Tea Party Movement Tops Established Parties in NBC/WSJ Poll Despite Biased Question, Skewed Sample

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Yesterday at NewsBusters, Geoffrey Dickens documented the furor of MSNBC's Chris Mathews over the results of an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (PDF).

Specifically, Mathews was irked that the Tea Party Movement (TPM) was viewed quite a bit more favorably than the two major political parties by those polled (VP=Very Positive; SP=Somewhat Positive; N=Neutral; SN=Somewhat Negative; VN=Very Negative; DK=No Opinion):

  • Tea Party Movement: VP-20%; SP-21%; N-21%; SN-10%; VN-13%; DK-15%
  • Democratic Party: VP-10%; SP-25%; N-19%; SN-19%; VN-26%; DK-1%
  • Republican Party: VP-5%; SP-23%; N-27%; SN-24%; VN-19%; DK-2%

Mathews dismissed the TPM's convincing advantage over the established parties, especially in higher strong positives and lower strong negatives, as being the result of a biased poll question working in the Tea Partiers' favor. I don't think so. In fact, I think the result occurred even though the question is loaded against the TPM.

Here is the full text of the Tea Party poll question (Question 14b, Page 11; bolds are mine):

As you may know, this year saw the start of something known as the Tea Party movement. In this movement, citizens, most of whom are conservatives, participated in demonstrations in Washington, DC, and other cities, protesting government spending, the economic stimulus package, and any type of tax increases. From what you know about this movement, is your opinion of it very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative? If you do not know enough to have an opinion, please say so.

The words "most of whom are conservatives" didn't belong in the question.

It was more than a little presumptuous, and may even be inaccurate, for NBC/WSJ to tell those polled that "most" TPMers are "conservatives." First, the question's wording works to create an advance negative impression among those -- even liberals mugged by the reality of the Obama administration's spending increases -- who have been conditioned to be averse to anything described as "conservative." Additionally, the TPM has a strong libertarian streak; many libertarians are disinclined to look favorably at anything characterized as "conservative."

The use of "any type of tax increases" is also a cheap shot, especially given that many in the TPM support the creation of Fair Tax, a national sales tax that if implemented as intended would replace the income tax and many other taxes. It would be correct to say that vast majority of the TPM opposes "any net tax increases." If the question was going to venture into that territory, it should have included that extra word.

Additionally, the poll question's description of the movement totally ignored one of its primary motivations: protesting and eventually doing something about the pervasive corruption present in so many levels of government, regardless of which political party happens to be in charge. Any legitimate attempt to describe what the TPM is all about cannot leave corruption out of the equation.

By comparison, a similar question about the political parties was plain vanilla, and was strangely included in a series that asked about other "public figures" (Number 7, starting on Page 5; Democrats second, Republicans third), along with Barack Obama (apparently always asked first), Tiger Woods (fourth), and Sarah Palin (last):

Now I'm going to read you the names of several public figures, and I'd like you to rate your feelings toward each one as either very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative. If you don't know the name, please just say so.
Finally, no review of an establishment media poll would be complete without identifying obvious bias in the sample. At Question F4 on Page 20, we learn of the partisan makeup of the sample:

Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican, an independent, or something else? (IF "DEMOCRAT" OR "REPUBLICAN," ASK:) Would you call yourself a strong (Democrat/Republican) or not a very strong (Democrat/Republican)? (IF "INDEPENDENT," ASK:) Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party, closer to the Democratic Party, or do you think of yourself as strictly independent?

Strong Democrat - 22%
Not very strong Democrat - 8%
Independent/lean Democrat - 10%
Strictly Independent - 19%
Independent/lean Republican - 13%
Not very strong Republican - 9%
Strong Republican - 12%
Other (VOL) - 5%
Not sure - 2%

A sample with 22% strong Democrats only represents one thing: A sample that should be thrown out.

Mathews's contention that the poll favored the TPM is self-evidently ludicrous on not just one but two levels.

The NBC/WSJ poll Mathews disputes as would have turned into a TPM rout if the movement had been properly described (or alternatively, not described at all), and if the poll's sample had been truly representative.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.