Sunday, July 11, 2010

John Smithson, Conservatives Skew Poll To Push Agenda

I was reading John Smithson's blog today and I noticed something which I found interesting.  Smithson wrote three posts today regarding President Obama, trying to point out that the president was having a bad week.  I thought two of the posts were very interesting and I thought I might share my opinions on them.

First, let me sum up the two different articles. 

In the first post, Smithson references a National Review Online article by Jim Geraghty, in which Garaghty points to a poll conducted by Democracy Corps, a non-profit organization dedicated to making a more responsive government, in which 55 percent of "likely voters" find the president to be socialist.  Smithson wrote: "In a poll taken by James Carville, he found that 55% of the population considered Obama a socialist . . . . . something we conservative bloggers have been telling you for nearly a year and a half -- if not longer."

In the second post, Smithson references an ABC News article by Alice Gomstyn, in which Gomstyn writes that the Labor Department estimates that there was over $7 billion in overpayments to the unemployed.  Smithson writes that he does not "not think this is 'Obama's fault'" and "that public opinion is running so high against Obama that anything negative goes directly to his polling numbers."  This reader is uncertain as to why Smithson put "Obama's fault" in quotation marks.

Now I would like to analyze the two posts and explain why I am lumping them both together.

Smithson and Geraghty referenced the Democracy Corps poll for a reason - using results from a firm created by Democrats to try and give their articles a level of legitimacy not found in similar conservative polls, the two intended to prove that Obama is a socialist and that Americans are not satisfied with the president because of his perceived politics.  Unfortunately, that is not the case. 

Actually having read the Geraghty article and the Democracy Corps poll, I noticed some interesting things.  Geraghty wrote the following:
Deep in the poll, they ask, “Now, I am going to read you a list of words and phrases which people use to describe political figures. For each word or phrase, please tell me whether it describes Barack Obama very well, well, not too well, or not well at all.”

On “too liberal,” 35 percent of likely voters say it describes Obama “very well,” 21 percent say “well,” 21 percent say “not too well,” and 17 percent say “not well at all.” In other words, 56 percent of likely voters consider Obama too liberal.

When asked about “a socialist,” 33 percent of likely voters say it describes Obama “very well,” 22 percent say “well,” 15 percent say “not too well,” and 25 percent say “not well at all.”
In other words, 55 percent of likely voters think “socialist” is a reasonably accurate way of describing Obama.

Geraghty and Smithson conveniently leave out the poll results that show just how significant the perception
 that the president is a socialist plays into those dissaproval ratings - the poll indicate that out of 256 respondents who answered that they had an unfavorable opinion of the Obama's job performance, the total amount of respondents who felt Obama being a socialist/communist only totaled 8, or 3%.  Now contrast those figures to how John Smithson depicts them:
"In a poll taken by James Carville, he found that 55% of the population considered Obama a socialist."
First off, Smithson is mistaken.  Only 55% of likely voters consider Obama a socialist (the number is slightly lower when including drop-off voters).  Secondly, as I pointed out before, the poll indicates that only 3% have an unfavorable opinion of the president possibly being a socialist or communist, meaning that a vast majority of the population have no problem at all with his political leanings.

Now consider the second post of Smithson's that I referenced.  Smithson points out a negative headline, but then states that it is not the president's fault and that even though it is not the president's fault, his poll numbers are negatively affected.  Smithson essentially states that any negative polling of Obama's job performance are skewed to be higher then what they really are, of course he adds the caveat that Obama's performance numbers were already low, but using his logic, isn't it safe tos ay that those numbers were also skewed?.

Also, there was something interesting about the poll results that I noticed, especially in regards to people who have a negative opinion of the president - they seemed to cite as reasons for not liking the president the typical right-wing talking points, i.e. the president is a socialist or communist, inexperienced, or partisan.  They also mention policies that they are dissattisfied with like fiscal irresponsibility, health care, the oil spill, taxes, foreign policy, the military, or moral issues. 

The poll also indicated that more drop-off voters actually hold favorable views of the president, which plays perfectly into the Spiral of Silence theory - those who are satisfied wish not to upset the vocal minority (a majority of drop-off voters approve of the president).  It also showed that drop-of voters overwhelmingly preferred Democratic candidates to Republican ones, leading by 14 points.  

Oh yeah - Smithson may have gotten his facts wrong regarding the poll, too.  Smithson wrote that the poll was taken by James Carville when in actuality, it was conducted by Democracy Corps, a non-profit organization he co-founded.  The organization does not list Carville as part of their professional staff.  That would be like saying the Pope personally greenlights and oversees every project undertaken by each individual Catholic church in the world.

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