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Do You Feel That Way Strongly or Somewhat?

February 25, 2009

At the Weekly Standard, John McCormack notices the huge difference in responses to – on surface – the same question in two different polls:

Last week a Rasmussen poll showed that only 38 percent of Americans support Obama’s mortgage plan, but a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 64 percent of Americans somewhat or strongly support Obama’s plan.

McCormack suggests that the wording of the poll questions have had an influence on the answers:

The WaPo/ABC News poll asks:

21. On another economic issue, would you support or oppose the federal government using 75 billion dollars to provide refinancing assistance to homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure on their mortgages? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

Rasmussen asks:

1* To reduce the number of mortgage foreclosures, should the federal government subsidize mortgage payments for financially troubled homeowners?

It seems that the difference between these two questions is that Rasmussen states that the government would “subsidize” “financially troubled homeowners”, while the WaPo/ABC poll states that the government would be “using” money to provide “refinancing assistance to homeowners”.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but it seems that Rasmussen emphasizes that those getting government cash are financially troubled, while the WaPo poll leaves the impression that the money may go to a larger pool of homeowners.

The French Cowboy agrees with this analysis but would add this: note that Rasmussen’s term “to subsidise” is a factual term. The WaPo/ABC poll, in contrast, asks to “provide assistance” in order to “help” and then how you “feel” about it. The question is put as if it were a matter of charity. Also, while Rasmussen’s question says that the goal is to reduce a “number”, the WaPo/ABC question implies that the aim is to help the “homeowners”, ie they chose to set the decision on a “personal” level instead of a more abstract, macroeconomic one. While Rasmussen keeps the question more to the point, the WaPo/ABC poll says that one man’s taxes are another man’s rescue from losing his home.

It is possible, that the WaPo/ABC poll was meant to counter the notion that M Santelli’s argument that the housing plan is rewarding bad behaviour at the cost of those who played by the rules is not as widely held as the reaction to his famous “rant” suggests. But in this case they could have just as well phrased the question thus:

21. On another economic issue, would you support or oppose the federal government giving 75 billion dollars of your hard-earned taxes to people who have bought houses they couldn’t afford even if the interest rate were set to minus two percent? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

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