Stock image for "polling." This is not how Gallup does it, I don't think

Stock image for “polling.” This is not how Gallup does it, I don’t think.

The Gallup Organization — purveyors of fine polling products such as its Nov. 5 prediction that Romney would win; employers of possible future Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (join the club); defendants in a lawsuit filed by the federal government alleging that the company inflated its prices — released a poll yesterday. Let’s look at it!

The top headline was that Republicans and Democrats differ more in their opinions on gun laws than on any other topic: 28 percent of Democrats are satisfied to some extent with existing laws on guns, compared with 59 percent of Republicans. Fine. Not surprising.

Here’s what’s interesting: The numbers related to “quality of the environment” — a poor replacement for environmental laws, mind you — broke down as 51 percent satisfaction among Democrats and 61 percent among Republicans. On “energy policies,” 44 percent of Democrats are satisfied compared to 31 percent of Republicans.

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Before we get into analysis, an additional note. Not only are Republicans significantly more satisfied with “quality of the environment” than Democrats — it is the issue area in which they feel the second-most satisfaction. The only thing Republicans are happier with than the current state of our environment is how strong and big and tough our military is. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans are satisfied with the military … compared to 81 percent of Democrats.

Which offers some insight into what’s happening here. People interpret the question being posed not as “do you like the environment” but rather as “do you think the government should spend more time and money on the environment.” A higher “satisfaction” is really a higher level of “do not touch.” Democrats are more satisfied with the military because they don’t feel that the military needs more time and attention and investment. Republicans are more satisfied with the environment because they don’t think it needs more time and attention and investment. And, on the flip side, Republicans are less satisfied with energy policies — the issue on which they show the fifth-least satisfaction — because they favor opening up more land to drilling.

Gallup notes:

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Democrats are evidently more inclined to see things positively, given that the nation is being governed by a Democratic president. In 2005, at the beginning of Republican George W. Bush’s second term in office, Republicans were generally more satisfied with the state of the nation in most areas than Democrats were. Back then, the only issue on which Democrats were more satisfied than Republicans was immigration levels.

The poll is a reflection of political attitudes more than a barometer of voter opinion on how the government addresses issues. Which means that it’s less informative than it might appear at first glance.

And we’ll have to see how it evolves as President Romney’s term continues. He won, right?

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