The Hartford Courant is reporting on a Quinnipiac Opinion Poll that reports that Americans Believe Public Employees Should Pay More For Benefits.
The Courant story goes on to caution that although these are national results and not specific to Connecticut it would appear to be “good news” for Governor Malloy who is pushing for $2 billion in concessions from state employees.
Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, a former New York state legislator backs up the premise saying “I think this helps [Malloy’s] efforts to find fresh dollars” in the form of concessions. Kremer goes on to say that even though these are national results “the feelings are the same in Connecticut and all the adjoining states. This is a viral movement.”
At first glance it is a pretty persuasive argument…except it’s probably not true.
First, there are huge differences between a national sample of voters and a Connecticut sample.
Nationally, 35% say they are Republicans, 34% say they are Democrats and 31% say they are not affiliated with a Party.
Compare that to Connecticut where 21% are Republicans, 37% are Democrats and 42% are Unaffiliated.
The Courant reports that about “63 percent of Americans say government workers should pay more for their benefits and retirement programs, while 31 percent disagree”. They don’t break down the number in any way. A review of the poll however reveals huge differences in opinion by party.
While republicans think public employees should pay more by a margin of 72 to 22 percent, Democrats are split 47 – 45 percent.
Right off the bat, a Connecticut poll, with nearly twice the number of Democrats than Republicans is going to look VERY different since it is the Republicans who believe that public employees don’t, in their mind, pay enough toward their benefits.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, pollsters know that how you word the question and where you place it has a significant impact on the type of answer you get.
It turns out that the in the Quinnipiac University poll, the state employee pay and benefit question came immediately after a set of questions about the possibility of shut down of the national government that would occur if there was an impasse between Obama and the House Republicans. This section ended with a question that asked “ There is a bill that would prohibit members of Congress and the President from being paid during a government shutdown. Do you think that bill is a good idea or a bad idea? “
Now that is a loaded question if I’ve ever seen one and not surprisingly 78% of voters agree that it was a good idea to stop paying the President and Congress if there was a shut down.
It is only after dealing with the Federal shutdown and punishing the President and Congress, does the Quinnipiac Poll turns to the issue of State Employees and asks
“In order to reduce state budget deficits, would you support or oppose making public employees pay more for their benefits and retirement programs?”
Having worked with public opinion polls in Connecticut for more than 35 year I will assure you that the way this question is worded will get a yes answer. A question that begins “In order to reduce state budget deficits” will generate a very different answer then one that says “There is a debate about whether State Employees should pay more for their benefits” which would get a different answer still from a question that said “In addition to what state employees are now paying toward their benefits, do you think”.
In fact, I am surprised that the people at the Q-Poll would use a question that is so methodologically flawed.
Finally, in this political environment, to ask voters whether they would support or oppose making public employees pay more without informing them what employees are not paying is like asking whether you would like the gas companies to charge less for gasoline.
In addition to the benefits question, the Courant story also goes on to report that “The new survey also said American voters are split on whether collective bargaining for public employees should be limited — 45 percent say they support limits on the employees’ negotiating rights and 42 percent say they oppose such limits.”
Again, the interesting point for Connecticut’s public officials is not the generic number but what happens when you remember that the percentage of Democratic voters is far greater in Connecticut than in the nation.
The differences based on party affiliation are even more stark on this question. While Republicans nationally support limitation on collective bargaining as a way to reduce budget deficits by a margin of 59 to 25 percent, Democrats oppose limitations on collective bargaining rights by 56 to 33%.
Once again, a Connecticut survey on this issue would look very different from a national survey.
To suggest that the results of this flawed national poll shows that the people of Connecticut support Governor Malloy’s efforts to go after Connecticut’s state employees is simply not true. It is just as inaccurate to say that this poll would suggest that Connecticut’s voters support limiting bargaining rights and there is no evidence of that either.
Public opinion polls can be a useful tool when looking at the political environment in which decisions are being made, but this particular Quinnipiac Poll doesn’t shed light on the situation in Connecticut and is, in fact, of limited use nationally because of the way in which the questions are worded.