Poll Analysis by David Moore, Carsey Institute Senior Fellow

posted Feb 29, 2012, 5:34 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 29, 2012, 6:55 AM ]

There are many fundamental problems with the automated poll that Senator Forsythe has been using to describe public opinion. There is the obvious shortcoming that it excludes all Democrats. But even if Democrats were included, there are other serious problems.

One is the sample size.  The report Senator Forsythe gave to Senator Stiles did not say what the sample size was, but it cautioned that the sample size was small and subject to uncertainty. That’s particularly problematic when the results are then compared among several different towns, where the sample size in each town is even smaller than the total, and could thus be so small, with such large margins of error, any interpretation of the results would be close to meaningless.

Another problem is the questionnaire design, which is fatally flawed.  It is important to recognize that most people are unaware of the subject matter. They don’t know the details of what Forsythe’s bill proposes to do. Asking respondents to express an opinion about the bill, when they know so little about it, would not be very enlightening. It is possible to ask people a more general question about the philosophy that underlies the bill, but the poll didn’t do that.

Instead, to overcome the problem of the public’s lack of knowledge, the automated poll gave a brief description of Senator Forsythe’s bill, and in the process pushed all the positive buttons of public opinion. The description was fairly complicated and, immediately after reading the description, the recording asked whether the respondents supported or opposed the proposal. The “information” that was read to the respondents included mention of a “tax credit” for businesses, which would be donating money to “non-profit organizations,” to provide a “scholarship” to students. All of these things sound positive, so even if – as is likely – most people didn’t really understand the full implications of the proposal, these many references would have made it sound attractive.

What the description failed to make clear is that tax money is being used to fund private education.

When people are asked a simple question on this matter, and allowed to admit they may not have an opinion, the survey yields a more meaningful answer.  That’s what the Granite State Poll did, using this question:

“As a general principle, do you think the New Hampshire state government should – or should not – use state funds to help students attend private or religious schools, or don’t you have an opinion either way?”

It’s useful to look at the results of this question overall in the table below, and to compare them among partisan subgroups.

  •  By more than a two-to-one margin, Granite Staters say they oppose state funds to help students attend private schools.
  • Even among Republicans, conservatives, and supporters of the Tea Party – more people say no to public funds for private education than say yes.
  •  Independents and moderates are roughly 3-to-1 against the idea. Democrats and liberals almost 4-to-1.

Partisan groups commonly design biased surveys to obtain the results they want.  This poll is clearly of that nature. It is more likely to represent the views of the people who designed the poll than to represent the views of the general public.

Should State Funds Be Used To Help Students Attend Private/Religious Schools?

Should Should Not No Opinion Don't Know (N=)
STATEWIDE 23% 55% 19% 3% 525
Registered Democrat 17% 65% 16% 2% 135
Registered Undeclared 20% 59% 17% 4% 189
Registered Republican 36% 43% 18% 3% 138
Democrat 18% 66% 15% 2% 225
Independent 17% 48% 29% 6% 107
Republican 36% 46% 15% 2% 176
Liberal 17% 64% 18% 1% 115
Moderate 18% 59% 19% 4% 221
Conservative 37% 44% 17% 2% 152
Support Tea Party 39% 46% 13% 2% 124
Neutral 21% 46% 28% 5% 160
Oppose Tea Party 16% 67% 15% 1% 210