May 01, 2009

More Poll Dancing

Sigh...another one of these. This time, it's a New York Times/CBS News poll, just in time to celebrate Obama's first 100 days in office. I'm not going to insinuate that this poll is untrustworthy because it comes from NYT/CBS, or because it's been linked to by articles singing its praises while all-but-ignoring its negatives. I'm going to tell you flat out that it's untrustworthy. How can it not be, when--for example--you notice that the percentage of Republicans is only 20 percent, compared to 38 percent Democrat and 36 percent Independent? That 20 percent is the absolute lowest percentage of Republican respondents in the included statistics, which go back to January of 1992. Is it really that surprising that Obama's approval rating went up 5% since February when the percentage of Republicans polled went down 6%, and Democrats went up 2%? I'm only surprised it didn't go up more.

It's also untrustworthy for questions such as this one:
Do you feel things in this country are generally going in the right direction or do you feel things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?
This is what's known as a false dilemma. You only provide two options, one of which is in some way unsatisfactory, thereby influencing people to choose the other one. "America: love it or leave it!" is a good example. Here, you'll notice that you only have two options as well: the first one, that things are generally going in the right direction, and the second, that things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track. See? If you don't think things are seriously wrong (an extreme), you are left with only one other choice--that they're going in the "right" direction. This question is horribly worded, whether through deceit or incompetence. Seeing as this is from NYT/CBS, neither reason seems all that unlikely. This question should either have been written with balanced options:

In general, do you feel things in this country are going in the right direction or the wrong direction?

or with more alternatives:

How do you feel things are going in the country: seriously in the right direction; generally in the right direction; generally in the wrong direction; seriously in the wrong direction?

Why would NYT/CBS do this? Well, I suspect that it was an attempt to show how great the new administration is doing. "Look," they could trumpet, "the public thinks things are going great!"

Unfortunately for them, those polled must really think things are sucking hardcore because even with the obvious bias built into the question, they still thought by a 50-41 percent margin that we have gotten "pretty seriously off track." Of course, this still didn't stop news outlets from writing glowing articles about the poll. The CBS News headline:

Poll: 100 Days In, High Marks For Obama
On The Cusp Of His 100th Day, President Enjoys High Approval Ratings On A Host Of Issues - But Few Republicans Are On Board

Oh yes, those high the 54% who had a favorable opinion of Obama, down from 60% when he took office, and the percentage of those who had an unfavorable opinion of him in the same time period, which doubled, from 9% to 18%. High marks, indeed. Oh, and don't forget the people who are optimistic about the next four years with Obama--they dropped from 79% in January to 72%. Again, you should remember that the percentage of Republicans is the lowest since '92, which should be reflected by an increase in Obama's numbers.

I could go on, pointing out that although 68% of people thought he was a "different kind" of politician, only 9% thought it was because of his policies*, or that one of the choices in the question asking how many of his campaign promises Obama would be able to keep was "all of them," which--considering he's already broken several of them--is impossible. I could mention that the percentage of people who think Obama will divide different groups of Americans has increased ten points since November of last year, which is distressing for a president who ran, partly, on the idea of unification.

What's obvious here is that NYT and CBS put together a poorly written, slanted poll designed to artificially inflate Obama's numbers, and when that didn't work as well as they expected, they wrote puff pieces on it, highlighting the good, burying the not so good. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. Even the NYT/CBS poll itself shows that the percentage of people who think the news media has "gone easier" on Obama than other candidates/presidents has steadily risen over the last year, from 24 to 40. 'Nuff said.

* I find it interesting that they used the term "different," since depending on one's mindset, "different" could be a positive or a negative.

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