Well, actually, sort of the opposite -- two great polling questions today furnished an excellent reminder of why all policy surveys should be taken with a monstrously large grain of salt.
First, one poll has 47% believing that going over the "fiscal cliff" will increase the deficit -- while in fact, the combination of tax increases and spending cuts will radically decrease the deficit.
Second, as Sarah Kliff reports, PPP invented and polled about an entirely fictional "Panetta-Burns" plan, and found that about a quarter of respondents were willing to state an opinion about it.
The point isn't that voters are stupid, which I don't believe, or even that they're just not very informed, which I do believe. The point is that most of us don't bother to develop real opinions about lots and lots of things, but yet are nevertheless willing to answer pollsters' questions.
Look, I'll give an example from something removed from politics. As regular readers know, not only am I a pretty serious baseball fan, but I write about it here all the time (and more; long ago, I published a few things in Baseball Prospectus, so yeah, I put in time and energy on this stuff). Indeed: every year I write a post about the Hall of Fame ballot, and I take those posts pretty seriously, doing enough research that I'm satisfied with the results. I've also read, thought, and argued quite a bit, about the Hall of Fame itself, and about virtually every player who comes up for a vote. And yet: since I'm still a couple of weeks away from my HOF post, I would really have to refresh my memory to see what I had decided about some of the close cases. And if I received a PPP poll asking me about the HOF ballot this year, I'm sure I would try to answer, but I also think there's a pretty good chance that I'd get one or more of the answers "wrong" -- in the sense that I'd give a different opinion than what I had written last year and will write again this year.
If that's true of me and the HOF ballot, just think how true it would be of the average voter and some issue she rarely thinks about. Of course you're going to get some goofy answers. Of course things such as question wording and other survey treatments can have a huge effect on the results.
Again: it's easy to make fun of the respondents, but that's the wrong reaction to this sort of thing. If all those people who got the fiscal cliff wrong suddenly were appointed to Congress and had to vote in committee on it tomorrow, they would bother to learn about it -- just as we all wait until we need it to learn all sorts of things in our lives.
So, you know, enjoy this stuff (and, yeah, I really wish someone asked more specifically if the tax increases and spending cuts in the fiscal cliff would increase or decrease the deficit). But just remember not to take public policy polling all that seriously. Yes, there are real opinions that we can get at with careful research, but it's very, very, easy to get junk even if you're trying to ask good questions. And not everyone is doing that.