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GUEST POLLSTER: The Problems with Gallup's SCHIP Poll


[Today's Guest Pollster's entry comes from Alan I. Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He has also been a frequent contributer to the blog Donkey Rising.]

The Gallup Poll has just released a report on public attitudes regarding President Bush's recent veto of a bill expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Gallup reports that a majority of Americans trust the Democrats in Congress more than President Bush on this issue. That's consistent with what other polling organizations have found. However, Gallup reports that a majority of Americans support the President's position on where to set the income threshold for SCHIP eligibility and that "Americans are also generally sympathetic to Bush's concern about the program leading to socialized medicine." A close examination indicates however, that the questions on which these conclusions are based are clearly biased.

Here's the question concerning the income threshold:

As you may know, the Democrats want to allow a family of four earning about $62,000 to qualify for the program. President Bush wants most of the increases to go to families earning less than $41,000. Whose side do you favor?"

The problem, of course, is that the question implies that the Democrats, in contrast to President Bush, do not want most SCHIP funds to go to families earning less than $41,000. But this is not true. In fact, under the legislation passed by Congress, the large majority of SCHIP funds would go to families earning less than $41,000.

The second question is even worse:

How concerned are you that expanding this program would create an incentive for middle class Americans to drop private health insurance for a public program, which some consider to be a step toward socialized medicine? Are you very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?"

Here the respondents are presented with a totally one-sided argument using the loaded term "socialized medicine." It is actually surprising, given this wording, that a substantial proportion of the respondents indicated that they were not concerned.

Given the biased wording of this question, it is not surprising that the results are out of line with those of other recent polls on this topic based on a more balanced wording. For example, an ABC-Washington Post Poll conducted from September 27-30 of this year asked the following question:

There's a proposal to increase federal spending on children's health insurance by 35 billion dollars over the next five years. It would be funded by an increase in cigarette taxes. Supporters say this would provide insurance for millions of low-income children who are currently uninsured. Opponents say this goes too far in covering children in families that can afford health insurance on their own. Do you support or oppose this increased funding for this program?"

Seventy-two percent of the respondents in this survey favored the proposed expansion of the SCHIP program.

Update: Gallup's Lydia Saad responds

 

Comments
Isaac:

Why not just ask: "Socialism: bad idea, or worst idea ever?"

____________________

DC Pollster:

Thank you for the excellent post! I was reading the toplines for the Gallup poll yesterday and I was astonished at how biased some of the questions were. I would have expected this type of thing from a Fox News poll, but not from a respected organization like Gallup.

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hardheaded liberal:

Gallup's poll in September on the public response to GEN Petraes' testimony contained
some similarly skewed questions.

The worst questions asked the respondents
whether they agreed that GEN Petraes'
recommended timetable was "about right."
But nowhere in the survey was the
respondent told what Petraes' timetable
for withrawal of troops actually was.

As a result, the questions really measured only the respondents' deference to the supposed judgment of an authoritative military commander, not whether the respondent actually agreed that the timetable for withdrawal of troops was fast enough for the respondent.

Gallup's written release of the results of the poll argued that these responses showed that Petraes had persuaded the public to give Bush more time to withdraw the troops. USA Today, the poll sponsor, dutifully reported this "conclusion," but USA Today emphasized that opposition to the occupation of Iraq had not changed.

I cannot believe that Gallup hires pollsters who do not know better. The survey questions were drafted with a partisan agenda, and then peddled as "social science." Disgusting!

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