Working the Polls

(CBS/The Early Show)
Polls are slippery little devils. There are so many working parts that it's tough to weigh which detail is more interesting than another. Like a baseball box score, you can say "the pitcher cut his earned run average by a half run" while omitting the fact that, well, he lost. Or you can highlight the shortstop's 3 for 4 day, and ignore the he is still batting way under .300.

Polls often deal with hot-button third-rail issues like political candidates or Muslims in America or approval ratings – which means the business of parsing the data regularly gets criticized for being overly politicized. And that leads to charges of bias and mischief and shrieks that the media is carrying water for (A) big business, (B) environmentalists, (C) Democrats, (D) Republicans or (E) celebutantes.

So it was with great fascination that I read numerous stories over the weekend that unveiled (drumroll, please) the secrets of love and bliss and long-term marital happiness. And no, it was not in Cosmopolitan or Oprah's Magazine.

It was the coverage of a Pew Research Center poll about marriage and parenthood. Without the high-decibel debate surrounding most other polls in the media, this Pew study shows the extreme difficulty that most reporters have in boiling down a large amount of data (in this case, 88 pages) into 20 inches of print.

First off was the Associated Press coverage of the survey, headlined "Key to a Good Marriage? Share Housework."

The percentage of Americans who consider children "very important" to a successful marriage has dropped sharply since 1990, and more now cite the sharing of household chores as pivotal, according to a sweeping new survey.
Then came the Washington Post reporting on the numbers, "Adults Say They'd Rather Be Happy Than Parents."
On a list of nine contributors to success in marriage, children were trumped by faithfulness, a happy sexual relationship, household chore-sharing, economic factors such as adequate income and good housing, common religious beliefs, and shared tastes and interests, the nonprofit Pew Research Center found.
Then, curiously, USA Today wrote two stories – one on unmarried young mothers, and another one unmarried older mothers, with the latter story chalking it up elliptically to all the unwed celebrity parents:
Think Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Or maybe Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, or Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins — all celebrities who have had longtime live-in relationships and raised children together.

Just how much these famous folks influence average couples is unclear. But a Pew Research Center survey on behaviors related to marriage, divorce, parenthood and cohabitation suggests increasing acceptance of out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation, reflecting what Pew calls a "generation gap" in values.

And then the New York Times entered the fray, incorporating the data into a larger piece about how the "7-year itch" has been cut in half.
Forget the proverbial seven-year itch.

Not to disillusion the half million or so June brides and bridegrooms who were just married, but new research suggests that the spark may fizzle within only three years.

Researchers analyzed responses from two sets of married or cohabitating couples: one group was together for one to three years, the other for four to six years.

While the researchers could not pinpoint a precise turning point — the seven-year itch, as popularized in the play and film about errant husbands, was largely a theory — they found distinct differences between the groups.

Public Eye doesn't take a stand on one story's angle over another – hey, we're just making it up as we go along in romance ourselves – but this is an excellent (and relatively safe) case study in the way in which one poll can generate a multitude of headlines. And no matter how or where you read this poll's Rashomon coverage, it's a better source of love information than "Age of Love."