The Politics of Political Surveys

Just when I was wondering what to blog about (I, in fact, have another blog in the making).  Yesterday I received an invitation from Representative Connie Mack to attend his Health Care Forum in Fort Myers. Included with the invitation is a Health Care Reform Survey.  Well, I’m a sociologist.  Surveys are the staples of sociology, so I’m interested.  Then I read the survey and, come to find out, it’s not anything that would pass for a valid research instrument in any academic department that I know of.  Indeed, I teach introduction level courses, and if any of my students presented such a survey to me I would fail them.

Mack’s survey disregards the rules of actual survey taking.  It’s not hard to spot that, in fact, the Mack survey is not a survey, but rather a propoganda instrument.  Let’s take a look at the four survey questions for a fuller understanding of what I’m talking about.

Mack Survey

Question 1:

Should Representative Mack keep fighting to protect our nation’s health care system from total government control? Yes, No, Unsure.

This question is great. First, take a look at the opening language.  It presents Connie Mack as fighting to “protect.” Indeed, there’s a bias toward protection.  We usually want our politicians to protect us from whatever it is we need protection from. In this case, the protection is from total government control of the nation’s health care system.  Oooh! Scary stuff! Except, of course, that there is no such battle going on.  Not one of the bills going through congress right now, nor any of the dominant voices on health care reform, is advocating for “total government control” of health care.  Sure, if such was the case I might just be against that policy.  But it’s not true. So exactly what is this question asking.  Rather, it’s a tool to spread misinformation about the current health care debate. Just what we need.

Question 2:

Do you agree that a free enterprise system is better than too much government? Yes, No, Unsure.

This is a great question for analysis. To my knowledge there is no way to use the phrase “too much” in a survey and expect valid results. “Too much” is always a bad thing.  Of course a free enterprise system is better than too much government.  It’s also better than not enough government.  It’s also better than too much mayo in a tuna fish sandwich. What’s your point? This question is designed to lead the respondent to the “correct” answer rather than a “valid” answer.

Question 3:

Do you think a government run health care system would be better or worse than what we have now? Yes, No, Unsure.

This question almost looks like a valid question if, that is, that there was a real probability of a government run health care system (which there isn’t). The problem is that the question is looking for a “better/worse” option, but does not offer either “better” or “worse” as a choice.  How exactly does one respond “yes” or “no” to this question? What are you saying yes or no to?

Question 4:

Are you in favor of paying higher taxes for universal health care? Yes, No, Unsure

Now this is a great question. One that has been asked in other survey venues.  Indeed, according to a CBS/New York Times Poll, a majority of Americas would be willing to pay higher taxes if it meant everyone was covered (the definition of universal health care).  That number increases if you ask Americans if rich people should be taxed more to provided universal health care. Of course, the CBS/New York Times poll may have a liberal bias, and of course people are going to be fine with “other people” paying high taxes, especially if they perceive that the other people can afford it and are subject to negative perceptions.  That’s an issue for another blog.  For this question it’s important to look at the rest of the Mack pamphlet.  Before we get to the survey, Mack states, “I oppose the attempt to nationalize our health care industry. Some call it universal health care; others call it nationalized health care or socialized medicine. Regardless of what you call it, it’s a bad idea.” Then, in the survey, he asks you if you think it is a good idea. Talk about teaching to the test!

Mack Survey 2

Connie Mack is not one of my favorite politicians. There’s no secret there.  But I would have been willing to pay some attention to this survey if it was a legitimate instrument for measuring people’s attitudes regarding health care. It’s not. It’s a means of spreading propaganda and falsehoods. My guess is that Mack website will publish the results of this survey as definitive of what his constituents want him to do.  It may even reinforce his resolve to keep “fighting to protect our nation’s health care system,” even though this health care system he presumes to protect is a national embarrassment.

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