Yesterday the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) released an ominous sounding poll that pegged 80 percent of likely voters in five swing states wanting action in Washington to prevent sequestration before the November elections.
The announcement led to some expected press releases, including a reaction from the PR staff of the House Armed Services Committee, and several news articles emphasizing the political impact of sequestration.
But what AIA didn’t include in its press effort and what the news articles by in large didn’t mention were a number of important details about the poll itself, such as what questions were actually asked of the respondents.
A copy of part of the report presented to AIA by Harris Interactive, the company paid to conduct the poll, includes several important details.
The actual question that AIA wrote and that yielded the 80 percent number reads, “How much do you agree or disagree that leaders in Washington, DC should find an alternative to sequestration before the November elections take place?”
Of the 80 percent listed by the association, roughly half (38 percent of the total) strongly agreed with the statement, while the other half (42 percent of the total) somewhat agreed.
The question itself is phrased as a suggestion that leaders “should” find an alternative.
But the question that appears to have preceded the one publicized by the organization is more telling. It read:
The Federal budget – including both defense and non-defense programs – is facing across-the-board cuts of approximately 10% in January 2013, including over $500 billion to Defense, if lawmakers fail to enact a plan before then to reduce the national debt by $1.2 trillion. These budget cuts are referred to as ’’sequestration’’. These proposed cuts are in addition to a previously agreed-to cut of almost $1 trillion, including $487 billion to Defense that is already taking place, and it is a result of the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reach an agreement on a series of tax and entitlement reforms. How aware were you about this issue prior to taking this survey?
That question, while not asking about opinions regarding sequestration, provides a description that mentions failure twice and does not include time frames for cuts. It also doesn’t include any notion of why cuts might be necessary.
Most importantly, it would be lingering in the mind of a respondent when they answered whether sequestration should be avoided.
An AIA spokesman couldn’t confirm that the larger question about awareness preceded the sequestration opinion question in the poll itself, although the report provided included the corresponding poll number of every question and listed the opinion question second.
AIA numbers have been the subject of criticism in recent months, with some of the organization’s predictions about job losses as a result of sequestration facing the brunt of the questions. (http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2012/07/31-defense-sequestration-singer-orino)
In total the new sequestration opinion poll included data from 4042 respondents, roughly 800 each in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.