If you've already seen Brent Baker and Rich Noyes summarize how ABC downplayed their own Bush approval rating number after reporting CBS's lower number the week before, there's one more angle. How did ABC's partner, the Washington Post, play the poll? Pretty much the same. Tuesday's paper featured a front-page graphic showing 80 percent of poll respondents think a civil war is likely in Iraq. Then on A3, Post pollster Richard Morin highlighted the civil war finding. The headline: "Majority in U.S. Fears Iraq Civil War: Poll Also Finds Growing Doubt About Bush."
But "growing doubt" isn't found in the approval number. In paragraph six, we finally read: "Recent U.S. reversals in Iraq have not dramatically reduced overall support for President Bush, in contrast to some other national polls. His overall job approval rating stood at 41 percent, essentially unchanged from January. Nearly six in 10 disapproved of his job performance, the 11th consecutive survey since last April in which at least half the country has been critical of Bush's leadership." How are these polls slanted? Let us count the ways.
First, see how negative these highlighted questions are. "How likely do you think it is that conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq will lead to a civil war there?" And: "Do you think the Bush administration does or does not have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq?" These questions seem designed to goose public opinion into more hopelessness.
Second, how much does the average American being polled know about the prospects for civil war in Iraq? Does the average American know what the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite even is? Does the highly educated Washingtonian today feel they can confidently predict the intensity of future religious strife in Iraq? I certainly don't.
Neither ABC nor the Post were very hot on noting that poll respondents also found that Democrats in Congress don't have a clear plan on Iraq (which is true, they can't agree on one). At the bottom of the Post poll story, they did have a graphic showing that 70 percent said Democrats don't have a plan, compared to 65 percent saying Bush doesn't have a plan. They also show that the approval/disapproval rating of Congress is 36 and 62, lower than the President's. Do you think that could have been on the front page -- or even in the A-3 headline?
Late in the story, there's more interesting tidbits that sound like better ratings for Bush and declining ratings for Democrats, which just as easily could have been the front-page news -- if the paper liked President Bush instead of the Democrats:
-- Paragraph 15: "Although news from Iraq has not been good, the survey suggests Bush has been helped somewhat by improving perceptions of the U.S. economy. Forty-three percent believe the economy is either excellent or good, up from 35 percent four months ago. And nearly half -- 48 percent -- of the country approve of the way Bush is handling the economy, 12 points higher than in November. Still, slightly more than half (51 percent) disapprove."
-- Paragraphs 17 and 18: "Perceptions of Democrats, who have struggled to take advantage of Bush's lack of popularity, declined on several measures. In late January, Democrats held a clear advantage over Republicans -- 55 to 37 percent -- on which party could best handle the economy. In the new poll, Democrats still led, but by 49 to 40 percent.
"The survey found a similar shift on Iraq. In January, Democrats had an advantage of 47 to 40 percent on which party could better handle the situation there, but the new poll found Americans evenly divided -- 42 percent on each side -- on that question."
As Baker noticed, Morin's story doesn't even mention other numbers that he noticed:
ABC and the Post skipped that when asked about how after 9/11 the "FBI was given additional authority in areas like surveillance, wiretaps and obtaining records in terrorism investigations," 62 percent said they favor the power and as for the National Security Agency "secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails between some people in the United States and other countries, without first getting court approval to do so," 54 percent consider it "acceptable."
So in summation, ABC and the Post show tremendous polling in bias news in this process:
1. Slant the news toward the negative.
2. Then slant the polling questions toward the negative news.
3. Ask the public about the future after you've only offered negative news.
4. Report the negative predictions of the future as your lead on the polling story.
5. Omit or submerge all the polling numbers that suggest Bush supporters have some reason for hope.
Oh, and I forgot the usual, 6: Sloppily went about interviewing more Democrat-leaners than the general population. Ankle Biting Pundits has an analysis.