Civitas Institute has received its fair share of criticism about biased polling questions. Most of those critiques came from Under the Dome and the Capital Beat, not to mention other assorted leftwing blogs. But to see the perennial lack of attention to bias in other polls simply compounds the bias in those polls.
Here’s the very first question of the most recent Public Policy Watch poll (I highlight obvious bias or misleading bits underlined in red):
"Most local governments are under pressure to raise capital investments in schools, roads, water, and sewer. parks, and housing for fixed income seniors. An alternative to property taxes is a real estate transfer tax that’s paid one time when a property is sold. Five North Carolina counties have used transfer tax revenues to pay for schools and other infrastructure and reduce property taxes.
Do you feel that voters in each North Carolina County should be able to vote on whether or not their counties can use a one-time transfer tax to pay for community needs as an alternative to property tax increases? If you think yes people should be able to vote, press 1 on your keypad. If you think no,… If you don’t know…" 84 percent support such a tax. No surprise there.
(I left in the "press 1 on your keypad" part of the quote to let readers know that Public Policy Polling has no way to verify if their respondents are 5-year-olds, 15-year-olds, much less who they claim they are. But I digress…)
The most egregious bias in this is that it frames the question in such a way as to suggest any county has EVER ONCE suggested that transfer taxes would be an alternative to property taxes. Rarely in human history have taxes ever supplanted other taxes even if some slick politician has suggested it, somewhere. So don’t be fooled folks. The other misleading aspect of this is that it repeats "one-time". But the fact is: you will pay the tax every time you sell your home. Throwing in something about helping seniors is just intended to taint the question with pathos.
Here’s a comparable question from June’s Civitas Poll:
"A transfer tax is a tax assessed against the seller of a home or property at the time of the sale. Do you support a 1 percent transfer tax on homeowners selling their home to help local government pay for the costs associated with growth?" Funny. 78 percent of our respondents disapproved of such a tax despite self-identifying as more liberal than conservative on aggregate. [Update: Justin points out that the two polls were asking two different questions, which is true. I simply wanted to point out how you could ask theirs or a comparable question in a less biased manner.]
That folks is a contrast… Mark? Ryan? Bias Watchers? -Max Borders