03 November 2009

Be Careful With Polls

Mark Blumenthal of The National Journal has an insightful blog post about the perils of public opinion polls. here is an excerpt:

How do Americans feel about cap-and-trade legislation?

In recent weeks, two media pollsters reported results on the point. "Six in 10 Americans support a 'cap-and-trade' proposal to cut pollution," said the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Despite "growing public skepticism about global warming," the Pew Research Center found "more support than opposition for a policy to set limits on carbon emissions."

How accurately do these questions measure public opinion on cap-and-trade legislation?

To answer that question, you may want to consider how Americans answered another: "Some people say the 1975 Public Affairs Act should be repealed. Do you agree or disagree with this idea?"

As a well-informed reader of NationalJournal.com, you are probably inclined to wrinkle your brow and ask, "What's that?" For good reason: It never existed. But its fictitious nature didn't stop 34 percent from expressing an opinion when University of Cincinnati political scientist George Bishop and his colleagues asked a sample of Cincinnati adults that question in 1978. Bishop and other scholars have consistently replicated that finding using national samples and similarly fictitious or unknown legislation. As summarized in Bishop's book, The Illusion of Public Opinion, between 30 and 40 percent of Americans will offer opinions on legislation they have never heard of.

Blumenthal asks "what are we to make of responses to questions that use possibly unfamiliar terms like "greenhouse gases" and "carbon dioxide emissions?""

He put that question to George Bishop, author of the 1975 study referenced above, here is Professor Bishop's response:
"'Cap-and-trade' legislation is so obscure and so little-known by the vast majority of Americans," he concluded via e-mail, that questions about it generate the same sort of "pseudo-opinions" as the fictitious 1975 Public Affairs Act. "Reliable and valid measures of public opinion on such a complex policy issue," he writes, "cannot be so simply simulated by merely telling respondents what it's about and then asking them to react to it on the spot. Down that road lie misleading illusions and the manufacturing of public opinion -- a disservice to the Congress, the president and the press that covers them."
My view is that public opinion is plenty string enough for action to occur, in other words, there is nothing politically intrinsic about the issue that stands out as being a barrier to action. By contrast, legislation to make abortion illegal might face such an intrinsic political barrier. That means that the issue is about the specifics of policy, and the political implications of specific policies -- who wins and who loses in specific bills. Consequently, at this point in the debate public matters very little. What matters are the perceptions of various decision makers in Congress. Crafting policy that can be effective, be seen to be effective and provide parochial as well as national benefits is the political challenge facing the Congress. From what I read, they are not doing so well in meeting these criteria.


  1. Hmm. I would interpret the table above as "the more you know about it, the less you like it"- not exactly a green light for a policy option!

  2. The Pew poll CLEARLY shows that the more people learn about Cap and Trade, the less they like it (and for very good reason).

    So, Roger, what you are saying is that you want those of us who are educated to bow to the preferences of those who are uneducated -- even when those uneducated FOOLS do NOT represent a majority of those who were polled.

    No, Roger, despite you continuing failure to correct your error, 50% is still NOT a majority!

    As for your abortion reference, I refer you to the dissenting opinion of Justice Byron White in Roe v Wade (emphasis mine):

    “I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court's judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers [410 U.S. 222] and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes. The upshot is that the people and the legislatures of the 50 States are constitutionally dissentitled to weigh the relative importance of the continued existence and development of the fetus, on the one hand, against a spectrum of possible impacts on the mother, on the other hand.”

    Roe v Wade has FAR more to do with a typically tyrannical and utterly unconstitutional disentitling power grab than anything else. But, as usual, the Dims have done a GREAT job of deflecting and diverting attention away from the REAL ISSUE.

  3. Since the first rule of the political class is to get re-elected they have two options when the public doesn’t like their positions:
    1: Take up a position like their constituents and oppose their leadership.
    2: Make their position sound like what their constituents want and hope that few people look deeper.

    It’s not too hard to detect which option is being used.

    After the public decided that global warming was nothing to worry about the hypothesis was rebranded “climate change”.
    When there was no support to limit CO2 it was rebranded as “pollution”.

    As the public learned more about cap and trade they figured out that it is really just a tax and control bill and turned against it so:
    The Waxman Markey cap and trade bill is titled "The American Clean Energy and Security Act".
    The Boxer, Kerry cap and trade bill is titled “The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act”.

    The text of the bills still refer to global warming and defer to IPCC reports from a decade ago; but who (present company excluded) ever reads the bills.

    The best hope for our government leaders to pass the cap and trade bill is to disguise it to look like something useful. Or they could try the open approach and tell the public exactly what is in the bill. Nah.

  4. -3-Maurice Garoutte,

    As you know, the Dims have a very long history of rebranding themselves AND their legislative tyranny into various euphemisms.

    For example:

    1) Progressive becomes New Left becomes Liberal becomes Progressive (again).

    2) The Projects becomes Section 8 becomes Affordable Housing becomes Attainable Housing -- when, in reality, it was all just another phenomenally corrupt and enormously destructive Dim Ponzi scheme.

    As you probably also know, Ayn Rand quite thoroughly described this sort of deception in Atlas Shrugged.

    As you probably also know, we have now witnessed Atlas Shrugged moving from fiction to fact in a mere 52 years.

    Sad, but true.

  5. Worth noting that of those claiming to be knowledgeable about cap and trade, they run about 2.5 to 1 Republican.

  6. I think I'll be able to say something interesting about this shortly...

  7. -5-Roger sez:

    “of those claiming to be knowledgeable about cap and trade, they run about 2.5 to 1 Republican”

    What is it about that finding which is incompatible with another Pew poll which I commented upon?

    Face it Roger…
    Dims are simply uninformed and even Pew knows it!

    But, it’s not really their fault. Blame it on little Chuckie Gibson (and his fellow “jourmalists”).

  8. Roger and SBVOR,
    The relationship between political philosophy and time spent digging into the details of politics and science does not (not I say) imply cause/effect in any direction.

    Without speculating on the cause of the relationship, it is real and may partially explain some of the divisions in our society. The leaders of the D’s already understand the relationship and know that they can get support from their base with simple messages. The rebranding of rejected policies to more appealing names is an example. But while the rebranding may inform the base of the party it infuriates others (well me at least).

    Another example is Al Gore last night saying that the IPCC AR4 report was the unanimous conclusions of 2500 independent scientists from around the world. People who have faith in Global Warming accept that as the revealed truth and consider skeptics as anti-science Flat Earthers. However people who are familiar with the work of John McLean tend to yell at the TV until Mr. Gore is off of the screen.

    Mr. Gore’s simple and deceptive message convinces a few and offends a few. When the convinced meet the offended it gets ugly. See most Global Warming blogs.

    For the record; this comment is about the effect of communications style, not the validity of any science factoid.

  9. Speaking of surveys, here's one of the key findings from Examiner's First Annual Global Warming Survey (the 100th version of which will be completed underwater with indelible markers and plastic sheet...)

    Key Finding

    Skeptics are not monolithic, and they are not diametrically opposed to various strategies put forward by Barack Obama and environmentalists to addressing environmental and energy issues.

    The survey asked respondents to identify initiatives that they would be willing to fund with an additional annual tax payment of $150.

    47% of skeptics in this survey would pay $150 extra in taxes to fund 'improving the efficiency of homes and offices with better insulation and lighting/heating alternatives'
    35% would fund 'Making public transportation a more attractive option for more people'
    17% would fund higher automotive mileage standards
    24% would fund 'subsidizing research into green energy sources, including wind, solar, biomass and nuclear
    An astonishing 64% would fund with their tax dollars 'Making the electricity grid more efficient and responsive'
    However, less than one percent (0.2%) would fund cap and trade, and only 1% would fund a straightforward tax on CO2 emissions
    Only 1% would fund building dykes and protected areas at the water's edge, and only 2% would fund 'geo-engineering' to remediate carbon emissions
    But 15% would fund "Helping the world--especially the poorest part of the world--prepare for the consequences of climate change through economic development, and letting them use their own intelligence and resources to solve the local problems it brings"
    So skeptics are not monolithic, not against conservation, not against some of Obama's planks for the energy and environmental future of this country. If a program was atomized instead of agglomerated, individual initiatives could, if properly presented, receive significant support from climate skeptics. Leading with Cap and Trade may have been a serious policy misjudgment, and putting all of Obama's energy policies into one grab-bag just insured that skeptics would oppose the entire package because of one or two elements within it. Mr. President--think about this...

  10. so are these percentages about the same as non-skeptics?

  11. Hi Sharon

    Comparing across groups comes later, for me. I'm having to do this in bite sized chunks. Sorry.

  12. Not a problem. Just curious. Will be looking forward to hearing more!