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Analysis | API’s poll on gambling offers a skewed view on a complex subject

A mix of polling and “push polling” yields results that are at best questionable, and at worst, significantly misleading.

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In a recent poll released by the Alabama Policy Institute, a cursory glance might lead one to conclude that Republican voters are staunchly opposed to any gambling legislation. However, this surface-level interpretation misses the nuances of voter sentiment in Alabama, especially when the topic is as multifaceted as gambling.

For the past decade, statewide surveys consistently show that when asked directly about voting on gambling, a resounding majority of Alabamians say “yes.” But, intriguingly, this is not the question posed by API’s survey. Their approach, a mix of polling and “push polling,” yields results that are at best questionable, and at worst, significantly misleading.

In the coming legislative session, a bill is expected to be introduced with the aim to regulate and tax legal gambling, necessitating a constitutional amendment. The legislature’s role is to frame the amendment’s terms for a public vote. Even the governor lacks direct authority over this process.

API, a 501(c)3 organization, has long opposed any constitutional amendment allowing voters to decide on the gambling issue. Their latest poll seems to be a strategic effort to sway lawmakers into believing that a significant portion of Republican voters are against any legislation pertaining to gambling.

The poll’s initial question asks respondents to prioritize legislative issues. Unsurprisingly, given a choice between Economy/Jobs (55 percent), Healthcare (19 percent), Education (17 percent), Protecting Kids (12 percent), and Expanding Gambling (seven percent), voters would naturally gravitate toward the more pressing societal issues. Interpreting this as disinterest in gambling legislation would be as absurd as concluding people care less about protecting children because it ranked lower.

API’s subsequent question veers into ‘push poll’ territory. By asking about concerns over gambling addiction, particularly among young men, they received a predictably divided response: 43 percent concerned, 29 percent not concerned, and 28 percent undecided. This method of questioning seems more inclined to generate a specific narrative than to gauge unbiased public opinion.

The final question about supporting gambling expansion in Alabama shows a more split view: 39 percent in support, 44 percent opposed, and 17 percent undecided. Far from a definitive rejection, this indicates a significant portion of Republicans are either supportive of or open to the idea of gambling expansion.

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API’s poll is intentionally skewed towards eliciting negative reactions. The phrasing of the questions appears to be carefully constructed to highlight potential adverse consequences of gambling, rather than seeking unbiased opinions. For instance, questions like “Do you support having digital gambling available on every smartphone in Alabama?” or “Do you support having sports betting available on smartphones?” implicitly suggest an uncontrolled proliferation of gambling. Similarly, queries regarding the location of casinos in neighborhoods, or the potential links to crime, domestic violence, child trafficking, small business impacts, drug addiction, and mental illnesses, seem more focused on painting a dire picture rather than genuinely understanding public sentiment. It’s as if these questions are less about gathering data and more about instilling specific negative perceptions of gambling. This approach can significantly influence the responses, steering them towards a predetermined negative viewpoint rather than providing a fair and balanced understanding of public opinion on gambling.

API’s press release states, “The expansion of gambling is not a top priority for the people of Alabama.” However, the survey sample comprises only Republican voters, with no demographic details like age, gender, or race provided. Nor is there information about the polling firm, the poll’s timing, or other standard details usually disclosed in such surveys.

Polls are often cited by people of all stripes, especially when they suggest a majority viewpoint. However, a single poll question rarely encapsulates the complex opinions of human beings. Legitimate polls strive to gather information without influencing responses, but the API poll appears to be engineered to elicit a particular outcome, aligning with their anti-gambling stance.

The API poll straddles the line of a Push Poll – a tactic used to sway voters by asking leading questions about an issue or candidate under the guise of a neutral survey. This contrasts sharply with consistent findings from reputable polling firms, where Alabamians overwhelmingly express a desire to vote on gambling matters.

The question remains: Why does API oppose letting voters decide? The answer seems simple. If the matter were put to a vote, it’s likely that new gambling laws would pass. Such an outcome seems anathema to API’s agenda, but in a democracy, shouldn’t the will of the people prevail, especially on issues as contentious and multifaceted as gambling?

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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