If you were surprised Rasmussen issued a poll yesterday finding that a plurality of "likely voters" side with Wisconsin's Republican governor in that state's battle over union rights, then you haven't been paying attention. Because of course Rasmussen has a GOP-friendly poll to frame whatever topic is being debated this week.
Specifically, what's wrong with the automated phone poll that found 48% of respondents "agree more with the Republican governor in his dispute with union workers"? Nate Silver points out a key problem with one of the questions included as part of the union survey:
3: Should teachers, firemen and policemen be allowed to go on strike?
Silver writes that the loaded question, which introduces firemen and policemen into the conflict despite the fact they are specifically not part of the Wisconsin showdown, essentially taints respondents. Worse, Rasmussen taints them right before they're asked whether they back Walker in his "dispute with union workers."
Silver explains [emphasis added]:
By invoking the prospect of such strikes, which are illegal in many places (especially for the uniformed services) and which many people quite naturally object to, the poll could potentially engender a less sympathetic reaction toward the protesters in Wisconsin. It is widely recognized in the scholarship on the subject, and I have noted before, that earlier questions in a survey can bias the response to later ones by framing an issue in a particular way and by casting one side of the argument in a less favorable light.
The Rasmussen example is more blatant than most. While many teachers have been among the protesters at the State Capitol in Madison, obliging the city to close its schools for days, there have been no reports of reductions in police or fire services, and in fact, uniformed services are specifically exempted from the proposals that the teachers and other public-sector employees are protesting. So bringing in the uniformed services essentially makes No. 3 a talking point posed as a question.
As an analogy, imagine a survey that asked respondents whether they believed the Democrats' health care overhaul included "death panels" before asking them whether they approved or disapproved of the bill over all.
The Huffington Post's Mark Blumenthal also highlights the flaws in Rasmussen's latest, noting the poll "appears to lead respondents to a desired result."
As we've noted many times, Rasmussen's work often appears to be a weird hybrid of polling and partisan propaganda. The problem is polling is supposed to be a science. Rasmussen treats it more like a sport.
- Scott Rasmussen