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Spin Cycle

May 21st, 2003

Responding to the post-budget opinion polls, most bloggers (myself included) have seen what they want to see Tim Dunlop focuses on the good news for Crean in the Age/SMH AC Nielsen Poll. Gareth Parker looks at the bad news in the Oz Newspoll, and Tim Blair (permalinks still bloggered) accuses the SMH of spin. As Rob Corr observes Tim B seems to have missed the fact that the SMH and Oz each have their own polls, both out on the same day.

But for the real spin story you have to visit the Newspoll site and read the raw poll numbers (downloadable as PDF). Newspoll found that 15 per cent of voters thought the budget would make them better off 38 per cent thought it would make no difference, and 32 per cent though it would make them worse off. This mildly negative result (fairly typical of responses over the 15 years Newspoll has asked this question) was spun by The Oz into a ringing endorsement ?53 per cent of voters thought the Budget would make them better off or no worse off ‘(emphasis added).

The AC Nielsen Poll asked a clearer question and got a clearer answer. Asked whether they would prefer the tax cuts announced in the budget or improvements in health and education, 20 per cent opted for the tax cuts and 77 per cent for improvements in services.

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  1. May 21st, 2003 at 10:58 | #1

    I think the tax cut question pushes people towards a ‘no’ answer. Further, the SMH poll also asked if people supported ‘higher uni fees’. I don’t consider that to be an honest question.

  2. Homer Paxton
    May 21st, 2003 at 11:18 | #2


    I think you could make a real contribution to blogging and even journalism if you did a small article on basic statistics so most people could understand the basics of understanding polling.

    It is quite apparent from the commentary on the two polls there is ignorance on this subject which usually means people say papers are spinning a result when it normally means the writer ( in the paper) is not understanding the result.

    Over to John.

  3. Me No No
    May 21st, 2003 at 12:44 | #3

    The Oz has an agenda to Bring Back Beazley. Add to that the fact that Dennis Shanahan is congenitally incapable of writing anything that isn’t in the “Howard reigns supreme” vein and basically whatever Newspoll finds will get written up in a positive way for the government.

    Also, if you want a particular response you ask the right question. The “News” in Newspoll stands for Rupert. But they wouldn’t actually fudge their numbers, would they? No.

  4. May 21st, 2003 at 15:09 | #4

    most people simply dont understand taxation and government.

    if they did, theyd realise that whatever is given back in tax cut is exactly equal to what could be spent on services, except less, because you have to pay some civil servants to shift the money around.

    so when they realise that their $4 tax cut a week is really not much, then they will also realise that having $4 extra spent on their healthcare per week is not much either.

    the question is loaded, $4 per week (or whatever it is for your income) sounds like nothing, whereas $2.4 billion spent on health sounds like heaps, but its exactly the same amount.

    (note i realise, that the higher your income, you get more per week up until a certain point, but even if everyone got the same flat tax rebate my argument would still stand)

    that is, these polls show that people are morons, unless they like their money being spent inefficiently on government services (health say in this case).

  5. May 21st, 2003 at 15:12 | #5

    note: my point above is specific to the current tax cut versus extra spending. (which people think the government can magically do)

    i dont think that we should abolish the government.

  6. May 21st, 2003 at 22:31 | #6

    so when they realise that their $4 tax cut a week is really not much, then they will also realise that having $4 extra spent on their healthcare per week is not much either.

    Except that you don’t need healthcare every week. So when you need to go to the doctor and have the option of bulk-billing, or when you need surgery and find the waiting period is much shorter than last year, etc, you might think that’s worth more than a sandwich and a milkshake each week.

  7. May 22nd, 2003 at 00:18 | #7

    theres two problems with that rob:

    1) should the government be a nanny state, and force people to spend their money inefficiently on healthcare?

    2) second, the waiting period on a normal GP visit (i know you said surgery, but im aware of the differences) would be vastly reduced if there was a co-payment. the problem with making something free, is that it gets totally abused. if your not an economist you would see this at free uni bbq where the lines are long and wastage huge.

    as my supervisor says (a leftie who always votes/campaigns for green) if you cant afford $5 when you go to the doctor, your not really sick, and should go home and take two panadols.

  8. May 22nd, 2003 at 10:22 | #8

    The final form of the choice is also wrong in two ways, and so ends up leaning too far in the opposite bias.

    The first way is fairly simple. It gives the false impression that better health services actually are on offer. But while tax cuts are direct, any improvements in health have to flow through from the effects of government spending – they are much more contingent and ambiguous. It’s the bird in the hand problem.

    The second way is subtler, and much more long term – it’s contingent itself. Over time, tax cuts flow through to more and better targetted self sufficiency. That means that tax cuts ARE a way to achieve better health care – among other human needs. (The fallacy in presenting that simplistically is omitting any mention of a proper approach to the transition. Just doing it does indeed deliver worse outcomes, as left wing types often fear. It’s the bird in the hand problem the other way around.)

  9. May 22nd, 2003 at 13:13 | #9

    Cato, you said “2) second, the waiting period on a normal GP visit (i know you said surgery, but im aware of the differences) would be vastly reduced if there was a co-payment.”

    I don’t know about the rest of you but for normal GP visits, even to bulk billers, I don’t have a waiting period as such. I book and go same day.

  10. Me No No
    May 22nd, 2003 at 14:27 | #10

    The question is not whether individuals should pay for their health if they get sick – of course they shouldn’t. The government wants us all to get private insurance, not save up $200,000 each in case we get cancer.

    And to the chagrin of economists, Australia will never be a place where a sick person is left to die just because they don’t have insurance.

    The question is: how to keep the cost down? By letting spivs in the private health sector throw money at doctors and themselves? No, Medicare is better.

    C8to, tell your supervisor not to talk about things he knows nothing about. Not everyone is a well-paid supervisor to whom $5 is nothing. Some people have small incomes and big families.

  11. May 22nd, 2003 at 16:55 | #11

    the five dollars is nothing is the statement from the polls! theyre saying a five dollar a week tax cut isnt worth much.

    even if you have a small income and a big family (one this is your choice, no-one forces low income earners to breed) that doesnt say anything about the economic effectiveness of a general tax cut, and a medicare copayment.

    this brings me to a general point, why should the taxpayer pay in general for people with big families who dont work?

    the taxation system is a joke. the rich pay hardly any tax, the middle on the PAYE system pay the bulk, and then theres downward envy close to the bottom.

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