It’s hard to evaluate polls if one of them is secret

2014-poll-breaksOn Friday, The Oklahoman published an editorial discussing two recent polls about Oklahoma’s horizontal drilling tax breaks. A poll commissioned by OK Policy  found Oklahomans overwhelmingly favor ending the horizontal drilling tax break and using the savings to invest in core services. Another poll conducted by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates claimed to find Oklahomans favor keeping the tax rate at 1 percent for horizontal drilling.

The Oklahoman editorial quoted Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates president Pat McFerron casting aspersions on OK Policy’s poll, saying “While there is little doubt creative polling could create a question to get a different result, if messaging is removed and the simple facts are evaluated, it is clear this is an issue with an ideological edge and potentially an important electoral issue, especially for Republican primary voters.”

We agree that the wording of a poll can affect the result. But it’s hard to evaluate which poll is more reliable when there are big differences in how transparent each side is being. When OK Policy released our poll, we shared publicly the methodology and questions. The question about horizontal drilling presented both sides of the issue, saying “As you may know, Oklahoma currently provides tax breaks to oil and gas companies that use a production process called horizontal drilling. Supporters of these tax breaks say they are needed to promote drilling and economic activity in Oklahoma. Opponents say the tax breaks are just subsidies to oil and gas companies that are already very profitable. After hearing this, do you support or oppose providing tax breaks to oil and gas companies for horizontal drilling?”

In response, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Oklahoma voters were opposed, with only 28 percent supporting the tax break.

So what’s biased about that question? The critics have not said. Nor have they allowed Oklahomans to evaluate the competing poll by sharing its questions and methodology.

It’s also worth asking who commissioned the poll by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates. If it was designed and paid for by members of the industry who are directly benefiting from this tax break, that’s a highly relevant conflict of interest. But Oklahomans aren’t being told.

The Oklahoman editorial goes on to object to Together Oklahoma fact sheets that show how eliminating the tax break could benefit every school district in Oklahoma. They point out that a plan being discussed at the capitol would allow horizontal drillers to pay 2/7th the full tax rate instead of the current 1/7th, and this would bring in less revenue for schools. Yes, slightly reducing the tax break instead of fully repealing it would restore less revenue. But that’s an issue to take up with lawmakers.


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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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