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Political Scientist says poll results are about context

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said in her State of the State speech that ’77 percent of Kansans agree’ with her when it comes to Medicaid expansion, which she supports. A recent poll from the Kansas Policy Institute suggests that 54 percent of respondents to that poll don’t want Medicaid expanded to what the question called ‘working-aged, healthy adults’. Can both of those statistics be true? A University of Kansas political scientist believes they can and it’s all about context.

“What the Governor is talking about is more of a question that we have seen in Kansas, which is straight up for this or not, no lead ins, no context to it,” said Patrick Miller. What we saw in the KPI poll is a question that had more context to it, more information.”

People’s opinions are colored by the information they are or are not given.

“Don’t approach polling from the perspective that everyone out there has one solid opinion in their minds,” said Miller. “Most people aren’t like that. I think that the healthy way to consume polling is the perspective that more data are always better. More questions on the same topic with different question wordings, with different phrasings can all recover attitudes from respondents that are equally as good.”

The one area where simpler questions are likely better is in the context of the attention span of the respondent.

“There is no solid rule of thumb of this is too long or that is too short,” said Miller. “Always approach surveys from the perspective that people are often not as invested in them as you are as the person writing them. Sometimes they’re even reluctantly taking it. They’re often not paying that much attention. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the question, the simpler the language, the better.”

Three traditionally Republican states, Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah, passed ballot initiatives this past November that will expand Medicaid in their states. Kansas has no such direct election mechanism for deciding on expansion and Kansas voters have elected somewhat more conservative legislators in both chambers while having Kelly in the Governor’s office, which leaves the debate to the legislature.


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