The Washington Post announced bad news for its largely liberal readers in its poll Tuesday morning. The headline said "6 in 10 Americans lack faith in Obama: Congress still held in lower esteem, but poll shows gap narrowing." Those who read the story would wait until the end of paragraph six (just before the jump) to get this liberal-haunting number: "Those most likely to vote in the midterms prefer the GOP over continued Democratic rule by a sizable margin of 56 percent to 41 percent."
But if the Post reader skipped the gray text and went just for the graphics, they’d get the impression that Republicans are worse off than the Democrats: they’d see asked "how much confidence do you have" in the parties, they showed Obama’s "lack faith" number at 58 percent, Democrats in Congress at 68 percent, and Republicans at 72 percent.
But wait: in parentheses it says "percent of voters saying 'just some' or 'none'". (That wasn't bolded in the paper, as it is on the website.) Here’s the rub: deep in the Post's data (question 3), it shows Republicans "just some" number was 43 percent and "none" was 29 percent, while Democrats "just some" number was 35 percent and "none" was 32 percent. So portraying the Republican standing as "worse" than the Democrats (complete with trouble-red emphasis) is misleading at best.
Post reporters Dan Balz and Jon Cohen simply blurred the numbers together, without a breakdown: "About seven in 10 registered voters say they lack confidence in Democratic lawmakers and a similar proportion say so of Republican lawmakers."
But the networks took that misleading impression and hardened it, with NBC's Matt Lauer proclaiming "just slightly more than 7 in 10 Americans don’t have faith in Republicans in Congress." That quick-and-dirty formulation has zero room for 43 percent of Americans saying "just some."
The real problem here is the news judgment of the Post: the first question isn’t "How much confidence?" It’s "Who are you voting for?" If the Republicans are up 56-41 among likely voters, clearly the "just some" confidence is presently more than enough.
Near the bottom of the poll story, it gets even darker for Democratic prospects:
Obama's overall standing puts him at about the same place President Bill Clinton was in the summer of 1994, a few months before Republicans captured the House and Senate in an electoral landslide.
President Ronald Reagan, who also contended with a serious recession at the outset of his first term, was a little lower at this point in 1982, with a 46 percent to 45 percent split on his approval ratings. Republicans went on to lose about two dozen seats in the House that fall.
The Post projected its poll as bad for Democrats, but not happy news for Republicans. Inside the paper, the headline was "Obama viewed slightly better than lawmakers." The text box on A6 acknowledged "Democrats nationally remain on the defensive as they seek to retain both houses of Congress this fall."