Jonathan Cohn

Garbage In, Garbage Out

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According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 18 percent of respondents will change their mind when presented with a misleading question. Well, that’s not exactly how they put it. Here is Washington Post reporters Dan Balz and Jon Cohen’s description of the poll’s findings:

Public opinion is split down the middle on the question of whether the government should spend more money to stimulate the economy in a way that leads to job creation. Among those who support such new spending, 18 percent change their minds when asked what they think if such outlays could sharply increase the budget deficit. In that scenario, 57 percent opposed another round of spending. 

To me (and the Merriam-Webster dictionary), the word “sharply” in this context means “severe” or “abrupt.” But there is no jobs bill under consideration or even in the works that matches this description. So what was the Post asking the poll’s participants about?

In late 2009, the House narrowly passed a $154 billion jobs bill, which had a deficit-financed component of $64 billion over 10 years. After multiple rounds of whittling in the Senate, President Obama signed a package of about $18 billion in March.

The Congressional Budget Office forecasts the budget deficit between 2010 and 2020 at nearly $7.4 trillion. Against that baseline, the $64 billion added by the House-passed measure would be about a 0.9-percent increase. The $18 billion ultimately approved by the Senate actually is projected to decrease the deficit by $657 million over 10 years.

Sharp? Hardly. Something the size of the 2009 stimulus bill might be, but no one with the power to make it happen is proposing anything remotely that large.

Their question is as useful as asking, “Would you support lunar exploration if the moon were made of green cheese?” Some people would say yes, and some would say no, but either way, the result is without news value. It’s an insane hypothetical.

When pollsters asked people to choose, straight up, between leaving employment to the private sector and having government spend on job creation, respondents split evenly, 48 to 48.

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