Mixed Numbers on Unemployment

“We are all in it together” was the sentiment portrayed in last week’s opinion polls on the extension of the unemployment benefits. The passing of the bill last week Tuesday was a decision supported by the majority of Americans across the board, regardless of income, race or political orientation.

• According to the CBS News poll, 52% of respondents said Congress should extend unemployment benefits for people currently out of work, even if it meant increasing the budget deficit.
• According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll 62 percent of respondents said Congress should approve another extension.

Not surprisingly, the economy still drives the news agenda, and last week coverage of the extension of unemployment benefits spurred a number of polls on what is more important: creating jobs or reducing the deficit.

• According to the CBS News poll, the most important problem facing the country today was the economy/jobs (38%) followed by the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (7%). The deficit was the most important problem according to only 5%.
• A CNN/Opinion research poll, the most important issue facing the country today was the economy (47%), followed by the federal deficit (13%).

However, when contrasting job creation against deficit reduction, the result turned out quite different.

• According to the CBS News poll, 46% want to the federal government to spend money on jobs and 47% wants to federal government not to spend money on jobs and instead focus on reducing the deficit.
• According to Pew research/ National Journal poll, 40% would place a higher priority on spending more to help the economy recover, while 51% prioritizes the budget deficit.

Last week’s polling was a clear example of how polling results can have varying outcomes given the question context and wording. When Americans are forced to choose or prioritize, it will have an impact on their opinion. As is visible, the forced choice question provided a different lens of what Americans want than the priorities question.

Varying the format of the questions provides us with valuable knowledge, but headlines that handpick certain public opinion data without analyzing it are at risk of misrepresenting public opinion.

Although all polls represented the American spirit of "we are all in it together," each outcome has the potential to create a different headline. The best example is to look at the results of the CBS News poll in bold: THREE different stories, ONE poll.

Luckily, we’re all in it together to figure it out.

For more about these polls and their interpretation, I recommend reading Mark Blumenthal's blog.

For more from The Opportunity Agenda, visit our website.

Tags: public opinion, Congress, polling, Opportunity, Employment (all tags)

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