Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray offered this response to my criticism of how he described tenure in a recent poll of New Jersey public opinion (see my brief reply and Bruce Baker’s as well).
I’m not particularly keen on arguing about the wording of poll questions. As I stated in my original post, wordings are never perfect, and one must always take this into account when trying to interpret polling results. I took issue with Monmouth’s phrasing because it is demonstrably inaccurate, nothing more.
But I do want to quickly add that, as is often the case, responses to poll questions about tenure are very sensitive to the nature of the description offered. A 2009 PDK/Gallup poll provides an illustration.
The poll split the sample into halves, with each half offered a different description of tenure.
One half of those polled were asked:
Most public school teachers have tenure; that is, after a two- or three-year period, they receive what amounts to a lifetime contract. Do you approve or disapprove of this policy?
Based on this description, 73 percent of respondents disapproved of tenure.
To the other half of respondents, the question was:
Most public school teachers have tenure; that is, after a two- or three-year trial period, school administrators must ensure a policy that a teacher be given a formal legal review before they can be terminated. Do you approve or disapprove of this policy?
With this phrasing, the distribution of responses flipped: 66 percent approved of tenure.
The takeaway here: What people think of tenure is in no small part a function of how it’s described to them. So, when it comes to polls of people’s opinions of tenure, one should interpret results – and arguments about what those results really mean – even more cautiously than usual.
- Matt Di Carlo