Are you more inclined to vote for (or against) a Republican candidate than you are a GOP candidate?
Do you support the Arizona immigration law but oppose racial profiling by police?
Do you oppose bank bailouts but think it was necessary to purchase troubled assets from financial institutions?
Or have you realized that these are essentially the same questions asked in slightly different ways?
Pollsters call it framing, and it was tested in the recent Washington Poll by the Washington Survey Research Center at the University of Washington.
The poll had a large sample size of 1,252 registered voters so pollsters could split the sample on a few questions to measure how phrasing might change the result.
For example, 626 registered voters were asked whether they were planning to vote for the “Democratic” candidate for the Legislature or the “Republican” candidate. Then, a different batch of 626 voters was asked whether they would vote for the “Democratic” candidate or the “GOP” candidate.
Same difference, right? In the first sample, 39 percent favored the Democratic candidate and 38 percent favored the Republican candidate. In the second sample, 42 percent chose Democrat and 37 percent chose GOP.
The differences are small but interesting. A candidate wearing the “GOP” label instead of the Republican one would not do as well. Yet just two years ago, the same poll found the GOP label would benefit a candidate.
This isn’t just an academic question. In Washington’s top-two primary, candidates can call themselves whatever they want, so Dino Rossi’s name appeared on the ballot as “Prefers G.O.P. party.”
So what changed? Matt Barreto, the University of Washington professor who is the principal investigator on the Washington Poll, thinks the Republican brand is in better shape this election with self-identified Republicans more motivated than they were.
But there is a hazard as well. Self-identified independents were somewhat more likely to support the “GOP” candidate than the “Republican” one. Barreto thinks that might be because independents are especially unhappy with political parties as institutions and may not attach the same feelings to “GOP” as they do “Republican.”
So a Republican candidate can motivate the party base with the Republican label but attract a few more independents by using GOP.
The poll also asked a series of questions about immigration, the first being a basic pro or con on the controversial Arizona law, which “requires police to question people they suspect are illegal immigrants.”
On that question, 52 percent approved and 42 percent disapproved.
But later in the poll, voters were asked whether they thought it was OK for police to “profile or stop someone on account of race or ethnicity?” Only 15 percent approved while 82 percent disapproved.
Barreto said he thinks voters want something done about the immigration issue and support Arizona for trying. But once he asks more questions, many of the same voters share more-nuanced views, such as majority support for so-called paths to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
National pollster John Zogby recently displayed a similar phenomenon when he found that 71 percent of voters nationally opposed “bank bailouts” but gave 53 percent support for the purchase of “troubled assets” from “financial institutions.”
I asked Barreto why he hadn’t split the sample on another result from the poll – 58 percent to 30 percent support for an initiative that would create a state income tax on high earners.
He asked the question by first noting how the measure would reduce property and small-business taxes and then talking about the income tax. I thought that was generous phrasing that would boost support.
Barreto said a recent Survey USA poll had already asked the question as the ballot statement will, with the income tax being mentioned first.
As I’d thought, the question’s order produced different numbers. But leading with the income tax elicited even stronger support for the measure – 66 percent to 27 percent.
Framing matters. But not always as we would guess.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics