Weekly Obsession: Poll whiplash

Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 10:05pm

Did something change?

Did the sugar rush of Halloween mess with our minds? Did the Occupy crackdown change our perceptions? Or did the ever-changing weather of mid-autumn continue to play with our emotions?

Somehow two polls — released two weeks apart — conducted by two different universities revealed two very different feelings on one topic.

The economy’s in the tank — both an MTSU Poll and a Vanderbilt poll show most Tennesseans are onboard with that statement.

Should taxes on the rich increase? That’s where Tennesseans don’t agree. At least not the Tennesseans who were polled.

In the MTSU poll, 49 percent of respondents said taxes should not be raised on households earning more than $250,000. Only 40 percent backed such increases.

Vandy’s method was a little more freeform, but the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions reported a “commanding number of Tennesseans” supported raising taxes on the “wealthy,” “millionaires,” or “people making more than $250,000 a year” — which are similar but hardly fungible terms.

In any event, Vanderbilt reported people making less than $75,000 supported raising taxes on the wealthy by a 3-to-1 margin. That slipped to the “50 to 63 percent” — talk about freeform — range for people on the other side of the $75,000 threshold.

If nothing else, the polls show that even in blood-red Tennessee, voters are not a monolith.

The Vandy poll especially demonstrates a level of nuance on the issue, shades of gray frequently ignored in the echo chambers and the noise of the hustings. For one thing, the Vandy respondents can’t seem to agree on what a definition of “rich” is in the first place.

Now, poll results are like baseball statistics: They can be used to prove anything. And looking at two polls to draw any kind of conclusion is dangerous ground to tread.

But two polls taken so close together with samples taken from the same population and coming to such wildly different conclusions?

Sometimes, even mathematics isn’t as black or white as it should be.

8 Comments on this post:

By: tomba1 on 11/21/11 at 12:16

Just consider the source and move on to the sports section. At least there the scores tell the story without any grayness.

By: WickedTribe on 11/21/11 at 6:01

Isn't 99% of the Tennessee population making less than $75,000 anyway? This state has the lowest rates of pay I've ever seen, pretty much across the board in all industries.

By: govskeptic on 11/21/11 at 7:11

Since nationally 52% of the population pays very little or no Federal Income
Taxes, and with the advent of such a large portion of the population using
only cell phones versus land lines, the polling reflects less and less of
what's really happening/feelings on most issues!

By: frodo on 11/21/11 at 8:32

Gov, your are right, who answers telephone polls these days? But the Vandy results are no surprise, nonetheless. People making a certain level of income want OTHER people (not themselves) to pay more taxes. I just took a poll of everyone within sound of my voice. 5 of 4 want pollsters to pay us $5 per question answered. So it is decided. The 5th person wants them to just go away.

By: madridia on 11/21/11 at 11:35

Hey govskeptic, would YOU want to trade places with a member of the 52 percent who don't pay federal income taxes? I know I wouldn't! Only monks and nuns are poor by choice. I am perfectly fine to pay the social surcharge on my privilege.

By: madridia on 11/21/11 at 11:36

Oh, and artists. They are also poor by choice.

By: LizzyD on 11/21/11 at 12:00

Its not mathematics. It's data manipulation. It is not black and white. In fact, it is very, very fuzzy.

Look up fuzzy logic.

By: Kosh III on 11/22/11 at 7:07

Even the individuals and corporations (Exxon) which pay no IRS taxes still pay taxes: excise, sin, gas, sales and more.

But it's the corporations that get huge welfare checks from the government: we give 8 million in welfare to the Predators every year, BP get billions in special tax exemptions, even when they poison the environment and allow executive incompetence to kill employees, the CEO of TVA got a raise this year: a mere 532,000, poor dear just couldn't make ends meet on 3 million, it's just sooooo hard to poison(the Emory) rivers and jack up rates.