Voucher Bill Author Pushes His Bill with a Partisan Poll Slipped to His Republican Colleagues

You wondered how a New Hampshire legislator gets support for his unpopular bill?  If discussing the merits with your colleagues doesn't work, how about a rigged poll?  Isn't that what a rigged polls are for?

In response to a Granite State Poll saying New Hampshire voters of all stripes oppose using state money to send children to private schools, State Senator Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) got the Free State advocacy group, Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, to poll a small number of Republicans and Independents (no Democrats) to show that New Hampshire voters do like his idea for privatizing public education.  And that they would be more likely to vote for a state senator who supported his bill. 

Here is the poll itself.  The transcript is below it, as well as an analysis of the poll by David Moore, a Senior Fellow at the Carsey Institute and nationally respected pollster and analyst. 

New Hampshire Liberty Caucus Poll


Senator Forsythe's Poll

Question 1
"I'm calling with an important survey regarding education legislation at the Statehouse in Concord.  A private school choice system allows parents the option of sending their child to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools.  

"Some states give tax credits to businesses if the donate money to nonprofit organizations and help pay for a child's private education.  The New Hampshire Legislature is currently considering this kind of tax credit system and the average tax credit scholarship would be limited to about 60% of per pupil cost in public schools.  Would you say you favor or oppose this tax credit scholarship system.

"Press 1 if you favor the tax credit scholarship system. Press 2 if you oppose the tax credit scholarship system."

Question 2
"If a candidate for New Hampshire State Senate favored such an education tax credit proposal, would you be more or less likely to support their re-election.

"Press 1 for "more likely" to support the Senator.  Press 2 for "less likely" to support the Senator.

"Paid for by the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire."


The results have been distributed to each Republican State Senator.  The report Senator Forsythe gave Senator Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton) is below.

Poll Analysis by David Moore, Carsey Institute Senior Fellow

posted Feb 29, 2012, 5:34 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 29, 2012, 6:55 AM ]

There are many fundamental problems with the automated poll that Senator Forsythe has been using to describe public opinion. There is the obvious shortcoming that it excludes all Democrats. But even if Democrats were included, there are other serious problems.

One is the sample size.  The report Senator Forsythe gave to Senator Stiles did not say what the sample size was, but it cautioned that the sample size was small and subject to uncertainty. That’s particularly problematic when the results are then compared among several different towns, where the sample size in each town is even smaller than the total, and could thus be so small, with such large margins of error, any interpretation of the results would be close to meaningless.

Another problem is the questionnaire design, which is fatally flawed.  It is important to recognize that most people are unaware of the subject matter. They don’t know the details of what Forsythe’s bill proposes to do. Asking respondents to express an opinion about the bill, when they know so little about it, would not be very enlightening. It is possible to ask people a more general question about the philosophy that underlies the bill, but the poll didn’t do that.

Instead, to overcome the problem of the public’s lack of knowledge, the automated poll gave a brief description of Senator Forsythe’s bill, and in the process pushed all the positive buttons of public opinion. The description was fairly complicated and, immediately after reading the description, the recording asked whether the respondents supported or opposed the proposal. The “information” that was read to the respondents included mention of a “tax credit” for businesses, which would be donating money to “non-profit organizations,” to provide a “scholarship” to students. All of these things sound positive, so even if – as is likely – most people didn’t really understand the full implications of the proposal, these many references would have made it sound attractive.

What the description failed to make clear is that tax money is being used to fund private education.

When people are asked a simple question on this matter, and allowed to admit they may not have an opinion, the survey yields a more meaningful answer.  That’s what the Granite State Poll did, using this question:

“As a general principle, do you think the New Hampshire state government should – or should not – use state funds to help students attend private or religious schools, or don’t you have an opinion either way?”

It’s useful to look at the results of this question overall in the table below, and to compare them among partisan subgroups.

  •  By more than a two-to-one margin, Granite Staters say they oppose state funds to help students attend private schools.
  • Even among Republicans, conservatives, and supporters of the Tea Party – more people say no to public funds for private education than say yes.
  •  Independents and moderates are roughly 3-to-1 against the idea. Democrats and liberals almost 4-to-1.

Partisan groups commonly design biased surveys to obtain the results they want.  This poll is clearly of that nature. It is more likely to represent the views of the people who designed the poll than to represent the views of the general public.


Should State Funds Be Used To Help Students Attend Private/Religious Schools?

Should Should Not No Opinion Don't Know (N=)
STATEWIDE 23% 55% 19% 3% 525
Registered Democrat 17% 65% 16% 2% 135
Registered Undeclared 20% 59% 17% 4% 189
Registered Republican 36% 43% 18% 3% 138
Democrat 18% 66% 15% 2% 225
Independent 17% 48% 29% 6% 107
Republican 36% 46% 15% 2% 176
Liberal 17% 64% 18% 1% 115
Moderate 18% 59% 19% 4% 221
Conservative 37% 44% 17% 2% 152
Support Tea Party 39% 46% 13% 2% 124
Neutral 21% 46% 28% 5% 160
Oppose Tea Party 16% 67% 15% 1% 210


The Republican Liberty Caucus Poll Results

posted Feb 23, 2012, 5:42 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Mar 1, 2012, 5:40 AM ]

DNHPE Comment: Senator Forsythe sent me these poll results in response to my request to him and to Senator Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton).  He said that the polls is not written up in a formal way because it "was not a poll for public release, just something informal to gauge support within the district amongst likely voters."

The results Senator Forsythe provided are for the district of Senator Stiles.  Presumably, Senator Forsythe provided similar reports to the other Republican Senators.

This is very odd -  it's a partisan, campaign-style poll, rigged to get the wrong answer, surveying Republican and Independent voters, conducted during a legislative session for the purpose of influencing votes on a bill.

It is not clear whether Senator Forsythe actually understands the extent to which he is misleading his colleagues.  The poll itself is clearly not intended to measure what the public is thinking on the issue. It was clear from the way Senator Stiles referred to the poll results in a public meeting that she trusted Senator Forsythe to have provided legitimate poll results.  However, as a pollster friend of mine said, "a candidate who allowed these results to guide her campaign would be in for a big surprise!"


Poll was conducted on behalf of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire by The Dennehy Group.  

********************

Republican and Independent voters were surveyed in Senate District 24 with the following script and question:
 
I'm calling with an important survey regarding education legislation at the State House in Concord.  A private school choice system allows parents the option of sending their child to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools.
 
Question 1
 
Some states give tax credits to businesses if they donate money to nonprofit organizations that help pay for a child's PRIVATE education.  The New Hampshire legislature is currently considering this kind of donation tax credit system, and the average tax credit scholarship would be limited to about 60 percent of per pupil cost in public schools.
 
Would you say you favor or oppose this tax-credit scholarship system?
 
Question 2
 
If a candidate for NH State Senate favored such an education tax credit proposal would be more or less likely to support their re-election?

Results (keeping in mind that the number of samples on a town level is low and therefore more subject to uncertainty):

Q1
F3 Data Favor System Oppose System Grand Total
GREENLAND Count of Q1 73.68% 26.32% 100.00%
Count of Q2 73.68% 26.32% 100.00%
HAMPTON Count of Q1 76.92% 23.08% 100.00%
Count of Q2 76.92% 23.08% 100.00%
HAMPTON FALLS Count of Q1 75.00% 25.00% 100.00%
Count of Q2 75.00% 25.00% 100.00%
NEW CASTLE Count of Q1 33.33% 66.67% 100.00%
Count of Q2 33.33% 66.67% 100.00%
NEWTON Count of Q1 53.85% 46.15% 100.00%
Count of Q2 53.85% 46.15% 100.00%
NORTH HAMPTON Count of Q1 57.14% 42.86% 100.00%
Count of Q2 57.14% 42.86% 100.00%
RYE Count of Q1 64.00% 36.00% 100.00%
Count of Q2 64.00% 36.00% 100.00%
SEABROOK Count of Q1 51.85% 48.15% 100.00%
Count of Q2 51.85% 48.15% 100.00%
SOUTH HAMPTON Count of Q1 50.00% 50.00% 100.00%
Count of Q2 50.00% 50.00% 100.00%
STRATHAM Count of Q1 56.52% 43.48% 100.00%
Count of Q2 56.52% 43.48% 100.00%
Total Count of Q1 61.46% 38.54% 100.00%

Granite State Poll Education Questions

posted Feb 23, 2012, 7:13 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Sep 19, 2013, 4:06 PM ]

The Carsey Institute formulated and reported on the education questions in the latest Granite State Poll.  Anyone can have for the asking the detailed breakdown of the responses.  Here it is.

Granite State Poll Education Questions


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