15 Apr 2010

Polling the Tea Baggers

The New York Times has a poll out this week discussing feelings about the economy, etc. I read through most of it, and Question 22 jumped out at me:
If you had to choose, would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services, or a bigger government providing more services?
50% of people responded smaller, pretty close to the average for the past 20 years. But the pollster then asked a follow up question to those requesting a smaller government:
Suppose a smaller government required cuts in spending on domestic programs such as Social Security, Medicare, education, or defense — then would you favor a smaller government, or not?
58% favor it then, implying only about 30% of people really want a smaller government when faced with the realistic tradeoff of reduced government service. Without probing the respondent and asking questions from different angles, as the Contingent Valuation folks try to do, the responses are close to worthless.

Bottom Line: Polling data are typically garbage.