Tag Archives: SNAP

Polling The Uninformed

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.”

The real target of this particular paper, however, is the GOP’s reliance on polling to “prove” that work requirements are favored by the majority of Americans, including those on welfare–to buttress their argument that “work-capable” adults should be required to work in return for benefits. As one conservative proponent put it,

 

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.

The poll questions reported verbatim in the linked paper reminded me vividly of a meeting I attended many years ago, where a state legislator from northeast Indiana shared the results of a “poll” he’d taken, the results of which “proved” that his constituents were firmly against abortion. The question–and I am not making this up–was “do you approve of killing babies?”

 

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?”

The only thing such poll questions prove is the truth of something I learned in law school: he who frames the question wins the debate.

Pigs and Hogs

There’s an old saying: pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered. If that’s true, there’s a reckoning due.

Let’s just review a few recent news items. Florida’s governor has signed a bill forbidding local government units from requiring businesses to pay sick leave. While this is somewhat less egregious than originally reported–early descriptions suggested the bill was an outright outlawing of sick leave–it is still horrendously bad policy. It’s particularly ironic that the governor who approvingly signed the bill is the same “job creator” who paid huge fines when his company  (a company that depended upon government-provided medical care for its profits) was convicted of  Medicare fraud.

Closer to home, Indiana Congressman Marlin Stutzman wants to separate food stamp authorization from the farm bill, so that it will be easier to reduce the SNAP payments that poor Americans depend upon to buy food, while retaining those all-important farm subsidies. (Stutzman knows how important those subsidies are because he himself has reportedly received at least 200,000 worth. And he’s hardly alone.)

Then there are all those “right to work” laws (while there is no evidence that they generate economic growth, there’s plenty of evidence that they depress the wages employers pay). There are all of the companies scrambling for ways to avoid compliance with the Affordable Care Act (wouldn’t want the cost of basic medical care for the most poorly-paid employees to affect that bottom-line!). There’s the GOPs hysterical reaction to any suggestion that our historically low tax rates be raised even modestly. There’s the stubborn opposition to equal pay for women (remember the howls over the Lily Ledbetter Act?), and even more stubborn resistance to proposals to raise the minimum wage.

These are just a few examples of the relentless campaign being waged by the most privileged against the working poor, a campaign accompanied by sneering references to “takers” and “moochers.”

Leaving aside issues of simple justice, what I want to know is, whatever happened to enlightened self-interest?

I often think back to a conversation I had years ago with a wealthy friend who explained his support for higher taxes on the wealthy and a more robust social safety net thusly: “I’m better off paying higher taxes than I would be if people get so desperate that they take to the streets. Social unrest isn’t good for anyone’s bottom line, and when you grind people down too far, eventually that’s what happens.”

Corporate America has evidently lost sight of Henry Ford’s central insight: workers should be paid wages sufficient to allow them to buy your product. The poor and the dispossessed can’t afford to participate in the market. 

People with money and status will always be better off than those without. Most of us are willing to live with that reality. But at some point, excesses of greed will generate unpleasant consequences.

Pigs and hogs.