Biased budget, Medicaid poll questions from LePage group

Maine People Before Politics, a group dedicated to supporting Gov. Paul LePage, is out with a poll it says shows Maine people agree with the governor on a number of issues.

However, the questions are phrased in a highly biased way and so are not reliable measures of public opinion.

Here are two examples:

DO YOU THINK THE LEGISLATURE SHOULD AGREE TO PAY OFF THE HOSPITAL DEBT WITHOUT STRINGS ATTACHED OR DO YOU THINK IT SHOULD ONLY BE PAID IF THE STATE AGREES TO INCREASE WELFARE BENEFITS WITH INCREASES IN MEDICAID?

In this case, public health insurance is characterized as “welfare,” a term that has come to be seen in negative terms.

Moreover, using the word “welfare” could lead respondents to think that those receiving the insurance don’t work for a living. However, those to be covered by a Medicaid expansion are working people who earn little.

In addition, the question implies that a Medicaid expansion would increase costs to Maine taxpayers. However, the Kaiser Foundation and the Heritage Foundation say that costs will decrease.

Imagine how different people would respond if that information was included and if the word “welfare” was not used.

Here’s another question:

BY LAW, MAINE MUST HAVE A BALANCED BUDGET. EVERY YEAR MILLIONS OF DOLLARS FROM THE STATE BUDGET IS SENT TO TOWN AND CITY GOVERNMENTS. DO YOU THINK TOWN AND CITY GOVERNMENTS SHOULD CUT SPENDING TO HELP THE STATE BALANCE ITS BUDGET?

Quite a lot is wrong with this question as well.

In its phrasing, the municipalities could “help the state.” After all, the state sends them “millions of dollars from the state budget.”

The state sounds so nice! In return from getting money from “the state budget,” maybe the municipalities could help them out.

But the question doesn’t say the state is under an obligation to send this money, as they are supposed to share sales tax revenue.

Municipal revenue sharing has been around in Maine for a long time — since 1972.

The question doesn’t say that Gov. LePage has proposed cutting that municipal revenue sharing. These were just the sort of cuts the governor decried when he was Waterville’s mayor.

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Interestingly, not a single question mentions Governor LePage by name or even uses the word “governor.” Yet the press release accompanying the poll release includes both the governor’s name and a reference to his position. It’s certainly possible the questions would have gotten different responses if “governor” or “Governor LePage” were included.

 So what do such biased poll questions show?

These questions (and others not discussed) demonstrate how people react to particular framings of issues, the ones LePage offers.

But in the real world, people hear additional information and presentations of the same issues. In those circumstances, they often reach different judgments.

The questions are not reliable measures of public opinion.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives.