Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Correcting the Record: Sienna Research Institute Poll

In a poll published by the Siena Research Institute of Siena College (Loudonville, NY) published today, it is concluded that New Yorkers are equally divided on the issue of legalizing mixed martial arts. The poll reports:

Currently, residents are evenly divided on legalizing mixed martial arts (MMA), known as ultimate fighting, as 39 percent favor legalization while 41 percent find it dangerous, even barbaric and would ban it. “Majorities of men, those age 18 to 34 and avid sports fans support MMA while older New Yorkers and women are most opposed to the sport that supporters insist would generate fan interest, and be an engine of economic development,”
One of my major criticisms about the common argument used by many fans, the mainstream media and other sources to defend MMA's legalization in NY is the fact that it could bring substantial economic benefit to the state. This is the position offered in the Siena poll. While it is true that MMA could bring needed revenue into New York, this argument is generally positioned against the opposing sentiment that mixed martial arts is too "dangerous, even barbaric."  This juxtaposition generally leaves the uneducated New Yorker to believe the final argument in favor of MMA is: "Yes, MMA is barbaric, but let's legalize it for the money."  This could not be further from the reality of our sport and where supporters of our MMA stand.

Anyone in research knows that polls can be fairly reliable, but they are often the least reliable method of inquiry for many reasons. We also know that the outcome of a poll is entirely dependent on the language of the pollster. Let's examine this Siena poll question in more detail:

The question read by pollsters to the subjects in this study was:
Mixed Martial Arts, known by some as cage fighting or ultimate fighting. Supporters say it should be legal in the State of New York. Mixed martial arts or MMA is already legal in many states and if legal here in New York would generate fan interest, direct revenues and would be an engine of economic development. Opponents say MMA is dangerous, even barbaric and we should not allow such a violent sport to be practiced here in New York. Do you side with the supporters of MMA or with the opponents?
Now, this poll does attempt to control for various levels of sports fan in the study. And not surprisingly, among people who considered themselves avid sports fans, the poll was not equally split at all. 59% of avid fans supported legalization and 31% did not. 15% claimed not to have enough information. Among non-sports fans, the results were opposite with 29% of respondents in favor, 43% not in favor, and 23 % claiming they did not have enough information.This discrepancy in results between avid fans and non-fans highlight the critical need for education of the general public about what mixed martial arts is and what it is not.

It stands to reason that avid fans would have better education and understanding regarding what mixed martial arts is and what it is not, thus being more likely to support legalization as the poll showed. However, it is the non-fans that are the critical element in this study, and for the battle to legalize MMA in New York. It should be fairly obvious that the majority of New Yorkers would fall into the "non-fan" category when it comes to MMA. It is these people who will answer a poll question based primarily on how the question is worded (and how the mainstream media presents the sport).

In the case of this study, as is often the case, the poll question suggests that MMA is dangerous, barbaric, and violent. It refers to our sport as "cage fighting" and "ultimate fighting," which conjure much more violent images of our sport (not to mention that these are not what our sport is called). The only counter argument offered is essentially that the sport is legal in many other states (not MOST other states as is the case) and could stand to make New York State some money. This brings us back to my original criticism. This poll is asking people to decide between violence and money. There is no suggestion that MMA is, in fact, very safe; much safer than many other popular sports. In my opinion, this poll was destined to show lack of support for MMA in New York.

*To review the entire Siena poll results view here

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