Sir: It is a matter for regret that you fail to report the exact question asked in the Harris poll which provides your front-page headline "Voters would pay 2p on tax for NHS" (2 June). I suspect the question posed was something along the lines of "Should the Government increase spending on the NHS even if it meant raising the basic rate of income tax from 25p to 27p in the pound?", or some other variant of the type of query that a former research director of Harris used to call the " 'Or are you a heartless bastard?' question".
The attempt to quantify the terms of the question (by pointing out that 2p more would add only 15 per cent to hospital and community health service spending) seems tantamount to an admission that the question is doomed to elicit a "halo effect", but the figures used offer more heat than light to respondents. Given the imagery that the NHS conjures up in all our minds of "sick children and dialysis machines", it is remarkable that so many respondents actually favour the "tuppence in my pocket" option.
Poll findings such as these are used repeatedly to further the cause of hypothecated taxation, but all that their continued use shows is that the commissioning and secondary analysis of polls have not improved much since the 1992 election. The findings you report show that the British public has a special affection for the NHS, but they do not show that the electorate would actually vote for a party that advocated a rise in taxes in order to pay for it.
Lecturer in Government
University of Manchester