Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online gaming lobby group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), recently touted a poll on Pennsylvania’s appetite for online gaming expansion. As is normally the case with polling data, the wording of the questions garnered precisely the results CSIG was hoping for.
The poll in question was conducted by Harper Polling between April 22 and April 27, with 513 registered Pennsylvania voters polled via landline and cell phones.
Here is why this poll should be filed in the “grain of salt” file.
A little background on Harper Polling
Harper Polling is a right-wing polling company founded by Brock McCleary. McCleary currently serves as Harper Polling’s President.
Prior to Harper Polling, McCleary had most recently worked as the Polling Director and Deputy Executive Director of the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2012 election cycle.
That being said, skepticism of Harper’s polling results goes beyond its partisanship.
In an article from May of 2014, New York Times prediction guru Nate Cohn called Harper Polling “a newcomer to the land of cheap, partisan, automatic polling,” and said of its methodologies in previous polls, “Harper underrepresented urban voters… inconsistently weight for age.”
Cohn said of Harper (and similar polling outfits on both sides of the political spectrum), “They may not be reliable for precise measurements of public opinion.”
FiveThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver grades Harper Polling as a C+ in his pollster ratings.
Results of PA online gambling poll were expected
Given that Harper Polling doesn’t have the confidence of the experts, the results from the recent online gaming poll shouldn’t be overly surprising and fall within an expected range on this issue.
A 2013 poll by Quinnipiac had opposition to online gaming expansion at 62% – in the same poll, a full 70% of Pennsylvanians were opposed to further land-based expansion as well.
Gambling expansion issues have always polled poorly historically, particularly when the poll was commissioned by an anti-gaming group expecting certain results. This illustrates why the crafting of the language is so critical in polling.
If you’re curious as to how biased the poll was, simply scroll down to the final page of the results and read the list of “messages” Harper’s pollsters asked the respondents. These are almost word-for-word the talking points of CSIG and anti-gambling crusaders.
This polling ploy is clearly evident when we consider Harper’s first question about legalizing online gaming in Pennsylvania showed 73% of respondents opposed, but the same question posed just two questions later saw opposition rise to 83%.
What changed 10% of respondents’ minds in the span of two questions?
The answer is Question 2 of the poll which reads:
Now I am going to read you two viewpoints about online gambling. Please tell me which viewpoint comes closest to your opinion.
Some say that online gambling is no different than the other types of gambling that already exist in casinos in Pennsylvania and that it is simply an extension of gambling options in this technological age.
Others say that online gambling is very different from other types of gambling that already exist in casinos in Pennsylvania and that there are a number of key problems and potential abuses with online gambling that do not exist with traditional casino gambling.
First, notice scenario two mentions “key problems and potential abuses” but scenario one doesn’t mention “key benefits or safeguards.”
This careful construction would lead the average citizen (who has scant knowledge of online gaming) to the impression that the risks outweigh the rewards. Scenario one paints online and land-based gaming as the same; scenario two depicts them as different and sneaks in a warning about potential issues.
Second, touting the results as “68% find online gaming different than land-based gaming” when respondents were instructed to choose the scenario that was closest to their opinion is disingenuous. Particularly when just two scenarios were supplied. Many people likely fall into a gray area between the two.
Finally, had Harper added a few lines to scenario one, detailing the revenue and consumer protections the regulation of online gambling would introduce, the swing may have been ten points in the opposite direction.
Harper Polling designed this poll with a single objective in mind: To obtain the desired results for whomever commissioned and paid for the poll.