Can poll's results be believed?

Published 1:29 am Sunday, December 7, 2003

By Staff
Ever wonder what the person standing in line next to you at the bank is really thinking? What about the waitress who serves you lunch at your favorite restaurant, or the man who walks to the side of your house every so often to get a reading for the electric company? What about the couple living across the street, or, for that matter, all those nieces, nephews and cousins you see only a couple of times a year?
Maybe you wonder, maybe you don't, but the truth is we rarely have a clue what those around us really think about the issues of the day. Perhaps the closest we ever come to getting an idea of what our fellow citizens have on their minds is through viewing the results of opinion polls.
And as anyone who reads a newspaper or flips on the evening news with any regularity can tell you, there are no shortage of them out there. From the simple "yes" or "no" variety to the more complicated kind with sets and subsets of questions, there seems to be a poll for every issue -- no matter how small -- that comes down the pike.
Another one was added to the list recently, As the Mobile Register reported last week. The Alabama Education Association's Capital Survey Research Center has released the findings of a poll conducted to gauge taxpayers' opinions of where the state stands and where it is headed in terms of its economic situation.
The results are too detailed to go into thoroughly in this space, but a few of the more interesting were: 71 percent of those polled believe Alabama is currently in a state of financial crisis, and 66 percent think that this is because funds have been mismanaged; 65 percent also believe the state is in the midst of a political crisis.
When presented with a range of options they would approve or disapprove for addressing the state's financial crisis, fully 80 percent of those polled said that taxing corporations at a higher rate would be acceptable. 73 percent said the same of taxing timberland, and 72 percent would be okay with raising taxes on cigarettes. Only 48 percent would approve of increasing car tag fees by $10.
By far the least popular approve/disapprove options for righting the state's financial ship were cutting 3,000 teachers and 3,000 education support personnel (eight percent), and cutting health and nursing home care for seniors (four percent).
An overwhelming majority of voters want any new state revenues earmarked, or set aside for usage in a particular area. And 61 percent of those questioned want legislators to present them with a new revenue generating proposal this coming year. That's the same electorate that shot down Gov. Bob Riley's sweeping plan to raise $1.2 billion in new tax revenue only a few short months ago.
One of the problems with polls is that often, their results can be read in many different ways. One person looking at a set of polling data may draw an entirely separate conclusion from the next. So what can be drawn from this recent poll? What the results say to me is that Alabama voters are willing to pay, but not blindly. They'll bite a bullet here and there if they have to, but they'd like some say in which ones they bite, and they want their elected leaders to be creative in presenting them with options.
And maybe, to some degree, the desire for lawmakers to present them with a new proposal indicates they'd like another chance to fix what's broken in their state.
Can any of this be applied to what's happening in Escambia County right now, where voters will go to the polls Tuesday to vote up or down a measure to provide new tax revenue for local schools?
The voters here are being asked to bite the bullet. But as most of those polled indicated they wanted, voters here know exactly how their tax monies will be used -- to keep from firing teachers, to keep band and athletics from being eliminated, to keep kids from attending little more than reading and writing factories where they get the basics, but little else.
If the poll provided an accurate profile of the typical Alabama voter, then this tax is likely to pass. If not, the county schools here are in real trouble.
-John Dilmore Jr. is publisher of The Brewton Standard.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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