New New York Times poll drama.

What a fascinating poll from the New York Times which basically says that there is strong support for labor, and even for increasing taxes over cutting collective bargaining rights in states with budget woes.

In one question (Q9 in the linked page) individuals oppose limiting collective bargaining by a 60/40 proportion. That’s pretty interesting. In question 4, 40% of respondents indicated they would rather raise taxes as a policy measure to cut the deficit vs. only 22% supporting decreasing public employee benefits. That’s bordering on shocking to me.

I’m not saying this poll is biased. I am sure the Times and CBS conduct solid polling. I would like to see a reason, however, why it is irrelevant that there is outsized union representation and government employee representation in the polling though.

  • In the poll (#57) 20% of individuals indicated that they were members of a union. In a recent column, revered economist Robert Samuelson indicates that the national figure is 11.9%
  • In (#58) a full quarter of respondents indicate being a government employee. Some back of the envelope calculating from census data, and Google’s public data estimate of the US population puts me at about a 17% estimate of government workers nationally.

A standard rule of thumb is that if the difference between that real parameter and the estimated is more than “2 divided by the square root of N” then there’s some evidence that it is significant. Since there were 984 respondents, anything more than a .063 difference is meaningful. Both .2 and .25 are meaningfully different than .119 and .17. On the other hand, the conservative to liberal ratio (37/19) is actually about in line with what I have seen from Gallup.

I would love to see some analysis from Nate Silver, who is employed by the Times, about this poll and how representative it is. After all, his bosses commissioned it and it’s making huge headlines.

On a final note, I think it’s worth mentioning that taking the public mood to be a normative indicator of whether or not states, as an employer, should or should not set the terms of bargaining with their employees feels a little strange to me.


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