June 11, 2008

The Big Picture(s): Revisiting the media coverage, public opinion [Karl]

Regular pw vistiors know that one of my hobbyhorses is the lack of nuance many have when it comes to interpreting public opinion polls.  Sadly, HotAir’s Allahpundit — a top blogger by most any measure — is a serial offender in this regard (though I sometimes wonder if the pessimism is synergistic with the directive to drive traffic).

Today, Allahpundit blogs on McCain’s actually innocuous comment about a US troop presence in Iraq:

 The demagoguery has already begun, transparently as a way of pushing the Narrative away from the inconvenient details about casualties being down and the surge working better than the Sage of Chicago, for all his supposed judgment on Iraq, foresaw. Can’t knock the Dems for seizing on it: Even the most recent opinion polls on Iraq are basically impervious to news of progress and the timing is fortuitous for them given the reports about some members of the Iraqi government playing hardball in negotiating the extent of the American troop presence next year.

***

The eternal question — how much of the imperviousness of those polls is due to insufficient coverage of the progress made?

Having written at some length on the media’s coverage of the Iraq conflict in a series starting with “The Big Picture(s),” I would respond — perhaps surprisingly to some — that Allahpundit is partially misreading public opinion on Iraq and the dearth of media coverage of progress has not been as large a factor as some might think.

First, the premise that public opinion is impervious to news of progress in Iraq is overstated.  Looking at the PollingReport link Allahpundit provides shows that public opinion has remained largely unchanged on the questions of President Bush’s handling of Iraq, whether Iraq was a mistake and whether to get out sooner rather than later.

As the first two questions are asked in most polls, it is impossible to know the degree to which having injected Pres. Bush in the first question affects the answers to the second.   As for the third question, a plurality usually falls in the middle, depending on how much choice is allowed by the question.  Otherwise the answer tends to be sooner — which should shock no one; even those who supported the mission would prefer to complete it quickly as well as successfully.

Moreover, there has recently been much hindsight discussion about the wisdom of the administration’s emphasis on WMDs as the primary justification for the invasion.  Regardless of where one comes down in theat debate, the polling on whether the invasion was a mistake is likely fixed for the foreseeable future because the average person polled viewed WMDs as the (prime) reason for the invasion and no stockpiles were found.  The politically-involved can debate the details, or curse those polled for their lack of nuance, but I would suggest that dynamic accounts for the steady polling on the question.

Those questions, however, do not reflect the entirety of public opinion on the mission in Iraq. Let’s review the same poll data compiled at PollingReport.  The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll taken at the end of April shows that 39% think things are going very or moderately well in Iraq — an increase of 11% from April 2007.  The ABC News/Washington Post Poll taken April 10-13, 2008, shows 40% think the US is making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq — an 8% increase from a year ago.  The CBS News Poll taken March 15-18, 2008 showed 42% thinking the surge had improved conditions in Iraq — up 12% from September 2007.  So the polls are fairly consistent in showing a 10% swing to about 40% thinking the surge is making significant progress.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll taken March 14-16, 2008 showed 57% thinking the US would likely or certainly win. The USA Today/Gallup Poll taken Feb. 21-24, 2008, showed that 60% think the US should have a timetable for withdrawal, but also showed 65% thought the US had an obligation to stay to establish a reasonable level of stability.  And so on.  These sorts of numbers buttress the notion that the steady numbers on whether invading Iraq was a mistake reflect a more general opinion, as opposed to an opinion about the current trends.

Furthermore, it is instructive to look at the polling data on what people think the top issues and priorities are for the country.  Iraq now ranks second or third in these questions, in comparison to 2007, when Iraq was generally considered the number one issue.  Some of that shift undoubtedly reflects public anxiety over the economy, but the current trends in Iraq — and perhaps the dearth of media coverage — are also likely factors.

That being said, if the establishment media gave more time and space to the current trends in Iraq, the polling numbers might well be even better than they are.  But I doubt increased coverage would move the hindsight judgments as much as those about the present and the future.  There may be room for more people to be convinced that the US is making significant progress in Iraq before hitting the ceiling of those fully invested in defeat.  That is one reason we have election campaigns.

Update: Allah-lanche! Shocka!

Posted by Karl @ 2:21pm
27 comments | Trackback

Comments (27)

  1. Karl, questions are frequently rotated in polls to eliminate systematic interactive effects. Can’t say it’s done in all cases you reference, but it’s common practice.

  2. Dr.Steve,

    Although it would not be shown at PollingReport, I looked at most of the polling on Iraq when I wrote my original essay. The topline questionnaires did not suggest that the questions were rotated, though they may have been. It’s one reason I say we don’t know the degree of an interactive effect — a point which is not really central here, given my main hypothesis regarding the “mistake” questions.

  3. Those questions, however, do not reflect the entirety of public opinion on the mission in Iraq. Let’s review the same poll data compiled at PollingReport. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll taken at the end of April shows that 39% think things are going very or moderately well in Iraq — an increase of 11% from April 2007. The ABC News/Washington Post Poll taken April 10-13, 2008, shows 40% think the US is making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq — an 8% increase from a year ago. The CBS News Poll taken March 15-18, 2008 showed 42% thinking the surge had improved conditions in Iraq — up 12% from September 2007. So the polls are fairly consistent in showing a 10% swing to about 40% thinking the surge is making significant progress.

    Karl, where can this poll be found? Do you have a link to it, by any chance? Thanks!

  4. Kathy, all of those numbers are from the link for “impervious” in the blockquote of the original posting.

  5. Hey, glamorous defeatism and gloom is the order of the day.

    Just wait until McCain wins. You’ll get nothing but suicidal depression and misery from the conservative pundits.

    Being confident and positive, making the best out of a less-than-ideal situation, is for pussies. Real men complain, bitch, whine, and kvetch endlessly.

    Look at General Petraeus. How do you think he won in Iraq? He motivates his troops by telling them they were doomed.

    Worked like a charm.

  6. I am going to flog my hobby-horse also. For those who want information on polling and how to review polls, there is the National Council on Public Polling – http://www.ncpp.org

    Well worth looking over for the political buff.

  7. Pingback: Media Mythbusters Blog » Blog Archive » Media Bias Roundup - 06/11/08

  8. NUANCE!

  9. Once again, i must offer the opinion that these polls do not give any kind of actual view into true opinion -other than to move people into the pollster’s/ MSM “preferred” view.

    When you are asked if you think our troops are doing poorly, a year ago the honest answer was yes. But the polls don’t have anything to say about whether you approve of the Iraq war, or not, but the answer “poorly” becomes, by association, an anti-war stance.

    Polls have no nuance, and that is why I decline to be involved when I have been asked my opinion (very rarely, by the way). My opinions and feelings about whatever, are never included in the poll, because you have, usually, four or five answers to pick from. And none of them represent my true thoughts. By being honest in a poll , the “polled” are swept into one end or the other, and the middle reality of true perceptions is completely ignored.

    Polls are for the drive bys to influence your thinking in the way that they want to. They have nothing to do with real opinions. If they did, they would not have impossibly limited multiple choice answers, that, no matter how they are replied to, only allow the MSM to paint any picture they want.

    Polls? Schmolls!

    I am convinced that this is the year that the Commu – er -socialists are finally making the all out push to put this country as we know it to death. George Soros is intimately involved, as are all the morons who have no clue what the constitution says, or why it was chosen as the BEDROCK of this country.

    A living document? Nah. I don’t think so. To the Obamaists, it is a BURNING document.

    It really is kinda scary. Not so much for me, but, my God! What is my son going to have to deal with?

    .

    I paint my own pictures. And they are NOT always pretty!

  10. Karl, I agree it’s not central, and I frankly have no way of knowing whether it was done in the polls you referred to (as I noted above). Filed as a friend of the court.

    How’ve y’all been?

  11. - Polls – the Political answer to Candy grams to yourself.

  12. Tolerably well, Dr. Steve.

  13. “the reports about some members of the Iraqi government playing hardball in negotiating the extent of the American troop presence next year.”

    What kind of a pussy does one have to be to think that the Iraqis raising objections is ‘playing hardball’?

  14. None whatsoever, andrea. But you do have to be a bit of a pussy to think that Chris Matthews is playing hardball.

    Next question, please.

  15. Here’s the key number for imperviousness from Quinnipiac–Withdraw immediately:
    22%, Set a Timetable: 48%, Stay as long as it takes: 28%, Unsure 3%. Seventy percent want either immediate withdrawal or a timetable whether they think the surge is making progress or not. Only 28% approve of the Bush/McCain “strategery” of staying “as long as it takes” to make Iraq a secure puppet state. In fact, support for the Bush/McCain approach is not that much larger than support for withdrawing immediately. McCain is going to have to get a lot better at selling his “maverickness” if he hopes to overcome those numbers.

  16. aw, he’s not even trying anymore.

  17. Set a Timetable? Do you know how stupid you look quoting a poll that has something as meaningless as “set a timetable” as its consensus answer? How about we stay for 200 years and then start withdrawing one soldier a month. There. That is a timetable, you cool with that?

    Have you figured out what an apostate is yet?

  18. “But you do have to be a bit of a pussy to think that Chris Matthews is playing hardball.”

    Clearly thats absolute puffery. Like a ‘no spin zone.’ But if we can’t take the other side objecting to our offers in negotiations, then I see why people are so afraid to talk to other countries.

  19. But if we can’t take the other side objecting to our offers in negotiations

    who said that?

  20. If you could be bothered to click on the link and read the story, andrea, you would see several references to infighting among the Iraqis themselves, with accusations of brinksmanship, bad faith and diplomatic sabotage. All of which reasonable, informed people might consider hardball compared to simple good faith negotiations. But go ahead and nit pick semantics, that is at least better than Caric’s moronic polls.

  21. A group of my ex-military friends have started initial planning for homecoming parades in Washington, DC, for troops returning from Iraq. Sometime in October. Obama will not be invited to speak.

  22. I believe there’s a line item on budgets for this.

    You need a sense of humor.

  23. But if we can’t take the other side objecting to our offers in negotiations, then I see why people are so afraid to talk to other countries.

    I bet andrea is smart enough to know what a load of horseshit the “afraid” line is, so either this is sarcasm without a marker or it’s an example of why there is so little effective communication on this subject. In either case, it sure does make her edgy.

  24. Edu Guy – It is a female alphie.

  25. JD – We’re going to change the world by lying about it. Plans built on a solid foundation of dishonesty, innuendo and wishful thinking have the best chance of success, and really who cares because we are just going to lie about the outcomes as well.

    Now who wants pie?

  26. You need a sense of humor.

    Will O! give us free universal humorcare? A War on Humorlessness™?

  27. Pingback: Hot Air » Blog Archive » WaPo poll: 61% disagree with Supreme Court on Gitmo detainee habeas rights

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