Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On manipulation

There's nothing like the smell of CanWest spin in the morning:
A big chunk of the Canadian population says the ruling Conservatives should cut taxes to stimulate spending if the economy sours, according to a new national poll that also says a slim majority of Canadians would even accept the government chalking up a budget deficit under those circumstances...

If the government does have to contend with an economic downturn and fewer tax dollars to spend, the poll said almost four in 10 (37 per cent) of those surveyed said the government should respond by "cutting taxes more and try to stimulate consumer and business spending that could generate new revenues." Twenty-six per cent said the government should freeze or cut spending, while 14 per cent said the government should claw back some of the tax cuts...

Canadians also appear to more comfortable with the idea of the government running a deficit, although there remains a strong anti-deficit streak in the country.

The survey said almost two in 10 Canadians (19 per cent) said deficit spending is "not at all acceptable," compared to only six per cent who said it was "very acceptable."

Overall, though, a narrow majority of 53 per cent said the idea of running a deficit would be very acceptable or somewhat acceptable.

Canadians were split on whether the struggling manufacturing sector should get special attention from the federal government, something high on the agenda of Ontario and Quebec. A tiny majority of 51 per cent said yes, while 43 per cent said the federal government should leave it to the provinces to "help their local manufacturers" get through tough times.
It's worth noting that the poll itself seems to have been far from neutral in its seeming treatment of the options. Surely a fair evaluation of the possibility of responding to a deficit with tax cuts would acknowledge at least the possibility that doing so would only increase the deficit without providing the hoped-for stimulus.

Even with that starting point, however, the number of respondents who favour such cuts is lower than the combined total of those who want to hold the line or reverse the Cons' cuts to date. But apparently that's of no particular concern to CanWest: instead, both the headline and the article lead-in trumpet the supposed popularity of tax cuts.

And that narrative is boosted by the decision to label that 37% which supports CanWest's usual tax-cutting line as a "big chunk" and trying to inflate the number by labeling it as "almost four in ten". Which is in stark contrast to the treatment of other options which were supported by far more respondents, as actual majorities in favour of both helping manufacturers and running a deficit if necessary are minimized as "slim", "narrow" or "tiny".

Ultimately, the poll doesn't tell us much that couldn't have been predicted about Canadians' preferred budget options. But CanWest's slanted coverage says plenty about the continuing gap between actual public opinions and the spin applied to them by the corporate media.

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