Tuesday, July 19, 2011

There Are Lies, Damned Lies, and CBS

My article is up at Big Hollywood! Go take a look: (Link)! I’ll wait right here for ya. :-)

Did you know the American people back Barack Obama on the current debt negotiations? It’s true. . . if you believe CBS. And why shouldn’t you believe CBS? I’ll tell you why.

According to the CBS poll 43% of the public approves of Obama’s handing of the debt ceiling crisis (48% don’t), but only 21% of the public approves of the Republicans (58% disapprove). Hence, Obama is winning the PR war.

But there's a catch. As is CBS’s history, the sample CBS uses is heavily skewed to the left. Indeed, CBS includes 11 percentage points more Democrats than Republicans in its final results (35% Democrats to 24% Republicans). If we back that out, Obama’s approval falls to 32%. That’s hardly resounding.

But there’s more. The poll doesn’t actually give us enough information to determine how valid their independents are. Specifically, there are no baseline questions that let us determine if these people lean left or right. All we know is they have self-identified as independents. And, frankly, we have no reason to think that CBS's collection methods were any less skewed for independents than they were for Democrats and Republicans. Thus, we have no reason to think the independents aren’t equally skewed 11% to the left because CBS's methods were clearly left-biased. And looking at the responses given by the independents, they mimic the Democratic responses far too closely for any set of genuine independents I’ve seen in a poll in the last three years.

Nevertheless, even if we accept them at face value, only 37% of independents approve of Obama’s handling of the debt ceiling crisis (52% disapprove). Those aren’t numbers that win you re-election. In fact, they are damning.

What's more, CBS is billing this as “just 21 percent backing the Republican resistance to raising taxes.” But that’s not the question that was actually asked in the survey. The survey asks whether people approve or disapprove of the Republicans’ “handling” of the negotiations. It never asks if they support raising taxes or not. Indeed, the “handling” question is meaningless as it will capture both those who want a stronger stance and those who want a weaker stance. That’s why you need to ask more (or different) questions to get useful results. Of course, CBS didn't do that. Can you guess why?

Now in truth, the Republicans don’t fare well with any group in this poll. So that is a concern. But there are two problems with drawing any conclusions from that. First, the poll never asked why people are upset at the Republicans. According to the poll 51% of Republican respondents disapprove of the Republicans, but does anyone really think that’s because average Republicans want tax hikes? Or is it more likely a response to a leadership that keeps undercutting each other and doesn’t seem to have a game plan? We can't say from this poll. But I can tell you that Rasmussen reports that 55% of the public (Democrats, Republicans and Independent combined) oppose tax hikes as part of the debt ceiling deal (only 34% disagree). Republican opposition is in the 80% range. So it’s more likely people are upset about Republican weakness than their opposition to taxes.

Also, none of the other polls out there support CBS's results. The Republicans lead the generic Congressional poll 44% to 38%. Obama’s approval ratings are a horrible 45% approval to 54% disapproval, with only 38% approving of his handling of the economy. Even in a Presidential race, TOTUS loses 48% to 43% to a generic Republican. That's really bad. And none of that is consistent with CBS’s findings.

So why were we supposed to trust CBS again?

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