Pre-Election Poll: Voters Broadly Misinformed About Key Issues

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APA
Agresti, J. D. (2014, November 3). Pre-Election Poll: Voters Broadly Misinformed About Key Issues. Retrieved from https://www.justfactsdaily.com/pre-election-poll-voters-broadly-misinformed-about-key-issues/
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Agresti, James D. “Pre-Election Poll: Voters Broadly Misinformed About Key Issues.” Just Facts. 3 November 2014. Web. 25 June 2019.<https://www.justfactsdaily.com/pre-election-poll-voters-broadly-misinformed-about-key-issues/>.
Chicago (for footnotes)
James D. Agresti, “Pre-Election Poll: Voters Broadly Misinformed About Key Issues.” Just Facts. November 3, 2014. https://www.justfactsdaily.com/pre-election-poll-voters-broadly-misinformed-about-key-issues/.
Chicago (for bibliographies)
Agresti, James D. “Pre-Election Poll: Voters Broadly Misinformed About Key Issues.” Just Facts. November 3, 2014. https://www.justfactsdaily.com/pre-election-poll-voters-broadly-misinformed-about-key-issues/.

By James D. Agresti
November 3, 2014

What do voters truly understand about major public policy issues that impact them? In the days leading up the 2014 elections, Just Facts commissioned a nationwide poll of likely voters to scientifically determine this.

While most polls focus on public opinion, this one measured public knowledge. The poll consisted of 20 questions—one concerning voters’ political inclinations and 19 dealing with their knowledge of policy issues.

Each question addressed a central element of a key issue, including healthcare, taxes, government spending, global warming, Social Security, energy, hunger, pollution, and the national debt. For instance, voters were asked: “On average, who would you say pays a greater portion of their income in federal taxes: The middle class or the upper 1% of income earners?”

The poll found deep partisan divides, with Democratic, Republican, and third-party voters being more or less knowledgeable depending upon the question. Overall, the majority of voters gave the correct answer to only five of the 19 policy questions. These results indicate that people may be casting ballots based upon false beliefs.

The poll was conducted by Conquest Communications Group, a professional polling firm. The responses were obtained through live telephone surveys of 500 likely voters across the continental United States on October 27-29, 2014. The margin of sampling error for all voters is plus or minus 4% with a 95% level of confidence. The margin of error for Republican voters is 7%, for Democratic voters 8%, for undecided voters 10%, and for third-party voters 19%.

The questions and results are as follows.

Question 1: The average U.S. household spends about $25,000 per year on food, housing, and clothing combined. If we broke down all combined federal, state, and local taxes to a per household cost, do you think this would amount to more or less than an average of $25,000 per household per year?

Correct Answer: Taxes are more than $25,000 per household per year. In 2013, federal, state and local governments collected a combined total of $4.4 trillion in taxes or an average of $33,006 for every household in the U.S. Correct answer given by 45% of all voters, 41% of Democratic voters, 49% of Republican voters, 50% of third-party voters, and 40% of undecided voters.

Question 2: On average, who would you say pays a greater portion of their income in federal taxes: The middle class or the upper 1% of income earners?

Correct Answer: The upper 1% of income earners. The Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimates of federal tax burdens show that households in the middle class pay an average federal tax rate of 11.5%, as compared to 29.4% for the top 1% of income earners. Correct answer given by 16% of all voters, 4% of Democratic voters, 25% of Republican voters, 29% of third-party voters, and 15% of undecided voters.

Question 3: Now, changing the subject from taxes to spending, suppose we broke down all government spending to a per household cost – do you think the combined spending of federal, state and local governments amounts to more or less than $40,000 per household per year?

Correct Answer: Government spending is more than $40,000 per household per year. In 2013, federal, state and local governments spent a combined total of $5.8 trillion or an average of $47,137 for every household in the U.S. Correct answer given by 44% of all voters, 36% of Democratic voters, 52% of Republican voters, 61% of third-party voters, and 38% of undecided voters.

Question 4: Do you think the federal government spends more money on social programs, such as Medicare, education, and food stamps – or does the federal government spend more money on national defense, such as the Army, Navy, and missile defense?

Correct Answer: Social programs. In 2013, 61% of federal spending was for social programs, versus 20% for national defense. Half a century ago, the opposite was true, and 53% of federal spending was for national defense, versus 21% for social programs. Correct answer given by 49% of all voters, 17% of Democratic voters, 61% of Republican voters, 46% of third-party voters, and 26% of undecided voters.

Question 5: What about federal government debt? The average U.S. household owes about $107,000 in consumer debt, such as mortgages and credit cards. Thinking about all federal government debt broken down on a per household basis, do you think federal debt amounts to more or less than $107,000 per U.S. household?

Correct Answer: Federal debt is more than $107,000 per household. On October 2, 2014, the federal debt was $17.9 trillion or $145,950 for every household in the U.S. Correct answer given by 70% of all voters, 62% of Democratic voters, 80% of Republican voters, 79% of third-party voters, and 67% of undecided voters.

Question 6: Over the past five years, which has grown at a faster rate, the U.S. economy or the national debt?

Correct Answer: The national debt. Over the past five years, the national debt grew by 51%, while the U.S. economy grew by 22%. Correct answer given by 83% of all voters, 68% of Democratic voters, 95% of Republican voters, 93% of third-party voters, and 84% of undecided voters.

Question 7: Would you say the earth is measurably warmer than it was 30 years ago?

Correct Answer: Yes. According to satellite measurements (and ground-level thermometers), over the past 30 years the earth’s average temperature has increased by about 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which is greater than the range of measurement uncertainty. For a point of comparison, a temperature analysis of a glacier in Greenland found that it was about 22ºF colder during the last ice age than it is now. Correct answer given by 58% of all voters, 89% of Democratic voters, 31% of Republican voters, 57% of third-party voters, and 54% of undecided voters.

Question 8: Again, thinking about the whole planet, do you think the number and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms have generally increased over the past 30 years?

Correct Answer: No. Data published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that the number and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms is about the same as it was 30 years ago. Likewise, Christopher Landsea, a Ph.D. atmospheric scientist and hurricane specialist for NOAA, wrote in 2005, “All previous and current research in the area of hurricane variability has shown no reliable, long-term trend up in the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones, either in the Atlantic or any other basin.” Additionally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2012: “There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.” Correct answer given by 33% of all voters, 23% of Democratic voters, 54% of Republican voters, 42% of third-party voters, and 42% of undecided voters.

Question 9: Now, just thinking about the United States, in your opinion, is the air generally more polluted than it was 30 years ago?

Correct Answer: No. EPA data shows that ambient levels of criteria air pollutants have declined significantly over the past 30 years. The same is true for emissions of hazardous air pollutants. Correct answer given by 44% of all voters, 37% of Democratic voters, 53% of Republican voters, 39% of third-party voters, and 41% of undecided voters.

Question 10: If the U.S. stopped recycling and buried all of its trash for the next 100 years in a single landfill that was 30 feet high, how much of the nation’s land area would this cover? Less than 1%, 1% to less than 5%, or more than 5%?

Correct Answer: Less than 1%. At the current U.S. population growth rate and the current per-person trash production rate, the landfill would cover 0.05% of the nation’s land area. More realistically, the actual area in use will be an order of magnitude smaller, because (1) the U.S. recycles, burns, or composts 46% of its trash; (2) landfills can be more than 200 feet high; and (3) after 30-50 years, landfills are often covered and used for purposes such as parks, golf courses, ski slopes, and airfields. Correct answer given by 7% of all voters, 5% of Democratic voters, 11% of Republican voters, 7% of third-party voters, and 7% of undecided voters.

Question 11: Without government subsidies, which of these technologies is least expensive for generating electricity? Wind turbines, solar panels, or natural gas power plants?

Correct Answer: Natural gas power plants. Determining the costs of electricity-generating technologies is complex, but data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that natural gas is considerably less expensive than wind, and wind is considerably less expensive than solar. Correct answer given by 42% of all voters, 31% of Democratic voters, 57% of Republican voters, 46% of third-party voters, and 29% of undecided voters.

Question 12: Without government subsidies, which of these fuels is least expensive for powering automobiles? Gasoline, ethanol, or biodiesel?

Correct Answer: Gasoline. As calculated with data from the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Energy Information Administration, without federal subsidies, the average nationwide retail price for ethanol in 2013 was 22% more than gasoline, and biodiesel was 41% more than gasoline. Correct answer given by 47% of all voters, 40% of Democratic voters, 44% of Republican voters, 54% of third-party voters, and 31% of undecided voters.

Question 13: Worldwide, which of these technologies generates the most electricity? Solar panels, natural gas power plants, coal power plants, or nuclear power plants?

Correct Answer: Coal power plants. Due to the low cost and widespread availability of coal, coal power plants produce about 39% of the world’s electricity, as compared to 21% for natural gas, 12% for nuclear, and 1% for solar. Correct answer given by 39% of all voters, 34% of Democratic voters, 44% of Republican voters, 50% of third-party voters, and 31% of undecided voters.

Question 14: On an average day, what portion of U.S. households with children have at least one child who experiences hunger? Less than 1%, 1% to less than 10%, or more than 10%?

Correct Answer: Less than 1%. Per the latest data from the USDA, on an average day, less than one quarter of one percent (0.24%) of households with children have a child who experiences hunger. Correct answer given by 12% of all voters, 6% of Democratic voters, 16% of Republican voters, 14% of third-party voters, and 12% of undecided voters.

Question 15: Some people say that Social Security faces financial problems because politicians have looted the program and spent the money on other programs. Do you believe that statement is true or false?

Correct Answer: False. By law, all Social Security taxes and revenues can be used only for the Social Security program, and the federal government has never failed to abide by this law. What some call “looting” is actually a legal requirement (established in the Social Security of 1935) that all of the program’s surpluses be loaned to the federal government. The government is required to pay back this money with interest, and it has been doing so since 2010. Social Security’s financial challenges stem from other factors. Correct answer given by 20% of all voters, 26% of Democratic voters, 17% of Republican voters, 14% of third-party voters, and 22% of undecided voters.

Question 16: Some policymakers are proposing that individuals be allowed to save and invest some of their Social Security taxes in personal accounts instead of paying these taxes to the Social Security program. In your view, do you think such proposals generally improve or harm the finances of the Social Security program?

Correct Answer: Improve. As shown by analyses conducted by the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration and a bipartisan presidential commission, proposals to give Social Security an element of personal ownership generally strengthen the program’s finances. Although some tax revenues that would have gone to the program instead go to people’s personal retirement accounts, these tax revenues are more than offset by the savings of not paying these individuals full benefits. Correct answer given by 23% of all voters, 10% of Democratic voters, 38% of Republican voters, 25% of third-party voters, and 15% of undecided voters.

Question 17: In 1960, governments paid for 24% of all healthcare costs in the U.S. Do you think government now pays a greater portion or a lesser portion of all healthcare costs in the U.S.?

Correct Answer: A greater portion. Between 1960 and 2009, the portion of U.S. healthcare expenses paid by government increased from 24% to 48%. Correct answer given by 59% of all voters, 50% of Democratic voters, 71% of Republican voters, 64% of third-party voters, and 54% of undecided voters.

Question 18: When health insurance copayments are high, people tend to spend less on healthcare. Does this reduced spending typically have a negative impact on people’s health?

Correct Answer: No. Multiple studies have shown that when copayments are high, people generally spend less money on their healthcare without negatively impacting their health. This is because when people directly pay for more of their healthcare bills, they are more likely to be responsible consumers and use only those services that actually benefit their health. An exception to this rule is the poorest 6% of the population, who do experience negative effects when copayments are increased. Correct answer given by 15% of all voters, 12% of Democratic voters, 19% of Republican voters, 11% of third-party voters, and 16% of undecided voters.

Question 19: In 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” This law uses price controls to save money in the Medicare program. Do you think these price controls will affect Medicare patients’ access to care?

Correct Answer: Yes. As explained by Medicare’s actuaries, the price controls in the Affordable Care Act will cut Medicare prices for many medical services over the next three generations to “less than half of their level under the prior law.” The actuaries have been clear that this will likely cause “withdrawal of providers from the Medicare market” and “severe problems with beneficiary access to care.” Correct answer given by 58% of all voters, 38% of Democratic voters, 74% of Republican voters, 64% of third-party voters, and 66% of undecided voters.

Question 20: In the upcoming U.S. Congressional elections, do you think you will probably vote for Democrats, Republicans, or third-party candidates?

Answers: 34% planned to vote for Democrats, 37% for Republicans, 6% for third-party candidates, 19% were unsure, and 5% declined to answer the question.

The poll results for all voters are available here, and the results broken down by political inclination, age, and gender are available here.

8 thoughts on “Pre-Election Poll: Voters Broadly Misinformed About Key Issues

  1. Pingback: Widely Touted Study on State and Local Taxes is a Sham | Pundit House

  2. Pingback: Is Ocean Life on the Brink of Mass Extinction? | Pundit House

  3. Pingback: Widely-Touted Study on State and Local Taxes is a Sham | Jefferson Policy Journal

  4. Question #7 was not thoroughly answered by you and your staff. You are remiss for not including the Southern Hemisphere by only referencing Greenland data. “The hemispheric asymmetries are quite interesting and largely unexplored – there is also a very intriguing see-saw between Arctic and Antarctic sea ice.” – by Judith Curry, “The inconvenient Southern Hemisphere”, May 1, 2014. Please read the article. http://judithcurry.com/2014/05/01/the-inconvenient-southern-hemisphere/

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