Polling isn’t the same thing as survey research. The latter relies on field-tested questions and careful selection of a quantity of respondents sufficient to provide a statistically-valid result. Very few polls meet those standards.
Within the category of opinion polling, there are large discrepancies in the reliability of the information gathered. (Just ask Harry Truman or Hillary Clinton.) Some of those discrepancies occur despite good-faith but flawed efforts of pollsters; some occur because limited resources required methodological shortcuts. Too many are just garbage, generated by “pollsters” trying to peddle snake-oil of one sort or another.
My virtual friend Peter the Citizen recently shared a glaring example of snake-oil polling.
Readers may recall my previous references to Peter; he was an official in the Reagan administration–and remains an example of the intellectually-honest conservatives we’ve mostly lost. His area of expertise (back when government work demanded actual knowledge of what the hell you were doing) was welfare policy. He has consistently debunked the assertion that TANF, the so-called “welfare reform” constantly touted by Paul Ryan and others, was a success. As he points out,
TANF is not “welfare reform” at all, but a flexible funding stream that has failed to provide an adequate safety net or an effective welfare-to-work program. In many states, it has become a slush fund used to supplant state spending and fill budget holes.
As GOP lawmakers seek to impose draconian work requirements on recipients of various social welfare programs, Peter reminds us that TANF’s work requirements are a” notable example of misguided policymaking– unreasonable, dysfunctional, and not about work.”
Voters are demanding that policymakers pursue welfare reforms that can move millions of able-bodied adults from welfare to work.”
As Peter notes, even people who support reasonable work requirements–and he counts himself as one of them– have balked at the recent attempts to add punitive provisions to SNAP and other programs. Some of the “pesky details” that pollsters don’t bother to provide to respondents are: who is to be considered “able-bodied?” Are jobs available? Is transportation? What about recipients with small children at home, or those acting as caretakers for disabled relatives?
And what about the cost of creating and monitoring this new set of rules? As Peter points out, passage of these requirements would force states to create new bureaucracies to monitor the millions of SNAP recipients to determine whether they are subject to the requirements and, if so, whether they satisfy them–but the proposal doesn’t provide any funding to support those new bureaucrats.
In the absence of context–the absence of information about these and similar “details”– responses to such polls are meaningless.
I bet I know what the poll results would be if we asked Americans “Do you approve of giving new tax breaks to rich people who are already being taxed at a lower marginal rate than Warren Buffet’s secretary?” How about “Should we let children starve if their parents don’t satisfy SNAP work requirements?”