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What a survey indicates about Oklahoma may depend on how it is phrased

Surveys on drilling taxes show that framing of issues affects responses.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: April 25, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: April 24, 2014

Surveys can be powerful tools to help understand the public mindset and attitude. They also can be used to create and shape public opinion.

If the goal is accuracy, survey writers must watch out for how they craft a survey, being careful to avoid leading questions.

“It’s pretty incredible how the way a question is framed will change the way a person responds to it,” said Brett Sharp, a political science professor at the University of Central Oklahoma. “Even the same person could respond differently to the same questions if they are asked differently.”

Such discretion is especially important when the topic is complicated and generally not fully understood. In that case, the researcher must first explain the issue, which also lends itself to possible swaying.

“I’m not sure it’s always intentional, although sometimes it is,” Sharp said. “If you lean a certain way, you can lead people in that direction, even if you’re trying to be fair.”

I received dueling surveys over the past 10 days. They cover the same topic, but reach opposite conclusions.

At issue is the state’s gross production tax on horizontal drilling.

Tax policy always tends to get complicated quickly. This particular tax issue is no exception.

The state historically has assessed a 7 percent tax on most oil and natural gas production. In 1994, the Legislature created an incentive for horizontal drilling. The incentive initially lowered the tax rate to 1 percent for the first 24 months or until costs were recovered. In 2002, the incentive was extended to up to 48 months.

The incentive program is set to expire at the end of the year in a move that would return the tax rate to 7 percent. Industry leaders have said the tax credit should be extended because it has been successful in leading to increased drilling throughout the state and that higher taxes would leave less money available for drilling.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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