Peter Saunders (the CIS one) has a piece in today’s Age about people’s responses to public question on taxation and public spending. He correctly observes that it all depends on what question you ask but gets the main issues wrong. Saunders makes a big deal about status quo bias, arguing that the big difference is between questions that ask “tax cuts vs improved services” and those that ask about “higher taxes for improved services”. The ACTU gets 76 per cent in favor of improved services vs tax cuts, whereas the CIS found only 12 per cent in favor of higher taxes.
The status quo effect is real, but Saunders ignores the big difference between the questions. The ACTU asked about health and education services, whereas the CIS asked about welfare. An ANU question asking about “social services” came in halfway between the two. This is consistent with a string of findings going back to EPAC surveys in the early 90s which show that people are much keener on health and education spending than on higher welfare payments.
Reading the data, most people are happy to keep welfare payments where they are, though more would prefer a cut to an increase. On the other hand, most people would support higher taxes for better education and health, though of course they’d prefer other people to pay the higher taxes.
Even given his relatively recent arrival on our shores, Saunders ought to be aware of all this. It may be that he’s papering over the gaps in his argument, or it may be that he’s simply not up to speed with the issues.