Statistics don’t lie, people do

(Cross-posted from Think it Through.)

The Washington Post created a new government statistic this week, and played it on page one – the average tax rate. The post story actually highlighted this in red ink: “If Obama’s 2011 budget is enacted: average [tax] rate rises to 21.4%.

If you are wondering whether you pay the “average tax rate,” stop wondering – there is no such rate.

Federal income tax rates rise according to your income, and under the President’s budget, 90 percent of Americans – those who earn under $250,000 a year – will not experience any increase in their income tax rate, while those in the upper ten percent of income-earners will get a tax increase. Depending on how high their incomes are, some of the top ten percent will go from 25% to 26.1%, and the people at the very top will jump to 34.9%.

The Post interprets this to say, in effect, that the average American taxpayer will pay more in taxes next year. Are the editors cohabitating with Fox news, or are they just incompetent?

Another statistic to ignore this week was not a misuse of data, but one that is just plain silly. Perhaps because it is August in Washington, the Pew Research Center’s finding that 18 percent of Americans think the president is a Muslim received widespread press attention. Pew’s release reported that a “growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim.” Pew noted an increase from 11% in March 2009 to 18% now. It is still only 18%. This is the same country where:

The more you read about public opinion, the more you are likely to say, “Really, only 18 percent think Obama is a Muslim? That seems low.”

The big story here is that the White House felt the need to issue a statement yesterday to tell the 18% that President Obama is not a Muslim but a Christian. If you were looking for evidence that the White House communications people are reactive and defensive rather than strategic, yesterday’s response puts this in plain view.

My question is this: how many of the Post business page editors are included in that 18 percent?

John Russonello is a partner with Belden Russonello & Stewart: Public Opinion Research and Strategic Communications in Washington, DC. He writes the blog Think it Through.

Tags: silly statistics, religion, Taxes, obama (all tags)

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