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Rights Ain't Right

The question in Gallup's latest poll on public sector unions contains the loaded term, "collective bargaining," making the question more rhetorical and less balanced than is the norm.
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Like many people who are following the budget crisis in Wisconsin, as well as in New Jersey and other states, I was interested in reading the latest Gallup poll findings pertaining to public unions and their collective bargaining power.

I've certainly been following this issue closely in the state of New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie has taken on union leadership in his efforts to balance the New Jersey state budget and reduce the spending deficit without raising taxes.

I was more than a little surprised when I read the teaser of the Gallup poll, stating that "Americans strongly oppose laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions."

A closer read of the poll question, however, reveals why the Gallup poll uncovered such a finding in the first place. The question is stated as follows:

Would you favor or oppose a law in your state taking away some collective bargaining rights of most public unions, including the state teachers union?

Gallup found 61% opposing such a law, while 33% were supportive, and the remaining 6% had no opinion.

The problem? The question contains the loaded term, "collective bargaining RIGHTS," making the question more rhetorical and less balanced than is the norm for a Gallup poll. In this way, Gallup is testing more of a rhetorical argument than a straight up issue.

Taking away a "right" is very different, for example, than asking for a one-year pay freeze, or a modest contribution to health insurance, as a way to cooperate and pull together to emerge from this budget mess.

To his credit, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is exactly right when he points out that people tend to confuse workers RIGHTS with collective bargaining RIGHTS. Asking union members to make a slightly higher contribution to their health care, or restricting certain elements of the process of collective bargaining is not quite the same as removing protections from wrongful termination or workplace safety. Unfortunately, the way the Gallup question is worded may very well result in respondents confusing these issues.

For the record, I am all for testing rhetorical arguments. As a campaign pollster, I do it all the time. But that is a far different exercise than testing a balanced, "up the middle" issue or policy question. It's just important to call it what it is, and be unapologetic about it. Both have their place in the world of survey research.

Adam Geller is the CEO of National Research Inc., a Republican polling firm, whose clients include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, members of Congress and Fortune 500 corporations.