Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Polls, Press Releases and Partisanship: Let the Reader Beware

The cheerleading of the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner release is all the more obvious and misleading because the NPR poll came just one day after the release of a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press national poll headlined “Obama’s Approval Rating Slips Amid Division Over Economic Proposals.”

That Pew survey found Obama’s job approval had slipped from 64 percent in February to 59 percent in March, while his disapproval rating rose from 17 percent to 26 percent. (That’s not a seismic shift, but it’s enough to get almost anyone’s attention.) Pew’s analysis accompanying the poll also noted that “the public expresses mixed views of his many major proposals to fix the economy.”

When I went over to the Public Opinion Strategies Web site, I found a brief item on the poll. The piece was headlined “New NPR Poll Released.” No spin, no bias.

The first substantive paragraph on the poll results was merely a reprint from the NPR analysis, noting that Obama’s job ratings were “still high” and that among likely voters, “the Democratic position on issues was favored across the board.” “Still, there’s some reason for Republicans to hope,” ended the paragraph.

NPR’s more matter-of-fact reporting and analysis — and Public Opinion Strategies’ use of the NPR language — stands in stark (and welcome) contrast to Greenberg’s very partisan presentation.

But NPR can’t be left off the hook entirely. NPR headline writers attached a curious headline to the release: “NPR Poll: More Voters Think U.S. Is On Right Track.”

Huh? More voters think the country is on the right track than think that it is going off in the wrong direction? Or more voters now think the country is on the right track compared to what they thought in the previous NPR poll?

The NPR story makes it clear that 63 percent still think the country is on the wrong track, so the improvement in sentiment is modest. And with a popular new president in the White House and Democrats talking constantly about change, wouldn’t you think that the “right direction” number would be higher than 31 percent?

There are plenty of polls floating around and more analysis than anyone could ever need. But partisan analysis isn’t analysis at all. It’s message.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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