CBS Touts Skewed Poll Showing Majority Support for Unions

On Tuesday's CBS Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge touted a new poll claiming people support unions over Republican plans to cut state deficits: "A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows that a majority of Americans, 56%, are opposed to cutting the pay and benefits of state workers to balance budgets while just 37% are in favor of it."

While Wragge called them "state workers," the actual poll consistently used the phrase "public employees," never state workers or government workers. On NBC's Today on Tuesday, pollster Frank Luntz explained how one phrase invokes a positive response while the other does not. Speaking to co-host Matt Lauer about the newly released CBS poll, he noted: "If you call them 'public workers' a majority of Americans respect them. If you call them 'government workers' a majority of Americans don't." Clearly, CBS and the New York Times selected wording that would elicit a response favorable to the liberal position on the issue.

In the report that followed on the Early Show, correspondent Cynthia Bowers described how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's budget-cutting proposal "seeks to plug a $3.6 billion budget gap, would limit state union workers rights to collective bargaining, something the Governor insists is necessary." She then claimed that the poll showed that "others argue it isn't ethical." No where did the poll ask if curbing collective bargaining for unions was ethical or not, but simply if respondents agreed with the policy or not.

Bowers went on to declare: "According to the CBS News poll, 60% of Americans oppose taking away the collective bargaining rights of unionized public employees." As Luntz also pointed out on Today: "...if it is instead called 'the right of people to join or not to join a union' then the whole side flips."

Finally, Bowers cited another finding supposedly against Walker: "Our poll showed Americans even prefer raising taxes over cutting employee benefits or funding to schools or roads. Since taking office in January, Governor Walker has cut corporate taxes in Wisconsin." The question she referred to reads:

If you had to choose one, which of the following would you be willing to do in order to reduce your state's budget deficit   1. increase taxes, 2. decrease benefits of public employees like teachers or police officers, 3. decrease funding for roads and public transportation, or 4. decrease funding for education?

While Bowers touted the 40% who called for higher taxes, she failed to point out that if the other three options – all calling for spending cuts – were combined, 45% of respondents would favor a reduction in government spending over increasing taxes.

As NewsBusters' Brent Baker earlier reported, Monday's CBS Evening News also hyped the new poll, emphasizing the same points as Bowers. He noted that when CBS polling showed a clear majority of Americans supported Arizona's immigration law in 2010 – which the media continually vilified – the network was largely silent.

Here is a full transcript of the March 1 Early Show segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

CHRIS WRAGGE: Ultimatum. A new CBS News poll finds a majority of Americans back union workers in the ongoing budget battles as Governor Walker threatens layoffs if Democrats don't come back to work today. We're live in Wisconsin with the latest on the political showdown there.

7:09AM ET SEGMENT:

CHRIS WRAGGE: Now to the ongoing battle over state and federal budgets. A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows that a majority of Americans, 56%, are opposed to cutting the pay and benefits of state workers to balance budgets while just 37% are in favor of it. Nowhere is the issue more heated than in the state of Wisconsin. And CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers is still in Madison with the latest on this. Cynthia, good morning.

CYNTHIA BOWERS: Good morning, Chris. You know, all the hoopla that's been playing out here has been over a simple budget repair bill. Today the other shoe drops when the Governor presents the real deal, his real budget, with even more drastic cuts. The big question though is will those missing senators bel around to hear it?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Ultimatum; Wisconsin Gov. Wants Budget Bill Passed Today]

PROTESTORS: Kill the bill!

BOWERS: On Monday, the two-week budget battle between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 14 Democratic state senators, and union protesters continued to heat up. And Walker again called for the return of Democrats who have fled the state to stall a budget vote.

SCOTT WALKER: The bottom line is if they do not come home, there are dire consequences.

BOWERS: Consequences, he said, that will include massive layoffs and the loss of $165 million in debt-restructuring savings if his budget repair bill is not passed by today.

PROTESTORS: Scott Walker has got to go!

BOWERS: The bill, which seeks to plug a $3.6 billion budget gap, would limit state union workers rights to collective bargaining, something the Governor insists is necessary. But others argue it isn't ethical. According to the CBS News poll, 60% of Americans oppose taking away the collective bargaining rights of unionized public employees [33% Favor]. After calling Walker's bill 'an assault on unions' two weeks ago, President Obama weighed in again on the issue at the National Governors' Conference yesterday.

BARACK OBAMA: I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon.

BOWERS: Governor Walker, who didn't attend the conference, says even with the cuts, Wisconsin workers would fair better than federal employees do.

WALKER: What we're offering is actually more generous than what they provide at the federal level.    

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Budget Battles; CBS News Poll: Majority Back Unions]

BOWERS: Yet our poll showed Americans even prefer raising taxes over cutting employee benefits or funding to schools or roads. Since taking office in January, Governor Walker has cut corporate taxes in Wisconsin. Now, Senate Republicans told me late yesterday that they are still galvanized around this budget bill and plan to pass it as soon as those missing Democrats get back. Chris.

WRAGGE: CBS's Cynthia Bowers in Madison, Wisconsin for us this morning. Cynthia, thank you.
                
WALKER: As you can see, the Governor won't budge and those state senate Democrats won't budge either.

ERICA HILL: They're not budging either. A little bit of a standoff there. We'll continue to follow it.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC