A New York Times/CBS News poll never lets you down. Today’s survey features a skewed sample (36 percent Democratic, 26 percent Republican), tricky questions, and an emphasis on results likely to thrill liberals and Democrats.
While other polls have Democrats and Republicans roughly even in party identification, the Times/CBS poll gives Democrats a 10-percentage point edge. Also, 20 percent of those questioned have a union member in their household and 25 percent have a government employee. Those are considerably higher percentages of union members and government workers than actually exist in the country.
So the poll is slanted to begin with. And so are several of the questions. There’s this one: “In order to reduce state budgets, do you favor or oppose cutting the pay or benefits of public employees?” Fifty-six percent are opposed, 37 percent are in favor.
But cutting the pay of bureaucrats isn’t what the dispute between Republican governor Scott Walker and public sector unions is about. And pay or benefit cuts are not being proposed by governors in other states.
Walker proposes to raise the contributions by employees – contributions that are quite small at the moment – to their pension and health care benefits in retirement. No cuts are involved. Yes, he wants to end collective bargaining for public employees on their benefits, but not on their pay. Thus, the New York Times is asking about things that aren’t on the table in Wisconsin.
Another question asks what people favor to cut the deficit, but not in a simple tax hikes versus spending cuts manner. Rather, respondents are asked to choose among increasing taxes and three types of spending cuts. Forty percent pick taxes and 22 percent choose cuts in benefits for public workers, 20 percent choose cuts in road and transit financing, and three percent choose cuts in education spending. If you add up the cuts, it comes to 45 percent who prefer reductions in spending. But the Times doesn’t add them up. Its table puts “increase taxes” in first place.
What’s stressed in the Times’s poll story – front page, above the fold – is that 60 percent are opposed to taking away any of the public sector unions’ access to collective bargaining. Thirty-three percent are in favor. This is one aspect of the dispute in which the public is somewhat sympathetic to government workers, but no doubt by a much smaller margin in a poll without a pro-union and Democratic tilt.
And what’s the motive of governors and legislators? It turns out to be close: 45 percent want to reduce deficits, 41 percent to weaken unions. Again, in the real world, the gap is not that close.