Lies, damn lies and . . . .

“Facts” always sound more impressive when they’re draped with statistics, so it’s prudent to look carefully at the underlying fundamentals when someone is presenting a bunch of numbers to support various conclusions. Case in point: the Generational Camping Report, presented at ARVC’s national convention in Raleigh this past week.

Introduced as an admirably motivated effort to “provide a profile on camping preferences and differences between campers of different generations,” the report and its conclusions were presented at the convention as the responses of some 500 campers–a distressingly small sample, considering that the answers were supposed to provide insight into the differences between three different age groups. But the results were even more narrowly sourced than that, because the final report was limited to the 408 respondents who had actually gone camping, RVing or glamping in the previous 12 months–a winnowing that was not explained at the convention.

That more restricted sample was then further skewed by the distribution of answers among 233 millennials (born after 1981), 131 GenXers (born after 1965) and a combined category of 41 boomers and 4 “silent generation” campers born as far back as 1928. So those report “findings” that made overall statements, such as how many nights respondents anticipated they would camp in the next 12 months, or what amenities they found most important, were disproportionately weighted by the answers from younger campers.

That’s not all. The respondents were drawn predominantly (72%) from east of the Mississippi River, which inevitably would skew answers to questions about their preferred type of camping destination, since two of the offered possibilities were BLM land and backcountry/wilderness areas off the grid. A more representative geographical distribution of RVers would likely have pushed those two choices higher. Moreover, the report tried to draw conclusions by distinguishing between respondents who already own RVs and those that don’t, finding–for example– that 60% of boomers who don’t own RVs would consider purchasing one. But how many boomers actually said that?

To answer that, anyone reading the survey results needs to have a calculator at hand, because most report findings are presented as percentages rather than hard numbers. But given that 254 of all the respondents don’t already own an RV, that could mean as many as 27 boomers said they’re open to buying one–assuming none of the 45 currently own one. Then again, assuming that 62% of the surveyed boomers don’t own RVs–the same ratio as the whole sample–then 28 boomers responding to the survey don’t have RVs and 17 of them said they would consider buying one. That’s an extraordinarily slender statistical reed on which to build any conclusions.

The overall report, alas, is replete with these kinds of overly broad conclusions, from statements about why people go camping, to what kind of campground amenities are most important to them, to how much they spend when they go camping–all good things for campground owners and local communities to know, but deserving of a far more ambitious research effort than this wan attempt. It’s telling, therefore, that the researchers who prepared the report apparently omitted the most fundamental caveat of any survey’s methodology, at least as it was presented at the convention: there is no mention of their confidence level in their findings.

No confidence level seems about right.

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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