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Controversial poll backs Augusta stance

The results are in, the public has spoken and Augusta National Golf Club's membership policies have been vindicated by an impressively large number of Americans.

That is, unless objectivity matters.

Results from a national poll commissioned by the club were released Wednesday, purportedly lending sweeping support to Augusta's controversial male-only makeup. But before the ink on the results was dry, both the tone of the questions and its skewed methodology were questioned.

"This is gross," Dr. Terri Fine, a political-science professor at UCF, said after eyeing the survey questions. "It's flawed, and it's biased -- and those are two different things."

The club quickly trumpeted findings in which it claimed 74 percent of those polled agreed that the host club of the Masters has the right to pick its members as it sees fit.

But based on the way the survey was worded, Fine said the accuracy of the figures was dubious.

In research parlance, similarly styled surveys are sometimes called "push polls."

"That's where you push somebody [respondents] to ultimately agree to a certain perspective," Fine said.

Augusta National hired WomanTrend, a Washington, D.C.-based polling firm that often is used to measure issues relating to women, to handle the poll.

The firm said 800 adults were questioned about the club's membership issue from Oct. 30-Nov. 4.

"Some of the wording seems inflammatory, pretty loaded," said Susan Pinkus, who coordinates the Los Angeles Times poll. "They basically are getting the results they wanted out of it."

One query asked respondents to agree or disagree with the following statement: "Just like single-sex colleges, the Junior League, Boys and Girls Scouts, Texas Women's Shooting Club, Sororities and Fraternities and women's business organizations, Augusta National Golf Club has the right to have members of one gender only." Seventy-four percent of those polled agreed.

Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, which is leading the fight for inclusion of a female member at Augusta, called the poll "laughable."

"It is ridiculous on its face to believe that 70-odd percent of Americans support sex discrimination," Burk said. "That's the case they are trying to make."

Kellyanne Conway, president of WomanTrend, defended the survey.

"We didn't load up questions against Martha Burk," Conway said. "We basically just put the test to the people."

Another sample question: "In a way, Ms. Burk's actions are insulting to women, because it makes it seem that getting admitted to a golf club is a big priority to all women." A total of 53 percent agreed.

Burk characterized the poll as a ham-fisted attempt by Augusta Chairman Hootie Johnson to bring the simmering gender issue to a halt by creating the impression that few Americans care about the club's exclusionary membership issue.

"The poll is an embarrassment to Augusta, just as its chairman is," she said. "It is so biased, it defies credibility. They obviously did it to lend credence to their position, and it has had just the opposite effect. I am surprised at the ineptitude here."

Johnson considered the results a vindication of club policy.

"It is enormously gratifying to see that a majority of Americans feel as we do," Johnson said in a statement released Wednesday by the club.

Fine said if a UCF graduate student sought to conduct a poll using a similar survey design, she'd never sign off on the research proposal.

"This is unacceptable," Fine said.

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