The Facts

A Tale of Two Surveys

By in The Facts

Two Recent Foie Gras Polls and What’s Behind Their Significantly Different Findings

This year, two separate surveys were conducted to gauge the public’s feelings about foie gras production and a proposed ban of the products in New York City.

Surprisingly, the surveys come back with very conflicting results.

Most notably, a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy, who specializes in advocacy group and political polling, suggests 81% of New Yorkers support a citywide ban on the sale of foie gras products.

By way of contrast, a poll conducted by Change Research, founded as a public-benefit corporation to promote legitimate polling methods, actually found a majority of New Yorkers, 54%, opposed to the proposed NYC foie gras ban.

How did two polls, surveying a similar pool of NYC voters, come up with such varying results?

Often times, differences can be exposed with a closer look at a poll and its methodology – who was polled, how were the questions phrased, etc.. So we did exactly that, we compared the two polls side-to-side and noticed some tell-tale differences.

The Marked Differences Between the Two Polls:

Survey Question Integrity

The Mason-Dixon survey worded its questions using the same inaccurate and misleading phrases that special interest groups have been using as triggers for years. Specifically, the poll refers to the duck livers used to produce foie gras as “diseased”, a term the USDA has repeatedly said is not accurate and should not be used to describe the product. A Federal District Court in California has upheld the USDA’s position on that front.

In another question, the Mason-Dixon poll depicts the gavage process – how the ducks are fattened – graphically describing a foot-long feeding tube being employed. This is not the case at New York duck farms, where an innovative, shorter, less intrusive, plastic tube is employed for feeding. (This picture shows the difference in the two types of feeding tubes)

On the left, the feeding tube often cited as an example by animal rights activists. On the right, what is actually used. A soft flexible plastic tube that is considerably smaller and able to assist feeding without stress to the duck.

In stark contrast, the Change Research poll actually educates its survey takers, asking them about their familiarity with foie gras and showing them various statements, from proponents both for and against the ban, soliciting their opinions on all. Arguments from both sides of the issue are laid out before ultimately asking people how they feel about the proposed ban. It refrained from using incendiary and accurate terms like “diseased” liver.

Number of Questions

One interesting aspect of the Mason-Dixon poll is its brevity.  Aside from basic demographic information, it only asked respondents 3 questions.

The Change Research poll appears to be a little more thorough, asking respondents 17 questions, and narrowing down people’s responses based on the information they already possessed (accurate or not) on foie gras production in New York.

The Survey Pool

Another huge factor in methodology is the survey pool itself.

The Mason-Dixon poll solicited only 625 respondents. Did you know most legitimate newspapers and media outlets won’t even consider citing a survey that polls under 1,000 people?  Why?  Because below a thousand respondents are considered too small a polling pool to be significant.  This is probably why only blogs and smaller niche media outlets gave this poll attention.

The Change Research poll, by contrast, was completed by almost twice that many respondents, 1,173. While not every respondent answered every question, more than 1,000 answered questions related to the proposed band, and it’s considered a legitimate, reportable survey.


Take a look at the polls themselves and see if you don’t think the Change Research came back with a more realistic look at how New Yorkers feel – based on their more thorough polling, presentation of both sides of the issue and qualified questioning of respondents.