The MSM’s Weird Interpretation of WaPo Poll Results


Darned if I can see how the results of this new Washington Post/ABC News poll are evidence that public support for Barack Obama on health care reform “is slipping,” but the media does seem to be in an “Obama is melting” phase right now, as Nate Silver puts it.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the WaPo article:

Heading into a critical period in the debate over health-care reform, public approval of President Obama’s stewardship on the issue has dropped below the 50 percent threshold for the first time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Obama’s approval ratings on other front-burner issues, such as the economy and the federal budget deficit, have also slipped over the summer, as rising concern about spending and continuing worries about the economy combine to challenge his administration. Barely more than half approve of the way he is handling unemployment, which now tops 10 percent in 15 states and the District.

The president’s overall approval rating remains higher than his marks on particular domestic issues, with 59 percent giving him positive reviews and 37 percent disapproving. But this is the first time in his presidency that Obama has fallen under 60 percent in Post-ABC polling, and the rating is six percentage points lower than it was a month ago.

Obviously, the impression we are meant to take away is that this drop in Obama’s public approval rating on health care reform means that Americans share Republican opposition to a public health care option and agree that the bill costs too much.  But look at the wording of the question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Obama is handling [health care]? Do you approve/disapprove strongly or somewhat?”

An Approve or Disapprove answer to that question does not tell you why the person feels that way.

Steve Benen finds the same weird interpretation bias in a Reuters piece about the poll results:

I stopped by the Yahoo News page a few minutes ago and saw the lead headline at the top of the page that reads, “Public support slips for Obama’s health plan, poll shows.” It quoted a Reuters report that says:

Public support for President Barack Obama’s handling of healthcare reform, the pillar of his legislative agenda, has fallen below 50 percent for the first time, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Monday said.

I realize the current media narrative is “public turns on health care reform,” but let’s clarify this a bit, because it’s nearly as misleading as the political attacks that have weakened support for reform in the first place.

The Post-ABC poll asked Americans if they approve of President Obama’s handling of various issues. While he enjoys majority support in some areas, 49% approve of his handling of health care, 44% do not.

But that doesn’t necessarily reflect opposition to “Obama’s health plan.” Maybe the president’s support on this issue has fallen to 49% because some Americans are disappointed Obama hasn’t already pushed the bill through Congress. Maybe they don’t like the way he’s empowered lawmakers to take the lead in writing the bill. Who knows? The poll doesn’t really tell us.

The poll does, however, tell us a few relevant details. For example, when given a choice on who Americans trust more on reforming the health care system, 54% prefer the president, while only 34% back congressional Republicans.

Even more important, when the basics of the plan are described to respondents, including Republican-friendly phrasing (“government-run”), a majority of Americans support the reform proposal. This was left out of the Reuters report altogether.

In an article about poll support for “Obama’s health plan,” Reuters ignored the only question in the poll about support for Obama’s health plan. Odd.

Or maybe predictable.

More commentary at Memeorandum.

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One Comment on “The MSM’s Weird Interpretation of WaPo Poll Results”

  1. osborneink Says:

    Rumors of health care reform’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. I think what we’re seeing here is the Beltway Village filter at work. WaPo, like the MSM in general, has a growing credibility problem because of that filter.


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