The New York Times published a poll in today’s paper with the headline “Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Sector Unions.” The Times thought the story so significant that it put it on page 1, above the fold, and even sent out a news alert last night via e-mail. According to the Times:
As labor battles erupt in state capitals around the nation, a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and are also against cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits, …
“Asked how they would choose to reduce their state’s deficits,” the Times adds, “those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one.”
How do you square these figures with the results of last November’s elections, in which anti-tax, anti-deficit, anti-public-union forces swept to historic victories in federal and state elections across the country? Well, you can’t, of course. The Times doesn’t even ask this blindingly obvious question, let alone try to answer it.
But if you read down to the seventh paragraph of the story, which is on page 17, not page 1, an answer emerges:
The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Feb. 24-27 with 984 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for all adults. Of those surveyed, 20 percent said there was a union member in their household, and 25 percent said there was a public employee in their household.
Although less than 12 percent of the workforce is unionized today, 20 percent of the households in the survey had a union member. Although government workers are 17 percent of the workforce, 25 percent of the households surveyed had one living there. In other words, the sample was wildly skewed toward the very people most likely to give the answers the Times was hoping to hear.