To get truth from poll, rephrase the questions

MIKE ROYKO

March 03, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Most early polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe in President Clinton's economic plan and are willing to make sacrifices to see it work.

These poll results can be interpreted several ways.

They can be taken to mean that many Americans are willing to make personal sacrifices for the general good.

The polls can also mean that those who are required to make little or no sacrifice themselves think it's a swell idea if someone else does.

And there is a third possibility: The questions being asked by the pollsters are designed to get positive answers.

Take this typical polling question: "Would you be willing to pay more taxes to stimulate the economy and create new jobs?"

Only a heartless, unpatriotic skinflint could answer no.

Or something like this: "Would you be willing to pay a little more to help your children and grandchildren have a brighter future?"

Except for a childless Scrooge or two, the answer would be a resounding yes.

Which is why I can't completely trust the recent poll results. I think the pollsters are asking the wrong questions.

If I were designing polls on this issue, my questions would be phrased differently. And, I believe, more realistically.

My first question would be: "Are you willing to hand over more of your money to a small group of politicians who have a history of spending it like drunken playboys?"

That's a valid question, since we are talking about Congress, which in recent years has found more excuses to squander other people's money than any king, emperor, pharaoh, sheik or rock star in the history of the world.

Or we could put the question another way: "Do you believe it is your patriotic duty to entrust more of your money to a pack of moochers, double-talkers and deadbeats?"

Not to be unkind, but that's what they are. As a group, they mooch millions of dollars in campaign contributions from special interests that try, and usually succeed, in buying their votes.

And when it comes to the art of double talk, listen to them try to explain what they were doing when the savings and loan scandals were taking shape. Their alibis would have bewildered Sherlock Holmes.

As for being deadbeats, if the average person has hard times and blows a few payments on his house, car or furniture, the national credit computers label him a financial fiend. But Congress runs up billions in debt and rewards itself with big raises, fat pensions and an army of flunkies.

But let me go on with my personal list of polling questions.

How about something like this: "Are you willing to pay higher taxes even if President Clinton and Congress figure you are too dumb to notice that they haven't cut huge chunks of blubber out of the obese budget?"

And apparently they do believe that.

Has Clinton or any member of Congress demanded that we junk plans for a space station that scientists say has no scientific value and military experts say has no military value?

If they have, it must have been in a faint whisper. No, it's still there -- a $30 billion gift to the businesses that will build and sell us this trinket. But what is $30 billion to the high rollers in Washington? It's only $120 per man, woman and child in this country. That's $480 for a family of four. And you won't even be able to see the nutty thing through your telescope.

Have they chopped out all of the "Star Wars" money? No, the billions are still there.

The idea of "Star Wars" was to prevent the Russians from hitting us. But it doesn't seem to matter to Clinton and Congress that the Russians can now barely hit their vodka bottles.

Has it occurred to them that maybe we should wait until better times to build a $12 billion superconducting supercollider?

Yes, scientists say it will be helpful in answering profound questions about the nature of the universe.

But for the time being, maybe we should be spending that $12 billion on answering profound questions on the nature of city schools that can't teach kids how to spell the name of the street on which they live.

Have they really looked at the billions in farm subsidies? And have any of them explained why we subsidize farms, which are businesses, but we don't subsidize toolmaking shops, car repair garages, lamp makers and thousands of other businesses?

My poll might include this question: "Are you willing to pay higher taxes if every member of Congress insists on spending your money on his hometown pork barrel projects to help him suck up to his contributors and voters?"

And this one: "Are you willing to trust your money to people who, deep in their hearts, think you are a chump?"

That's a valid question. Throughout his campaign, Clinton fibbed about his tax plans. Now he figures that with enough pie-in-the-sky promises, the chumps will forget it.

And Congress is betting that no matter what it has done to us in the past, the chumps will be so busy reading the sports pages or watching TV mayhem, we won't notice that it's happening to us again.

So the final question in the poll should be: "Do you consider yourself a chump?"

Unless Clinton and Congress are persuaded to put Tubbo the Budget on a crash diet, there can be only one honest answer. And only a chump would deny it.

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