Friday, March 1, 2013

How to use exit polls to mislead: Part 1

While driving to my internship on Friday, a Republican Congressman appeared on National Public Radio to talk about the sequester among other things. 
He also talked about how the Republican Party is poised to win elections and they’re not really in trouble, despite what you may be hearing.  His proof of that was to look at the exit polls and say a majority of Americans want to repeal Obamacare, the majority of Americans thought that the country was headed on the wrong track, and that the majority of Americans think that we should not raise taxes to cover the debt.
This piqued my interest and I was wondering if this was true.  According to the CNN exit poll, 44% of voters want the 2010 Health Care Law should not be repealed while 49% think it should be repealed.  While it is not the majority of American people who want Obamacare repealed, it is certainly the plurality.  But like the polls that showed that the majority of Americans wanted Obamacare repealed in the first place, it is slightly misleading.  26% of voters want to expand Obamacare and 18% want to keep it as is.  24% want it repealed in part and 25% want it repealed completely.  Or if I was Obama or a Democrat, I could say 68% of Americans want to keep Obamacare or the majority of it.  The question does not ask, what do you want repealed?  With nearly a quarter of the people saying that they want to repeal Obamacare in part, shouldn’t it be important to ask what part of it do they want repealed?  But that answer isn’t there.  If I was PolitiFact, I would rate this as a mostly true statement. 
The majority of Americans think we’re headed on the wrong track.  52% of Americans did say that we were on the wrong track.  Of that 52%, 84% voted for Romney and 13% voted for Obama.  46% said we were headed in the right direction.  Of that 46%, 93% voted for Obama and 6% voted for Romney.  Of course, this is an intentionally vague question.  Even more so on election night.  I would say that the country is headed in the wrong direction.  Does that necessarily mean that I think it’s Obama’s fault or the Democrats fault?  Or conversely, does it mean that it’s the Republicans fault?  No.  It means that I think the country is headed in the wrong direction for reasons totally outside the political race that’s happening. You’re looking to the wrong question for a referendum on the president.  There’s other questions that you can look at like, how do you think Obama is handling the job as president?  53% either strongly or somewhat approve while 46% somewhat or strongly disapprove.  Which one is the better question to determine how the party of the president is doing, one that vaguely asks about the state of the country or one that asks about how you feel about the president? 
The majority of Americans don’t think we should raise taxes to cover the deficit.  Well, technically, he’s spot on.  33% of voters said taxes should be raised while 63% said they should not.  Does it ask, is covering the deficit a worthwhile goal?  No.  Does it even separate out who the taxes should be raised on?  No.  13% say that income tax rates should be raised on all.  47% say they should be increased on people making $250k or more.  While only 35% say it should not be increased.  The disconnect seems to be that people who want the taxes raised, don’t want it to cover the deficit.  Or the disconnect is that when people heard taxes being raised they thought it was on all people and not just the ones making $250k+.  60% of people want income taxes raised on those making $250k+ but only 33% of people want taxes to be raised in order to cut the deficit.  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  The exit polls don’t generally show too much depth but they’re meaningful to look at for demographic information.
Overall, the claims made were misleading. He used a misleading combination of statistics to show that the Republican Party “won the argument” but lost the election.  In reality, the argument is not framed correctly.

No comments:

Post a Comment