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Biased wording or message testing?

Wednesday, Feb 6, 2013

* From a new poll conducted for the We Are One Illinois coalition

Illinois state government has budget problems. Governor Quinn and other politicians say these problems are caused by public employee pay and pensions that should be cut. Public employees say they are middle-class workers like teachers, police, and caregivers, and the budget problems are caused mostly because rich people and big corporations don’t pay their fair share. Which do you agree with more?

    The budget problems are caused more by public employee pay and pensions… 34%

    They are caused more by rich people and big corporations not paying their share… 50%

    Not sure… 16%

You may know that the pension funds for retired public employees like teachers, police, caregivers, and nurses are $97 billion short of the amount they owe to current and future retirees. What do you think is more responsible for the pension debt: public employees with overly generous benefits or politicians who skipped pension payments?

    Overly generous public employee benefits are more responsible for the pension debt… 27%

    Politicians skipping pension payments are… 64%

    Not sure… 9%

There are different ideas about how to solve the pension problem. Governor Quinn and many other politicians support cutting pension benefits earned by retired public employees. Do you support or oppose cutting public employee pensions?

    Support…. 31%

    Oppose… 58%

    Not sure… 11%

…The most significant change proposed by Governor Quinn and other politicians would reduce the pension cost of living adjustment, or COLA, that protects retired public employees from inflation, similar to the COLA earned by Social Security recipients. Politicians say the provision is not affordable. Retirees say they need it to keep up with rising costs. Do you think the cost of living adjustment should be cut or preserved?

    It should be cut… 31%

    It should be preserved… 60%

    Don’t know… 9%

* Chris Wetterich thinks these are totally biased question

The question loads up the description of the parties involved with heavily biased terms. The public generally has a positive view of teachers, police and caregivers. Not so much school administrators, state bureaucrats and DMV workers (although I’ve received very good service at the DMV the few times I’ve renewed my Illinois license). Why not just ask about “public employees,” a neutral term?

And “rich” people, “politicians” and “big corporations” aren’t exactly popular these days. It’s as biased (and inaccurate based on recent job creation numbers) as the right calling them “job creators.” So it’s no surprise that people sided with the teachers, caregivers and cops.

* But it’s not as simple as that. First, that’s the language the unions are using in their public arguments against the changes. So, the poll is basically just testing their arguments.

Second, the numbers are pretty close to this October, 2012 Tribune poll

The poll found that 51 percent blamed the state’s politicians alone for Illinois’ pension problems while only 2 percent said it was just the fault of public workers. Another 32 percent said they believed it was a combination of state workers and politicians who created the problem. […]

Voters across the state were even more divided on another plan pushed by Democratic leaders that would alter benefits for current retirees and existing state workers.

Under that plan, workers and retirees could choose to forgo an annual compounded 3 percent cost-of-living increase to their pension in exchange for being able to have access to the state’s health insurance program. Workers and pensioners who choose to keep the cost-of-living increase would have to find their own health insurance. […]

The poll found that 32 percent of the state’s voters favored the plan, while 35 percent opposed it — within the survey’s 3.7 percentage-point margin of error. Another 33 percent of voters didn’t know enough about the proposal to take a side.

* And here’s a June, 2012 poll taken for Crain’s

And asked whether workers should be forced to choose between paying 3 percent more or losing their state-provided retirement health care, Illinois residents are split 42 percent against and 40 percent in favor.

So, the percentage who believe the politicians messed things up is very similar. The percentage in favor of the pension reform COLA plan is similar. The percentage against is higher in the labor poll, but that’s to be expected with such wording.

So, yeah, some biased wording, but it definitely served its purpose.

* Meanwhile, the NFIB released the results of what it calls a “member ballot”…

Illinois members of the National Federation of Independent Business overwhelmingly oppose any legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage.

That’s according to the results of the 2013 NFIB/Illinois Member Ballot, released today. Unlike other business groups, NFIB doesn’t have a board of directors that dictates its public-policy positions. NFIB’s positions are based solely on input from its members; the Member Ballot is the most important part of that process.

“When we asked our members whether the General Assembly should raise the minimum wage, the answer was ‘absolutely not,’” said Kim Clarke Maisch, state director of NFIB/Illinois, the state’s leading small-business association, with over 11,000 dues-paying members representing a broad cross section of the state’s economy.

According to the 2013 Member Ballot:

    88.4 percent of members oppose a wage increase, compared with 5.5 percent who favor an increase and 6 percent who were undecided or didn’t answer.

    81.7 percent said they oppose tying the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index to allow for automatic annual increases, compared with 9.5 percent who support the idea and 8.8 percent who were undecided or didn’t answer.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


20 Comments
  1. - Ret. Prof - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:16 am:

    Nothing in politics is unbiased. The first thing you learn in graduate intro research classes is people can hold points of view that are inconsistent.


  2. - BMAN - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:17 am:

    These questions are biased, there is not much doubt in that. However the questions are no more misleading than surveys put out by the major parties and certainly not as deceitful as the speech to be given later today. I believe the questions accurately capture the attitude of the majority.


  3. - Anonimo - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:25 am:

    When members of the NFIB were asked if there should be A minimum wage, the answer was ‘absolutely not.’ When members of the NFIB were asked if they should be able to rely on unpaid interns for all their business’ needs, the answer was ‘absolutely yes!’

    Snark


  4. - truthteller - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:29 am:

    Clearly, the public is not buying what the Governor and legislative leaders are selling.Closing corporate tax loopholes makes sense to everyone but the insiders in Springfield.
    Cutting the pension of 100 year old teachers, like the one featured in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, makes no sense to anyone, except to the Springfield insiders.


  5. - Endangered Moderate Species - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:33 am:

    Bias leaning surveys are only practical in the science of politics. The We Are One Coalition knew how to frame the questions in order to get the results they desired.


  6. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:52 am:

    Of what value is such polling?


  7. - Responsa - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    Polls and opinion surveys are touted more and more frequently by advocates of special interests and used in the media. There are a few decent polling firms out there which, left to their own devices, genuinely would prefer for their product to tap into the true pulse of a community’s beliefs and opinions. Unfortunately, the majority of surveys these days are commissioned not by unaffiliated independent information gathering parties but by organizations and groups which want to make a specific point (often to their own members). Too many polling firms are more than happy to comply by formatting questions in a way that will assure the hiring entity gets the result it wants.

    The questions of this survey as presented are incredibly biased and leading. That is obvious. So it should be hard to accept or tout the results as factual, even if one would very much like to believe them.


  8. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 12:06 pm:

    So, 1) testing the message, and 2) stirring up the base. Once the message is tested and verified, upon whom is it going to be used?


  9. - Responsa - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 12:13 pm:

    truthteller–
    I agree with you that the Trib’s Sunday story featuring the elderly teacher was excellent and very informative. It was an entertaining read and gave insight about the real people out there in the pension system who are in various walks of life –and how vastly different their financial circumstances may be. I’m not sure this complexity has been adequately focused on, or compared, by the media or the public or the pols. That said, I think different readers will come away with many different conclusions about all the ways the state and unions went off the rails with respect to pensions for educators.


  10. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 12:13 pm:

    It seems to me that Ty and the gang toned it down quite a bit after the Trib poll.

    Before then, there were a lot of spots on the radio about those allegedly rapacious public employees.


  11. - iThink - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 12:24 pm:

    What do these polls matter? Seriously.

    The people involved in the pension mess know full well (or at least should) the sources of the unfunded liability and what it is going to take to fix the system. The only poll that would matter is “Would you vote for someone who cut contractual benefits to public employees?” That is the only thing the pols care about.


  12. - Endangered Moderate Species - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 1:06 pm:

    -upon whom is it going to be used?-

    Good question. My guess is they are going to try some type of PR campaign and will use the information to say the public supports them. This could influence legislators in some districts.


  13. - David Ormsby - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 1:58 pm:

    That poll tests messages upon which direct mail, radio and tv ads are based against lawmakers who vote against labor.

    In that sense, the questions are properly worded.


  14. - capncrunch - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 2:03 pm:

    I would have liked to have seen the responses to these questions:

    Would you vote to re-elect someone who has repeatedly voted to divert or skip payments to the State’s pension fund? Yes No Maybe

    Skipping pension fund payments is acceptable if the money is spent instead on:
    State Employees wages Yes No Maybe
    Social programs Yes No Maybe
    Capital programs Yes No Maybe
    Education Yes No Maybe


  15. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 3:21 pm:

    Of course none of these test any realistic alternatives to fix the mess

    These polls are mostly of value to those who like to see their own positions supported.


  16. - Downstater - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 3:31 pm:

    Here is a good question for the poll.
    Would you like to see teachers get an automatic 3% increase on their pension paid for by your 67% increase in state income taxes?


  17. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 4:17 pm:

    Question asked of a man standing trial -

    “so when did you stop beating your wife?”

    Biased. But not surprising.


  18. - Ruby - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 4:52 pm:

    Another poll queston:

    Social Security money was used to help finance wars and other government programs. Do you think the cost of living adjustment for Social Security should be cut or preserved?

    It should be cut

    It should be preserved

    Don’t know


  19. - Meaningless - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 5:07 pm:

    Another polling questions? Do you think politicians bear any moral responsibility to support and uphold the state constitution? 1)Yes 2)No 3)Maybe(but not if it doesn’t support their political agenda)


  20. - RNUG - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 5:17 pm:

    /snark on

    If we’re going to do push polling, let’s go all the way:

    Over the past 40 years, the State paid less than required into the pension systems. During the same time, the employees always made their required payments. This year the State paid about $6B into the pension funds. If the payments had been made when due, this year’s pension payment would have been about $2B and there would be plenty of money for everything else.

    Who should be sent to jail for creating this problem?

    a) politicans who skipped their payments

    b) employees who made their payments

    /snark off


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