Why Are The TV Networks So Slow to Poll on Libya?

One sign that the broadcast networks aren’t vigorously opposed to President Obama’s air strikes in Libya is the utter lack of polls. There were no ABC/Washington Post or NBC/Wall Street Journal polls touted before Obama’s Libya address, and a Gallup poll showing only 47 percent support for military action has been barely mentioned.

CBS News did a poll (without The New York Times) and briefly touted its results on March 22. Katie Couric offered one sentence on the Evening News: “A CBS News poll out tonight finds most Americans are following the events in Libya closely and nearly seven out of ten approve of the air strikes.” But the question was phrased in a way to encourage support for a coalition effort protecting innocent civilians:

"As you may know, the U.S. military and other countries have begun cruise missile and air strikes in Libya in order to protect civilians from attacks by Qaddafi's forces. Do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. and other countries taking this military action in Libya?"

In response, 68 percent approved. CBS also briefly mentioned a different number on the March 22 edition of The Early Show, that 50 percent approve of Obama’s handling of Libya:

ERICA HILL: The latest CBS News poll finds fifty percent of Americans approve of the President`s handling of the Libyan crisis, twenty-nine percent disapprove. Joining us this morning, Arizona Senator John McCain, he is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And:

JEFF GLOR: A CBS News poll released, by the way, this morning asked Americans how they think President Obama is handling the Libyan crisis. Half of those asked approve of what Mister Obama has done, 29 percent of those asked disapprove, and one in five doesn`t have an opinion.

ABC’s Jake Tapper mentioned the Gallup poll on Monday morning. The only other poll mention was this vague sentence from David Kerley on World News Saturday: “The White House contends that in historical perspective, it moved incredibly fast and quickly with an international coalition. But they are aware of the poll numbers, they are aware of the complaints, and that's what's driving this new message. David?”

NBC only touched on the poll once, on Saturday Today:

LESTER HOLT: You've seen the poll numbers, the public opinion polls. I think only 47 percent approve of action in Libya. When you look at other conflicts, Iraq at the outset, 76 percent supported it; Afghanistan, 90 percent; 51 for Kosovo. What's going on here?

MARK HALPERIN, TIME: Well, it's surprising because as you're -- as the numbers show, as you suggest, normally people rally around the president at a time like this. One thing that's a problem is he hasn't explained it well enough. I suspect the numbers can go up if he talks about it in detail and will on Monday. The other is we're in politically divisive times. And there are some people in the country who won't approve of the president no matter what he does. That puts a ceiling on his support. He's got a floor under him, too, because a lot of people support him almost no matter what he does. 

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis