Here we go again: more fun with polling data

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Two-thirds of Americans want the Bush tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest to expire at the end of the year, according to one recent poll. But in another poll, two-thirds of Americans want to extend all of the Bush tax cuts — including those for the country's top earners.

How can that be possible? The answer is all in the poll question's phrasing. Do Americans Support Obama's Tax Cuts Deal? Depends How You Ask | TPMDC:

[GOP narrative pollster] Rasmussen poll released Friday, a majority of likely voters said they supported the tax cut compromise between President Obama and Republicans that was announced last week. That proposal would extend all the Bush tax cuts for two years in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits, among other things. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they supported the deal, while 29% said they were opposed.

However, the wording of the poll did not allow respondents to specify an alternative option they preferred, nor did it indicate that any other proposals — such as capping the income level at which tax cuts are extended — are on the table. Rather, it provided an all-or-nothing question, framed in fairly rosy language.

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Similarly, a Gallup poll released last week found that 66% of adults nationwide would vote for a full extension of the Bush tax cuts if they had a direct say in the matter, versus 29% who said they would vote against such a measure. That poll, like Rasmussen's, did not provide an alternative option. The poll asked only if respondents would "Extend the federal income tax cuts passed in 2001 for all Americans for two years."

Yet when the question is phrased inversely, the results flip.

In a Bloomberg poll released last week, 59% of respondents said they favored allowing the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire, compared to 38% percent who opposed ending those tax cuts. Those results came in response to a question that asked only if respondents supported, "Eliminat[ing] tax cuts the wealthiest Americans have received in recent years."

When multiple options are presented, the results become more nuanced.

A recent CBS News poll found that, given the choice, a majority of American's favored the proposal by Congressional Democrats to extend only the tax cuts up to $250,000. The poll asked:

Which comes closest to your view of the tax cuts passed in 2001? 1. The tax cuts should be continued for everyone, 2. The tax cuts should only be continued for households earning less than $250,000 a year, or 3. The tax cuts should expire for everyone.

Only 26% of respondents said they favored extending all the tax cuts, while 53% favored extending them only for those earning under $250,000 a year. An additional 14% said they would like to see all the cuts expire.

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Even among multiple-choice polls, there is some divergence depending on the question's framing. The same Bloomberg poll cited earlier included a follow-up question that asked which tax cut proposal would be "best for the economy."

When the question was phrased not as a matter of personal preference, but in terms of what would benefit the economy as a whole, 19% said they preferred extending all of the tax cuts, 34% favored extending them only up to $250,000, and 27% supported allowing them all to expire "to help cut the deficit."

So while there are plenty of numbers floating around on the tax debate, one thing is clear: it's not a matter of who you ask, but how you ask.

You will recall that Nate Silver reviewed the performance of pollsters after the election and found that Rasmussen Reports ranked dead last. Rasmussen Polls Were Biased and Inaccurate; Quinnipiac, SurveyUSA Performed Strongly – NYTimes.com.

And yet, here we go again being subjected to GOP narrative pollster Rasmussen Reports because they are prolific in sending out topline poll number press releases that the lazy news media just loves because it fills column space.

The broader issue here is the polls that editors and news producers choose to report, and those they choose not to report. This reflects the political bias of the editors and news producers and their role in the right-wing noise machine echo chamber. When you see this happening, you have to call them out on it.

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