-of-gross issue or would you vote against a strike?" The responses: 48% for a strike, 16% against, 36% don't know/no answer.
Even before those results were out, the NFLPA, whose contract negotiations with the NFL Management Council have stalled, charged that the poll had been conducted in concert with the council and filed an unfair-labor-practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The NFLPA also instructed players who had not yet been contacted not to participate in the survey. The union was upset that the Times had acquired the phone numbers of the players it polled from the Management Council. In certain cases, federal labor law has been interpreted as forbidding employers from questioning workers about their positions on labor-management issues. The NFLPA felt that by providing those numbers, management had engaged, at least indirectly, in such questioning. At any rate, it's certain that the council wouldn't have given out the numbers if it hadn't thought it to be in its own best interest to encourage the Times' poll. The NFLPA also assailed the Times. Although the newspaper said the questions it asked were of its own devising, NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey complained that some of them sounded as though they'd been conceived by management, while NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Raiders described the questions as "loaded." Upshaw cited these two examples:
1) "In general, how would you rate your own relationship with the owner of [name of player's team]?" (80% described relations as good, 9% as not good, 11% don't know/no answer.)
2) "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Ed Garvey is handling negotiations with the team owners?" (53% approved, 17% disapproved, 30% don't know/no answer.)
Were those questions, in fact, "loaded"? SI's Jill Lieber contacted Steve Withey, director of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, a respected survey organization, who expressed the belief that both questions should have contained gradations. Referring to the second one, he said, "It's better to say 'strongly approve,' 'approve,' 'disapprove' and 'strongly disapprove.' " But Withey concluded that the questions weren't loaded.
All right, since the NFLPA raised the subject of polling methodology, what about its poll? Here are the two most important questions from that one:
1) The Player Representatives have voted to seek a fixed Percentage of Gross as the NFLPA's Number One priority in 1982. I agree——. I disagree——. (92% agreed, 8% disagreed.)
2) Recognizing no one wants a strike, are you willing to strike to achieve our bargaining priorities? Yes——. No——. (95% said yes, 5% no.)
Withey and another expert, Scott Taylor, an analyst with the Lou Harris organization, agreed that both of those questions were biased. Of the first, Taylor said, "The statement about the player representatives tells you where the organization stands. It's a statement that leads to a certain response." The second question was objectionable in part because of the phrase "Recognizing no one wants a strike," which could have had the effect of softening up respondents or, conversely, of discouraging them from admitting they wanted to strike. Withey asks, "How do they know no one wants a strike? That's biasing right away."