Lies, Damn Lies, and Polls

If politicians and their pollsters want to look hard enough for a statistic to prove a point, they can find it. The most recent example of this old trick is the offshore drilling debate. Depending who you believe, Democrats are either getting beat badly on the issue, or voters aren’t buying Republican talking points. Let’s take a look at the question from a recent Quinnipiac poll of some battleground states (Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin):

To help solve the energy crisis and make America less dependent on foreign oil, do you support or oppose - Drilling for new oil supplies in currently protected areas off shore?

Unsurprisingly, Quinnipiac reports that:

By margins of 22 to 31 percentage points, voters in each state support offshore oil drilling.

The issue is, as NDN has discussed here, here, here, here, and here, the argument that offshore drilling will help solve the energy crisis and make America less dependent on foreign oil in a meaningful way is a completely untrue. So, if the issue is discussed in a different way, say in a Belden Russonello and Stewart poll released yesterday, one sees a very different answer.

Looking to the future, which one of the following do you think should be a more important priority for government: Investing in new energy technology including renewable fuels and more efficient automobiles; or expanding exploration and drilling for more oil?


Do you think that allowing oil companies to drill in public lands and offshore areas that are currently off limits to drilling will result in lower gas prices for American consumers or not?


Now, there's nothing to say that these two polls are mutually exclusive, but it's very doubtful that voters in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are buying the offshore drilling talking points at a rate that different from the rest of the country. These polls tell us that in order to win on energy, Democrats need to reframe the debate away from drilling versus not. When asked, Americans express a viewpoint sympathetic to Democratic arguments. The moral of this story is that the side that picks the question wins, and there's no such thing as a good answer to a bad question.