“Poll started 05 Jan 2010:
Should married couples get a tax break?
It’s hit the political headlines, but is it right for the tax system to reward the institution of marriage?
Which of these is closest to your view?
A. Yes. Marriage should be rewarded. 65% (7343 votes)
B. No. Though stable relationships, married or not, should be rewarded. 9% (1041 votes)
C. No. Relationships shouldn’t play any role in the tax system. 26% (2925 votes)”
While I had suspected the strength of feeling about married couples’ tax breaks would lead it to win, I thought option B would’ve been a close second.
Did I unintentionally rig the poll?
While thinking about this, it occurred to me that the way I drafted the options may’ve substantially influenced the result.
It’s a common theme in polls and surveys (Sir Humphrey’ once explained it in Yes Minister, far more eloquently than I ever could).
I suspect had option B been tagged as a positive rather than a negative, a chunk of those who support the policy would have shifted their votes towards it.
In other words would the result be the same if these had been the options?
A. Yes. Marriage should be rewarded
B. Yes. Though stable relationships, co-habiting or not, should be rewarded
C. No. Relationships shouldn’t play any role in the tax system
Of course I’ve no way of knowing this, but instinctively I think people who approve of the general principles probably just click yes without reading the other options.
When I write these polls (or the team do), we try to write them with best result in mind. Though sometimes it’s tough to work out the impact until afterwards.
P.S. A personal perspective
While I don’t believe we should always legislate for exceptions, I do think it’s important we establish that the ‘traditional family’ model can be quite different in modern day society.
I lost my mother just before I was 12. If this system had been in place, and a family suffered the tragedy we did, would it mean that it could have added a further financial impact? On top of losing one parent’s income, would it implicitly have re-categorised my father to a single parent and thus lost him the tax break too?