THE BLOG
03/23/2011 06:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's a Poll, but Is It News?

Unmasked at last.

To be fair here (if not impartial!), I have always detested polls. Perhaps my cynicism stems from early memories of Harry Truman holding up a broadsheet with "Dewey Wins" proclaimed boldly across the top. (Though I was only two when the actual event occurred, it was an iconic photo and story.) Perhaps it comes from a not-yet-outgrown penchant for confounding the "experts," as in "you have no idea what I'm thinking."

In any case, my real beef with polls is more rooted in the present than the past, and in late February, I came across a quote that crystallized my disenchantment. Connecticut, where I live, is mired, as many other states are, in a budget crisis, with looming unconstitutional deficits. We also have a new governor, Dannel Malloy, who proposed a "shared pain" budget. A local think tank, the Yankee Institute, based at Trinity College in Hartford, commissioned a poll about possible raises in income taxes which Gov. Malloy had proposed for higher income folk in an attempt to produce a balanced budget. The question, "Do you support or oppose increasing the income tax?" resulted in a 54% who opposed such action. (Actually, that 54% seems rather low, but it surely is a majority.)

When asked by a reporter why the question was not worded to more accurately reflect the proposal to raise income taxes on more highly paid citizens, Fergus Cullen, the Yankee Institute's director, is quoted as saying: "If 98% of the public isn't going to be affected by a tax increase that's only aimed at people [making] over $1 million, of course they're going to say, 'Well, I'm not opposed to that because it doesn't affect me.' There's no news in that."

"There's no news in that."

Just listen to that statement: "There's no news in that."

Somehow, most mainstream media have bought into the strange notion that the POLL is the news, rather than the real news being the actual story. The news, it seems to me, is that the governor wants to raise taxes on those whose incomes exceed a certain level. The discussion should be: How will that affect the budget and the state economy? How will that affect citizens and services?

The discussion should not center on how many of those polled agree or disagree with a deceptively worded question designed specifically, it seems to me, to make news, based on the sad fact that it's much easier and cheaper to report on poll results than on what it would mean to raise taxes on a certain group of citizens.

Nevertheless, the news is there, right in front of our faces. The news is that those residents earning more than $1 million a year can expect higher taxes if the state legislature passes the governor's proposed budget.

The news is NOT "54% of residents polled oppose raising the income tax." That's just a poll.