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:
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:
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.