Today's Under the Dome reports on polling results by Public Policy Polling that claim to show public support for taxpayer-financed campaigns.
Policy Polling has found that 60 percent of voters favor full public funding
for candidates for state Supreme Court and
of Appeals. Twenty-four percent had an unfavorable opinion, and 16 percent
were not sure.
There are many problems with the "conclusions" being drawn from these results. In a press release included with the survey results, PPP declares that the scheme of "public financing" for judicial campaigns "is still highly favored by the voters of North Carolina."
First off, what PPP conveniently leaves out of their press release is the result of question number 2 in their survey:
If yes, press 1. If no, press 2.
Yes…………………… 48% No ……………………. 52%
So more than half of the respondents had never even heard of this law prior to the survey, yet their answer is still somehow declared as some proof positive that the law is "highly favored" by North Carolinians? Please.
A completely uninformed response to a question about which the respondents were given no real context hardly qualifies as a legitimate gauge of public opinion.
Consider a few facts about the public financing for judicial campaigns that most respondents were not made aware of during the survey:
- "Originally portrayed as relying only on
voluntary support – a $3 check-off on state tax returns and an
opportunity for state attorneys to contribute $50 a year – the funding
system ran dry"
- Taxpayers and attorneys chose not to support the system
- "State government resorted to compulsion."
- "The $50 “contribution” has now become an extra licensing fee for attorneys."
- "And in 2004, the General Assembly transferred
nearly $1 million from the General Fund, from mandatory taxes and fees,
to the cash-strapped judicial-campaign fund."
But the most important lesson in this episode is a case of stated vs. demonstrated preferences. It costs the survey respondents nothing to press a button on their phone to say they support this system they know little or nothing about.
When taxpayers are asked to actually demonstrate their support by checking off the box on their tax return, however, roughly 90% choose not to do so. Keep in mind, it doesn't even cost $3 extra, it merely directs $3 of their tax bill to the judicial campaign fund.
Looking at demonstrated preferences, rather than uninformed survey responses, is a much better way to determine the public's support of the public financing of judicial campaigns. Based on this measure, about 90% do not support the program.