Franken Questioning the Question

The embattled Franken for U.S. Senate campaign is fielding questions today about survey findings showing that Mr. Franken’s tax problems make most Minnesotans less likely to support him (59%). Half (51%) say he should withdraw from the race. Tough stuff.

In a Strib online story, the Franken campaign officials said the survey is “deeply troubling from a spin standpoint, but from a social studies standpoint, as well.” Social studies? Are we having middle school flashbacks?

The point the Frankenites were trying to make had to do with survey methodology: Did the following survey question fairly portray the situation at hand?

Al Franken the DFL candidate for U.S. Senate said he will pay about $70,000 in back income taxes to 17 states for incorrectly filing his tax returns over a five-year period. He also paid a fine to the state of New York for not paying for workers compensation insurance for workers he employed there. Knowing this, would you be more likely to vote for Al Franken for U.S. Senate? Less likely? Or would it not make a difference?

Is that fair wording? I don’t think so. To me, fair wording would have gone something like this:

Al Franken the DFL candidate for U. S. Senate said he has been paying his taxes in the wrong states over a five-year period. Franken says in 17 states he did not pay enough taxes, and in those states he will pay about $70,000 in back taxes, interest and a fine. At the same time, Franken says in two states he paid too much in taxes, and in those states he will apply for a tax refund of about $XX,XXX. On a second unrelated issue, Franken paid a fine to the state of New York for not paying for workers compensation insurance for workers he employed there. Knowing this, would you be more likely to vote for Al Franken for U.S. Senate? Less likely? Or would it not make a difference?

So, I do agree with the Franken campaign that the question used in this poll did not fairly and completely describe Franken’s situation.

BUT, I’m not convinced Franken would have faired substantially better with more complete and accurate wording. There’s a lot of complexity for citizens to process on this issue. The problem for Franken is that there will be tendency for many citizens to avoid the complexity and conclude “well, the media and the other politicians may be hyping the situation a bit, but the fact remains that Franken did get caught with some serious tax problems, and that concerns me.”

I’ve been skeptical about the Franken candidacy for other reasons, and the past month of tax disclosures aggravates an already difficult situation. Because the fundamentals are so strong for Democrats, they still have a shot at beating Norm Coleman. But increasingly it looks as if Al Franken doesn’t give them their best shot.

– Loveland

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