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.
Senator Forsythe's Poll
Voucher Bill Author Pushes His Bill with a Partisan Poll Slipped to His Republican Colleagues
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.
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?
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
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.
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?
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):
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.