On Tuesday morning’s Early Show, CBS anchor Harry Smith led into a Hillary Clinton interview with a poll that sounded like it had been commissioned by the Clinton team: "In a new CBS News poll, 66 percent of voters said her health care experience in Bill Clinton’s administration is actually a strength for her. As we know, her efforts in the 1990s failed; 52 percent of those questioned said it wasn’t her fault."
But dig into the CBS poll, and see what Smith left out: when respondents asked if they were confident in "Hillary’s ability to make the right decisions about health care, or are you uneasy about her approach," more people (48 percent) said they were uneasy about Hillary’s health agenda, compared to 42 percent who said they were confident about her health care decision-making.
Her numbers on this question were much better than similar measures of Barack Obama (30 percent confident, 47 percent uneasy) and John Edwards (27 percent confident, 50 percent uneasy), but the question was overlooked, and perhaps because it didn’t match the Up with Hillary tone of the other poll results.
(The results are available in PDF format at http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/Sep07b-HRC-HEALTH.pdf)
Circle back to the questions that Harry Smith touted. Here’s the actual text of the questions:
During President Bill Clinton’s administration, Hillary Clinton proposed health care reform that was never passed by Congress. Do you think Hillary Clinton’s past experience with health care reform would help her or hurt her in reforming health care is she becomes President?
The results were 66 percent help, and 25 percent hurt (7 percent said they don’t know, two percent volunteered "no effect"). But the phrasing of this question for viewers without an ironclad memory of the 1993-94 congressional debates on her 1,342-page plan implies ‘Will Hillary’s experience on reform help her with reform?’ Voters will generally assume they should say that experience is a good quality, and reform is a good idea.
The poll question does not explain that Hillary couldn’t get her plan through a Democratic House and Senate, and that her politicking was so unsuccessful that the Democrats lost both houses of Congress for 12 years. Does that suggest confidence that she’ll do it right the second time? If Jimmy Carter had decided to run again for president in 1988, would CBS have considered a fiasco-dismissing poll asking whether his "experience in hostage-crisis negotiations would help or hurt in future foreign policy matters if he’s reelected President?"
But the second question Smith touted was worse, on how Hillary should not be blamed for the plan's political collapse. The text read:
"Looking back, do you think Hillary Clinton was mostly responsible for the lack of health care reform during the Clinton administration, was that something mostly beyond her control, or don’t you know enough to say?"
The results were 52 percent picked "mostly beyond her control," only five percent said Hillary was "mostly responsible," and a whopping 39 percent said they "didn’t know enough to say." Wouldn’t it have been a decent idea for Harry Smith to note that a large minority said they had no idea? Wouldn’t that suggest it might be a bad question to ask the public?
An eighteen-year old voter today, asked this question by CBS pollsters, would probably decline to answer since he or she would have been four or five at the time of Hillary’s fiasco.