Yes, I favor both free ice cream and free beer

February 12th, 2010 by Joe Kristan

Asked whether a six-week vacation in Cancun starting right now would be a good idea, a majority of Iowans would surely vote “yes.” But if you then asked if it would still be a good idea if it meant they would lose their jobs and move into a homeless camp by the river, support would decline.
So it is with today’s Des Moines Register Poll showing Iowans in favor of film tax credits even though the program has ground to a halt in scandal and corruption. The poll shows 61 percent of respondents in favor of film tax credits.
Here’s how the poll asked the question:

Now, I’d like to ask about tax credits to movie productions. Overall, do you think tax credits to companies that produce movies in Iowa would be good for the state or bad for the state?

The problem with that question is the same as the problem with the vacation question — It doesn’t say anything about a cost. If it’s free, who wouldn’t be for it? It’s too bad the Register didn’t follow up:

Would you still favor the film credits if they cost every Iowan $26? What about $121?
Would you favor the film credits if it meant firing 1,000 teachers?

The same thing applies to another “finding” of the poll – majority support for business tax credits, though only at a 51 percent level.
This is why “issue” polls aren’t very useful: they ignore the trade-offs. You probably can’t have both a long warm vacation right now and keep your job and house (if you can, why are you here?). The Pew Research Center did a poll that illustrates this. Katherine Mangu-Ward summarizes the findings:

The Pew poll [PDF] inquired about 20 different issue areas, ranging from “dealing with the problems of the poor,” to “strengthening the military,” to “reducing the budget deficit.” For virtually every issue, the combined total of people who chose “top priority” or the second-highest option

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