Poll: Ohio faith community against union/budget reforms. Not so fast.

The headline is an attention getter:

“New Poll and Petition: Ohioans of Faith Reject Gov. Kasich’s Unfair Budget Proposal, Attacks on Workers”

This started appearing on Twitter feeds and Facebook pages last week and so it must be a fact, right?  If it’s on Twitter, it’s true.

The headline actually originated from the group Faith in Public Life (FPL), which is run by a collection of social justice gurus, community organizers, and bloggers who ‘enjoy writing about the “religious right.”‘  Their board includes senior fellows at the leftist Center for American Progress. They tout as one of their big successes setting the 2008 post-election narrative and debunking “the false spin of the single issue “values voter.”  In other words, they want to re-frame the Christian voter as a social justice/community organizer/Democrat.  They don’t like that there are sincere Christians who are genuinely against abortion and who have deeply-held beliefs in the importance of traditional marriage. They don’t like these are deal-breaker issues, meaning they could never in good-conscience vote for a pro-abortion candidate, whatever their party.  Never mind, FPL marches on, trying to convince the world that this is not true and that Christians are becoming Leftists at a dizzying rate.  That’s their mission.

It is in that context we take a look at their poll, taken March 25-27, surveying 2000 registered Ohio voters.  The group’s press release concluded:

“A new survey of 2,000 Ohio registered voters, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and conducted by Public Policy Polling, finds that Catholics and evangelical/born-again Christians in the battleground state of Ohio overwhelmingly reject restrictions on collective bargaining, as well as Governor Kasich’s proposed budget that cuts spending on vital public services while preserving corporate tax loopholes and low tax rates for the wealthiest residents of the state.”

  • Sixty-one percent of Ohio registered voters think restricting collective bargaining is the wrong thing to do, as do 57% of Catholic and 59% of evangelical/born-again Christian registered voters.
  • Fifty-seven percent of evangelical/born-again Christians said ‘to help make sure that citizens have a quality education and safe and healthy communities, even if it requires raising taxes on businesses and people with the highest incomes’ is a more important moral responsibility for government than ‘to cut taxes for all, including the wealthiest people and large businesses, even if it requires cutting education and other public services.

Wait….what?  Re-read that last bullet point.  Does it even make any sense?  It sounds like it was written by someone who does not have a good grasp of the English language.

This is the problem with polls and surveys: they’re only as good as the questions. Some questions are just poorly written and others are intentionally written to solicit pre-determined answers.

Creative Research Systems gives guidelines for creating non-biased survey questions:

“The overriding consideration in questionnaire design is to make sure your questions can accurately tell you what you want to learn. The way you phrase a question can change the answers you get. Try to make sure the wording does not favor one answer choice over another.

Avoid emotionally charged words or leading questions that point towards a certain answer. You will get different answers from asking ‘What do you think of the XYZ proposal?’ than from ‘What do you think of the Republican XYZ proposal?’ The word ‘Republican’ in the second question would cause some people to favor or oppose the proposal based on their feelings about Republicans, rather than about the proposal itself.”

Here are a couple of the actual questions asked by the Faith in Public Life (FPL) survey:

  • You may have heard about Governor Kasich’s plan to address budget shortfalls, which involves cutting education and health care. Do you think Gov. Kasich’s plan is a fair approach or an unfair approach to balancing the budget?

This was the second question in the survey.  Immediately we see the question is directing the person being interviewed toward a negative response.  It reduces and oversimplifies the debate and pits the budget shortfall against the emotionally charged issues of education and health care.  Then it asks if this is “fair.”  The third question is:

  • What do you think is a more important moral responsibility for our state government: to help make sure that citizens have a quality education and safe and healthy communities, even if it requires raising taxes on businesses and people with the highest incomes, OR to cut taxes for all, including the wealthiest people and large businesses, even if it requires cutting education and other public services?

Try reading that question out loud and imagining you heard it over the phone.  What are the chances you’d even understand what the caller was asking you?  There are so many odd grammatical constructs and run-on sentences that the listener would be hard-pressed to figure out how to answer, even if he or she had a strong opinion on the issue. In addition, again, it distorts the issue, as if the state can either cut taxes for the wealthiest people or have healthy communities.   Is it really accurate to assert (in a survey question, no less)  that our communities will become unhealthy if Governor Kasich’s budget passes?  And to further assert approving of this budget would be immoral? It’s a fine example of the false dilemma fallacy, but it’s a very poorly written survey question.  It’s clear there is an agenda, designed to elicit a pre-determined outcome.

Incidentally, we also find in the fine print of the survey that out of the 2000 registered Ohio voters 45% were Democrats, 30% were Republicans and 25% were “independent or identified with another party.”  I’m no expert, but I suspect that when you survey a majority of Democrats, you’re going to get Democrat-leaning opinions.

There’s a great video clip on YouTube that shows exactly how easy it is to skew survey question to get the outcome you want.

As for the seemingly overwhelming number of Christians/Evangelicals supposedly opposed to Gov. Kasich’s budget and union reforms?  Aside from an agenda that’s clear in the questions, which seem designed to solicit certain answers,  I think many of us will agree with the great philosopher, Inigo Montoya:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I was privileged to hear Dr. David Noebel from Summit Ministries speak on Saturday and he said:

“The vast majority of Bible believing Christians have no idea what a Biblical worldview really is.”

He noted that 28% of so-called Evangelical Christians voted for President Obama and probably would do so again.

Let’s start to turn this around by not taking surveys like this one at face value.  Faith in Public Life’s mission is to “shape the public debate.” One of their best propaganda tools is a survey that makes it appear that all or most Christians/Catholics/Evangelicals are in agreement with their agenda.  Don’t buy it.