Accuracy in Media

This morning, an AP-GfK poll on taxes made the rounds. CBSNews.com, MSNBC.com, and ABCNews.com were just a few of the many who picked up the original AP story.

The original AP story was entitled, “AP-GfK Poll: Are your taxes fair? Most say yes.” CBSNews.com titled the story “Most Americans say the taxes they pay are fair.” At Politico the headline of a related story was “Polls: Most believe taxes are fair.” One site, News10.net, simply asked the question: “Are your taxes fair?”

Each “mainstream” media outlet headlined the fact that according to the poll, more Americans believe their taxes to be “fair.” Comparatively few made as big a deal of the following facts:

1.       The margin of error on the poll was 4.2 percentage points. That means that while the poll concluded that 54% of Americans found their taxes to be fair, and 46% found their taxes to be unfair, the margin of error is such that the numbers could just as easily indicate that 50% of Americans think their taxes are fair, compared with 50% of Americans who think their taxes are unfair.  In other words, the poll’s conclusions are not as conclusive as they might seem.

2.       The poll was only of adults, not likely voters. When compared with polls of likely voters, polls of all adults tend to produce more left-leaning results.

3.       Around half of Americans will always say their taxes are fair—because they don’t owe any federal income tax. Even The New York Times agreed in 2010 that it was “not wrong” that 47% of Americans do not pay federal income taxes.  Of course the almost-half of Americans who pay no federal income tax would find their tax burden fair.

In addition, most “mainstream” news sources downplayed the much more important statistic from the poll: that 62% of Americans favor cutting government spending as the main way the government should handle the deficit. Only 29% believe that taxes should be raised. Even if we were to narrow the gap with the margin of error, it would still leave us with 58% of Americans favoring spending cuts over tax increases.

Most news sources, including the AP in its original article, mentioned this significant fact in passing, choosing instead to focus on the “most Americans think their taxes are fair” line. However, as HotAir explains, the 62/29 margin is “a much more significant divide than between those who believe their tax levels to be fair or not.”

This is an obvious case of the media slanting a poll’s results: instead of focusing the reporting on the much more statistically significant number, they focused on the number that fit more with their agenda and ideological worldview.





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