July 25, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Polls, Press Releases and Partisanship: Let the Reader Beware

Nobody is under oath, so I suppose that it’s too much to expect “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” especially when it comes to press releases, headlines and even reputable pollsters.

But I was disappointed to see how some of the results of a March Public Opinion Strategies/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll of likely voters for National Public Radio were presented.

Yes, the two firms have very different partisan bents, but they collaborated on a national survey for NPR, a nonpartisan organization, so it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of analytical neutrality from both.

But if you only read about the NPR poll on the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Web site, you would have a seriously distorted view of the results of the survey.

“Latest NPR Poll: Democrats Besting Republicans in National Debate on Key Budget Issues” proclaimed the headline on the Democratic firm’s Web site.

The report on the Web site continued by saying the poll “shows [President] Barack Obama with high overall approval ratings and strong marks on handling the economy, but much more important, Democrats winning the big debates surrounding Obama’s first budget on taxes, energy, health care, and the deficit by significant margins.”

If you are looking for any bits of data that are more even-handed, you can find it in the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner statement only if you have a powerful magnifying glass.

For example, “On both energy and health care the Democratic message wins by 53 [percent] to 42 percent, a margin nearly twice the Democrats’ 6-point partisan advantage.” So Democrats have only a 6-point advantage?

Or this: “President Obama’s approval rating remains strong. Nearly six-in-ten voters (59 percent) approve of the job President Obama is doing while just 35 percent disapprove.” Just 35 percent disapprove? That’s a surprisingly high number compared to other polls and given the euphoria implicit in the Greenberg analysis.

You would think that analysis of a survey examining the national political landscape might note prominently that the Democratic Party’s 6-point advantage in party identification was down from a 10-point advantage in May 2008, the last NPR poll, or holding steady from November, when the national exit poll showed the electorate as 39 percent Democratic and 32 percent Republican.

And, you might think that it’s worth noting that the Congressional generic ballot in the new NPR survey showed the parties deadlocked at 42 percent, a surprising reversal from Election Day, when Democrats had a substantial advantage in ID, especially given the public’s low opinion of the Republican Party.

And while I wouldn’t disagree with the characterization of Obama’s poll numbers as “strong,” NPR correspondent Mara Liasson’s observation that the president’s job approval is “down from the mid-60s” and “just about where the past 4 presidents have been at this point in their terms” put the numbers in a far more realistic context.

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