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A loaded question in a new poll helps show how ''news'' works
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POLLS V. SURVEYS! A loaded question in a new poll helps show how “news” works: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2010

Polls v. surveys and loaded questions: A new Washington Post/ABC poll is full of bad news for Democrats. That said, we mordantly chuckled at one Q-and-A cited by Shailagh Murray in this front-page Washington Post report.

Respondents were asked about the Democrats’ loss of their filibuster-proof Senate majority. Murray reports what they said:

MURRAY (2/10/10): President Obama brought Republicans to the negotiating table on Tuesday, hoping to stem a steady deterioration in relations between the two parties that has brought business in Washington to a standstill, left the Democratic agenda in tatters and angered voters who are eager to have lawmakers address their concerns.

[...]

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests that the public is frustrated by the bickering and recriminations. According to the survey, 57 percent of Americans consider the loss of the Senate Democrats' filibuster-proof supermajority a "good thing," but few think Republicans should wield their new power to block bills frequently. Nearly six in 10 say that Republicans are not doing enough to forge compromise with Obama on important issues, while nearly half view the president as doing too little to overcome differences with the GOP.

Fifty-seven percent said it was “a good thing” when Dems lost their filibuster-proof super-majority. But uh-oh! We couldn’t help thinking of that recent Pew information survey, in which only 26 percent of respondents could say how many votes it takes to achieve such a super-majority. Only 26 percent gave the correct answer, even though the question was asked in a multiple-choice format.

In short: Voters aren’t spending a lot of time puzzling out this situation. Yet voters were happy to state their view about whether the loss of that super-majority was a good thing or bad. Simple story: Voters are constantly asked to state their opinion about matters they don’t understand very well—matters they simply aren’t following closely. And sure enough! Major reporters take pencil in hand, eager to relate what we tell them.

By the way: The question to which Murray refers seems to be poorly worded. (Question 6—just click here.) Mightn’t its use of the word “cooperate” strongly tilt its answer? What a shock! 57 percent said it was a “good thing” that Obama and the Democrats will be forced to “cooperate” more! Just a guess: If you worded that question differently, you could get a quite different result—especially since this isn’t a topic on which voters seem to be focused.

With the use of a loaded question, voters are asked to state their view on a topic they know very little about. So it goes as a floundering nation’s floundering press corps attempts to reel in the “news.”

Special report: News for (us) dummies!

PART 3 TOMORROW: We’re smashed by the snow—and we don’t like what we wrote. (A bit too negative about our own side.) We’ll continue the series tomorrow.