So, yesterday, Bloomberg puts out a poll. Results here. First question:
In general, do you think things in the nation are headed in the right direction, or have they gotten off on the wrong track?
Which of the following do you see as the most important issue facing the country right now? (Read list. Rotate.)
The list is innocuous enough; so far, so good. But then we come to the third question:
Now, I’m going to mention some people and groups in the news recently. For each, please tell me if your feelings are very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable. If you don’t know enough to answer, just say so. (Record “don’t know” as “not sure.” Rotate list.)
And now, here is the list:
- Barack Obama, president of the United States
- The Republican Party
- The Democratic Party
- Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president and former governor of Massachusetts
- Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve
- George W. Bush, former president of the United States
- Bill Clinton, former president of the United States
- The Mormon Church
- Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate for vice-president
- Joe Biden, the vice-president
- Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney
- Michelle Obama, wife of President Barack Obama
Can anybody figure out why I titled this post as I did? Something about this list put that old Sesame Street routine in mind. Just in case you are still stumped, this poll came to our attention via Twitter from Jay Cost, who said:
And the Bloomberg poll asks about Mormons before head to head. Worst MSM Poll EVAH. And THAT is saying something. http://bit.ly/SkWxJ9
And there you have it ladies and gentlemen. This is awfully close to a push poll, not exactly there, but awfully close. The idea is that it plant the seed of Mormonism in the interviewees mind before it starts to ask about candidate preferences in hopes that bringing that to mind will skew the results. Note that in that opinion list there is nothing about Jeremiah Wright, or any other religious affiliation of the president, even if all the other mentions are perfectly balanced.
This is not the mere oversampling of Dems and failure to weight the results accordingly – a practice that has become so prevalent this cycle in an effort to use polls to drive opinion rather than reflect it. Nope this is an effort to drive opinion within the bounds of the poll itself and then use the poll to drive opinion – a big double whammy.
So, what do we conclude from this episode? Well, several things. For one, this makes it utterly transparent that we have to be quite judicious in our reading of polls. We cannot just read the headlines and move on. We have to read the crosstabs, and in instances like this we have to read the poll itself. There is now undeniably polling out there, from major news organizations, clearly designed to make opinion, not reflect them. We simply must be sophisticated enough to know the difference and to explain that difference to those around us. Secondly we can conclude that those polling on behalf of the Obama candidacy view Romney’s faith as a negative factor. They are therefore guilty of religious prejudice, simply another factor that disqualifies the poll from reasonable consideration.
Finally, we cannot lose heart. These polls are out there and it may seem like everyone is latching on to them to tell us the race is over. But as we have just concluded, the polls are invalid and meaningless. I am reminded of Mohammed Ali’s spectacular fights with Joe Frazier. Ali tried very hard to talk Frazier into losing before the fights ever began. It was a game Ali played with virtually every opponent, though some more than others. That’s what is going on here. It seemed like the more evenly matched Ali was with an opponent the more trash he talked – which is why in the Frazier fights the volume of patter was torrential. You could use Ali’s patter as a measure of how afraid Ali was of getting beat. Given the level of stuff that is going on here – Barack Obama, and his supporters, are terrified they are going to get beat. That’s a good thing.
I find I keep wondering why the press is melting down this badly this cycle. For some it really is a matter of ideology. But while we are on the topic, I do want to raise one other possibility. I have just concluded reading “The Passage of Power” – the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s magnificent biography of LBJ. This volume covers Johnson’s vice presidency, his ascendancy into the Oval Office via the assassination of JFK, and the short period of governance that he had before he ran for election in his own right. In the book, Caro recounts a story where within weeks of becoming president Johnson contacts, directly, the owner of a paper in Texas that had been a thorn in his side for most of his career. Johnson then threatens the FCC license of a TV station owned by the same company unless he receives a letter, from the paper’s publisher, pledging the paper’s full support for a Johnson administration so long as it may last. In other words, Johnson used the power of the Executive to coerce support from a media outlet. (He got the letter by the way, within a couple of weeks.) Ever since I read that last week, I have wondered how much the press’ total and utter collapse this cycle is an unforced error and how much is coercion from the Chicago White House. We may never know, but it is interesting to speculate.
The point, however, remains the same: The polls are cooked and this thing is anything but over. Be of good cheer and get busy.