Poll Junkies

Yesterday I was discussing public polling and how the results don’t always reflect an understanding of the facts. Since then, we have had MSNBC all morning fussing over the latest polls, including this one:

NBC/WSJ/Telemundo Poll: Latino Voters More Sour On Country, Obama

Even as pissed off as some Latinos are over President Obama’s unwise decision to postpone his promised executive actions on immigration, they still have some grasp of what is going on. But you wouldn’t know it from the headline above. That headline, and others like it, reflect the way the poll was introduced on MSNBC this morning. It was mostly about Latinos “souring” on the country and on President Obama. The headline, though, could have been,

Latinos Disappointed with Obama, But Still Very, Very Sour On The Republican Party

Why? Because of these two paragraphs near the end of the story:

Over six in ten Latinos prefer to see a Democrat-controlled Congress, compared to 28 percent who want to see the Republicans in charge. This is seen in their take on which party handles issues better; 53 percent think the Democratic Party looks out for the interests of women, compared to 11 percent who say that about Republicans. 

On immigration, 41 percent think the Democratic party looks out for their interests as opposed to 19 percent who favor the Republican party. Still, immigration is one area where the majority of Latinos – as opposed to other groups in the country – favor legislation or executive action to change the current laws and policies.

So, I suppose the problem is not so much with the polling, but with the presentation of the results. If a reader only read that “Latino Voters More Sour On Country, Obama” headline, he or she would get one message. But reading the entire article, the reader gets a different one. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves. The way a headline hovers over a story affects how people read it, if they bother to read it at all. Some folks just scan the headlines, thinking they’re getting the “news.”

NBC and the Wall Street Journal also have a new poll out that they find worthy of our attention:

The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows that the past few months of foreign-policy crises — especially regarding ISIS and Ukraine — have taken a toll on President Obama and his party. Just 32% approve of his handling of foreign policy, an all-time low in the survey; the GOP has an 18-point advantage on which party deals best on foreign policy, an 11-point jump from a year ago; and Republicans hold a whopping 38-point lead on which party best ensures a strong national defense, their largest lead on this question in more than 10 years.

If that depressing paragraph doesn’t tell you why snapshot polls during certain world events mean absolutely nothing, besides merely registering frustration and ignorance on the part of many Americans, then nothing will. The idea that the obstructionist Republican Party “has an 18-point advantage” over Democrats on any issue, much less foreign policy, defies explanation, unless one resorts to chalking it up to ignorance.

And please, someone, anyone, tell me why Republicans have enjoyed “an 11-point jump from a year ago”? Or how could Republicans, who brought us the sequester that has cut into the Pentagon budget with a blunt ax and who committed trillions to an unnecessary war in Iraq that started most of the messes we see, possibly “hold a whopping 38-point lead” on ensuring a strong national defense? Can people be that ignorant, that tuned out, not to say that stupid? God, let’s hope not. We’ve suffered enough.

That “exclusive poll” presented by NBC and The Wall Street Journal also, “reveals that 47% of Americans believe the country is less safe now than before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” Really? Based on what? Ten or fifteen thousand ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria now worrying every day about where the next American missile will fall and take out a few more of the bastards? Nothing, absolutely nothing, has happened here in the homeland recently that would lead a rational person to conclude that we are less safe now than when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was ignoring Osama bin Laden in the summer of 2001. We are much more safe, in terms of terrorist attacks. That’s not even arguable.

Oh, and do you want a good headline based on a poll? Try these beauties:


bloomberg poll

Wow! Really? Man, that is big, big news. The Europeans have abandoned and deserted the most powerful leader in the world! What do we do now?

Well, let’s begin by reading the actual article, originating with the respectable Bloomberg News, that those ridiculously false headlines announced, including this little finding:

Obama’s European approval rating dropped to 64 percent, sliding for the fifth straight year from 85 percent when he took office…

Oh, so Europeans have abandoned the President, they have deserted him, yet 64% of them still approve of the job he is doing? Get that? Sixty-four percent think he’s doing a good job! That is a strange kind of abandonment and desertion. Actually, if you bother to go look at the poll itself, you will find that President Obama’s approval rating regarding his “international policies” only dropped from 69% to 64% since 2013. Considering all that has happened in the world since then, I find that utterly remarkable. Thus, the headline should have been:

President Obama Remains Very Popular in Europe, Despite World Events

But that headline just doesn’t fit in with the fashion of the day, which is, right now, to pile on President Obama as he struggles through some tough times on the foreign front. Let me be clear, though. Journalists shouldn’t be cheerleaders for any president or political party. They should tell it like it is. But neither should they be cheerleaders for pessimism, especially when they have to go out of their way to create it themselves.



  1. ansonburlingame

     /  September 11, 2014


    Polls are nothing more than snapshots of American public opinion. I see no way to construct long term and effective policies, socially or defensively (may offensively as well) based on polls.

    But dissatisfaction with a President is actually broad dissatisfaction related to what is going on in the world and here at home. Take any poll amongst blacks and racial issues are at the top of the list to fix, their way. Look at immigration issues and a Hispanic poll will show dissatisfaction that someone has not SOLVED immigration issues, their way as well.

    Everyone and his brother in America is sick to death of war (call it whatever you like) and want it to stop, period.

    Bush II suffered extraordinary poll dissatisfaction at the end of his term and great hopes arose when Obama took over the regins of office. Now look at dissatisfaction, broadly, with Obama. “Things” have not worked out” as the majority of Americans view “things” today.

    Look at just one rather small issue, not one of racial divide or war and peace. Look just at Detroit and then read Reich’s column in today’s Globe. I hate reading those columns but …… NO America wants to see a city go down for the count. And yet we have a big city down and almost out right now. Reich’s solution is to spread the pain, to other counties. Well hell why not just spread the pain, find the money to fix Detroit across the whole nation?

    But Reich and others miss the point. Lack of money in Detroit is a symptom of the bigger problem. Just throwing more money at what is left of Detroit now will be kicking the can down the road to the next city government, state government or national government.

    Almost exclusively, Detroit has been run for 50 years by Democrat politics and $ Billions for local, state and federal taxpayers have flowed into that city. And now we have what we have, a failed city to be sure. Solution to “go to the next country to find more money” is crazy in my view. Hell let’s put a surcharge on all federal income taxes to bail out Detroit, right? Certainly not in my view, for sure.

    The underlying problem in Detroit, right now, is a population that is poor, impoverished and most have not the slightest idea how to be “good citizens”. Solution is to somehow teach those folks how to be good citizens, pulling their own loads so to speak, teaching their kids how to be “good kids”, how to behave themselves, how to study, how to work, how to do all the things that “normal kids” have long done in America. But that is a generational strategy as well and we all know it and don’t have the patience to even try it as a “test case”.

    Instead we again will just throw more money at the city and await a miracle to happen, which it won’t no matter how much money we throw at the problem of underperforming citizens, of any race, creed or whatever. Please know as well that whites underperform just as much as any other race, creed or whatever.

    And “polls’ will continue to reflect broad American dissatisfaction with solving such a problem. Over time as well those polls will be very bipartisan as well. If asked, “do you like what is going on in “Detroit”, “with ISIS”, with “race relations”, etc., etc. most sane Americans would say “no”. But then ask them “how to fix…..” and we will be all over the map all the time, changing our minds every week or so, collectively.



  2. Agreed, polls are snapshots of opinion taken from people who almost surely are distracted and unprepared for the questions. Hence, what we get are knee-jerk reactions. And when pollsters ask questions like, “Do you approve of the president’s handling of (issue)?”, the implication inherent is that, if he wanted to, the president could actually change the status of that issue. That’s almost always not the case and especially so when the Congress is so deadlocked that the party of “NO” automatically rejects anything he proposes. All we can hope for is that people put more thought into voting than they do answering polls. It’s a slim hope.


  3. P.S. Another reason I’m not sanguine about public opinion is the behavior of the evening TV news programs, which as we all should know, reflect the public interest so as to make the ads pay. Never mind beheadings and debates over going to war, the lead stories on both CBS and NBC Friday were about the domestic violence scandal in the NFL. And as if that weren’t enough, on Saturday the only channel news not pre-empted by athletics was scheduled (by our DISH network) to be on NBC, and instead of the scheduled news, it aired an infomercial. I kid you not. 😦


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