Reader Jack Strocchi, pointed out this Newspoll report in today’s Australian, concerning voter preferences on taxing and spending. Written by George Megalogenis, who usually gets things straight, it bears the marks of intervention designed to adjust the finding’s to the anti-tax line that has been running hard in the Oz editorial column for some time.
The problems start with the headline Top rate too high, say half of voters. It might be inferred that the other half say that the top rate is not too high. But despite the fact that the excessively high top rate is the central theme of the article, we never find out the distribution of the remaining 50 per cent between “about right”, “too low” and “Don’t Know”. Looking at the partial numbers, I’d estimate that the “Don’t Know’s” at no more than 10 per cent of respondents, implying that about 40 per cent of respondent’s rejected the view that the top rate is too high.
The really interesting news comes in the second paragraph. By the overwhelming margin of 72 per cent to 9 per cent, voters would prefer more spending on health and education to a tax cut. Even among those paying the top rate, most of whom think it is too high, the margin is 69 to 13. If the Australian wasn’t determined to push its opinions into the news pages, this would be the headline.
The implication is that, as regards taxing and spending, the electorate is overwhelmingly more social-democratic than the current government, and arguably more so than the current opposition. It’s no wonder that even mediocre Labor state governments have routinely crushed their opponents since the Howard government was elected.
There are some interesting framing issues here. The “top tax rate” question appears to be framed in a “free good” way – that is, respondents are asked whether the rate is too high, but the fact that a cut would have to be financed somehow is not explicit. By contrast, the tax cut vs spending question makes the trade-off clear.
What really interests me, but isn’t clear in the report is the sequence of the questions (the Newspoll site hasn’t yet been updated). The preference for spending over tax cuts would be even stronger if, as the Oz report tends to imply, the “top rate too high?” question was asked first. Conversely, if the tax cuts vs spending question had been asked first, the framing bias in the top rate question would be reduced.
UpdateIn the comments thread, Don Arthur advises that the paper-based version of the Oz story gives the numbers as 50 per cent too high, 34 per cent about right, 8 per cent too low. Bearing in mind the absence of any mention that reducing rates might mean giving up services, I don’t find this too surprising.
Further update 24/2Andrew Norton at Catallaxy has a post on the same topic, with the same title. and with much the same conclusion. The only difference is that he regrets the outcome and I don’t. A fine illustration of the positive-normative distinction.