How you ask the question, Part 2

In June I wrote a piece entitled “Poll: It’s How You Ask the Question.”  The post described a poll in which 87 percent of Minnesotans favored no new spending in the state budget.  The implication was residents favored “no new taxes.”  However, a different poll showed that 63 percent of Minnesotans favored a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts to balance the budget.

The B&G report recently cited a similar scenario in which 56 percent of California voters favored the following question.

“Do you favor or oppose changing election laws so that statewide initiatives can only be placed before voters in a November general election instead of a primary election?”

Asked another way California voters opposed by 60 percent the new Governor signing the exact same bill.

“In 2009, the Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature reached a bipartisan agreement to balance the state budget in which the Republicans agreed to support significant increases to the state’s income, sales and car taxes and the Democrats agreed to put before voters in June of 2012 an initiative limiting state spending increases and increasing the state’s rainy day fund. On the last day of the current legislative session, however, the state legislature passed a union-backed bill that would delay the public vote on the initiative until November of 2014. Do you believe Governor Jerry Brown should sign this bill delaying the initiative or veto the bill and allow voters to consider the initiative next June?”

There could be two distinct mechanisms at work.  First, voters respond differently depending on how the question is asked.  Asking a poll (or referendum) question is very difficult because the use of certain words and phrases can make a question very leading to the respondent.  An alternative explanation could be that the default answer is “no” to questions that are complex or not clearly explained.

**If you had to read the last question four times as I did, keep in mind that the primary election is in June, the general election is November.