It’s all in the question that’s asked.
Do you like taxes? Seriously, who’s going to say “yes” based only on that question?
So it’s a bit odd that KSTP-TV let the phrasing of a question on its poll recently about the “gas tax” stand.
The question asked was:
Last month the Minnesota legislature passed a transportation funding bill that will raise the state gas tax, raise license registration fees and allow counties in the metro area to raise the sales tax in order to pay for highway and transit projects. Do you support or oppose that legislation?
Well, that depends on what the legislation does, doesn’t it? If I were to ask you, would you favor or oppose spending $1,200 out of your savings account this week, aren’t you going to ask me another question before you answered, so that you can find out whether it was being spent on muffins or, say, a new family room?
Compare the wording of the question with one MPR used last spring:
There is a proposal before the Minnesota State Legislature to raise the gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon to pay for improvements to roads and bridges.
In that poll, 59 percent (not that much different from the KSTP results) were opposed to the dime increase, but it was a fairly even split on the idea of a nickel increase.
The Star Tribune Minnesota Poll in October asked:
Would you be willing to pay more in gasoline taxes in order to pay more for increased inspection and repair of bridges?
And got a different answer: A — statistically speaking — even split. But notice that no mention was made of how much of a tax would be involved — another sin of omission.
And that’s the real question underlying the tax debate: not that there are taxes, but that people do or don’t feel they’re getting value for their taxes.
If you asked the people in the Worthington area, for example, “do you want Minnesota 60 expanded?” the results would probably be “yes.”
Now, there might be a second part of the question, “do you want the gas tax raised to pay for that?” And the results of that end of the question might be entirely different. But we don’t know, since people weren’t given that type of question.
There are a lot of questions about this poll, mostly because questions weren’t asked, and that’s a shame because it would be good information.