Lies, Damned Lies, and NPR Statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and NPR Statistics

Scott Horsley of National Public Radio is a big fan of President Barack Obama–and is cheerleading for Obama’s attempt to get Republicans to agree to new tax hikes on the rich. His latest effort involves misusing exit poll data to convince NPR’s elite liberal listeners that an electorate that just re-elected the anti-tax Republicans to lead the House of Representatives wants those same Republicans to cave on the issue that has defined their caucus.

Horsley said today on NPR’s Morning Edition (emphasis added):

Indeed, exit polls found 60 percent of voters believe income taxes should go up — either for the wealthiest Americans or for everyone. That includes 40 percent of the people who voted for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Note the sleight of hand there. Horsley arrives at his conclusion that a majority of voters favor Obama’s position by lumping in those who want taxes to increase for everyone with those who want taxes on the rich alone.

In fact, Obama’s position is only favored by a minority of the electorate, according to exit polls from last week’s election–which are shared among news outlets. The Washington Post reported the results (emphasis added):

— Taxes don’t top the list of people’s financial troubles. The biggies are unemployment and rising prices. Only 14 percent of voters ranked taxes as the biggest economic problem for people like them.

— When the two go head to head, taxes trump the deficit. Sixty-three percent rejected the idea of raising taxes to help cut the nation’s budget deficits, even though they’ve been hitting about $1 trillion per year….

Nearly half, 47 percent of voters surveyed, said go ahead and raise taxes on incomes of $250,000 and up, as Obama proposes. Only 35 percent wanted no tax increases for anyone. A lonely 13 percent called for higher taxes all around.

Note how Horsley arrives at his misleading figure of 60 percent: he adds the 47 percent who prefer Obama’s proposal to the 13 percent who want to raise taxes on everyone. Presto–60 percent for Obama’s side. One can manipulate the numbers to cast other conclusions: adding the 35 percent who want no taxes to the 13 percent who want tax hikes for all reveals that 48 percent oppose Obama’s plan. But that would not suit Horsley’s aim.

Horsley also tries to create the impression that Republicans are caving on taxes already:

Since the election, Republican House Speaker John Boehner has shown some willingness to collect more tax revenue from the wealthy, so long as it can be done without raising tax rates. Obama says he’s encouraged by Boehner’s newfound flexibility, but he’s not just waiting passively for congressional Republicans to come around to where a majority of voters are.

Boehner’s proposal to raise revenues is exactly the same suggestion he made in July 2011, when Obama destroyed a deal by demanding higher tax rates. Those are the facts, ably documented in Bob Woodward’s The Price of Politics. One can argue that Obama has more leverage after being re-elected, and that Boehner may have implicitly signaled a willingness to compromise by opening negotiations with the Republicans’ final offer from the last round. But Horsley incorrectly implies that Boehner has adopted a new position–and, again, falsely suggests that “a majority of voters” agree with Obama. 

Perhaps de-funding NPR should be part of the deal?


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