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Bad Polling; Bad Poll Interpretation July 26, 2011

Posted by geoff in News.

A brand-new Reuters/Ipsos poll seems to indicate that the public is siding with President Obama on the debt crisis. At least that’s the shallow interpretation Politico put on the results. I mean, a 56% approval for a combined increased taxes/reduced spending plan vs. just 19% for reducing spending by itself – doesn’t that support Epstein’s claim that the public favors Obama’s “plan” over Boehner’s?

But there are some issues. Like the fact that 49% of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats, while only 33% identified as Republicans. And the fact that when the people who supported a combination approach were asked to pick one or the other, 49% picked reducing spending vs. 43% who supported increasing taxes.

But overall, these questions are being interpreted poorly. Here, for example, is the big one:

As you probably know, the US budget deficit is currently about 1.4 trillion dollars. There are a number of different solutions being discussed for reducing this deficit. These are cutting existing programs, raising taxes, or some combination of the two.

Which approach do you think is best?

Epstein and the Reuter’s folk interpret support for a combined approach as support for Obama’s plan over Boehner’s plan. But that’s not at all true.

If you want to find out which plan people prefer, you should present them both plans and ask them to choose. Equating idealized versions of plans to the actual courses of action proposed by Boehner and Obama is over-reading the results.

Unless, I suppose, you’re a liberal journalist.


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