Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Edit: mixed up something that has since been rectified. Also, closed a parentheses.

Well, as Uggabugga has been pointing out, the Usual Suspects are slamming the NYTimes/CBS poll as being flawed and biased in some respects. Not overly surprising, but what is surprising is just how weak the attacks are.

Firstly, we get constant streams of complaints that the NY Times didn't put up their questions or the responses. Fair 'nuff, but that doesn't mean that their interpretations are incorrect, just that they didn't feel the need to break down the responses to each question. Considering that there are 87 questions, I'd say that's a pretty fair cop, and CBS put up the info on their website. Since the Times does give credit to CBS as a co-sponsor of the poll and considering that anybody who was actually interested could easily find the poll (and did), it's kind of a non-issue.

Secondly, we get amateurish whining about the article and about the authors, where we have the neo-con or Rhino bias substituted in for whatever bias might actually exist. Not overly surprising, but still somewhat depressing.

Thirdly, we get complaints about the poll itself; the questions, and the analysis. For this I turn to the Weakly Standard, who made great hash about the analysis:

Question Three. "What do you think is the single most important problem for the government--that is, the president and Congress--to address in the coming year?" Nagourney and Elder write that voters answered they are "more concerned about the economy and domestic issues than with what is happening to Saddam Hussein." In fact, however, Times/CBS poll respondents identified "Terrorism/War/Security" as the one "most important problem" facing government (30 percent), with "Economy/Jobs/Stock Market" ranking second (26 percent). And even this result understates the truth: Listed third among the responses is an additional foreign policy category, "Iraq" (7 percent)--which means that voters principally concerned with international matters outnumber those who prefer to think about issues that "Democrats had hoped to capitalize on" by an almost 3-to-2 margin.
Look at this paragraph, but more importantly look not at what they did put in, but what they didn't. What they didn't include were all the other choices, which include: "Medicare/Social Security", "Education", "Poverty/Homelessness", "Health Care", "Budget Deficit/National Debt", "Business Ethics/Corporate Ethics", and "other". Yes, Iraq and Terrorism together trump the blanket "economy" figure, but they don't by any means trump all the other figures, and the only one that perhaps isn't directly an economic concern is "other". (Both Medicare/Social Security and Education are fundamentally economic concerns, and are hugely affected by the economic state of the United States.)

Indeed, if you look at the "independent" field, more independents care about Social Security/Medicare than about Iraq, and trying to tie together Iraq and terrorism doesn't wash; that's assuming a connection that the American people have not themselves made. Plus, there's about a dozen other questions that show that people really do care about the economy and are worried about it- questions that the Standard isn't bringing up.

Another example, and this time of gross lying on the part of the Standard themselves? Take a look:

Question Eighteen. "Which of these should be the higher priority for the nation right now--the economy and jobs, or terrorism and national security?" This, of course, is simply a forced-choice restatement of the more open-ended Question Three, above. And its results therefore speak more directly to the conclusion suggested by the Times' front-page sub-hed: "Poll Finds Lawmakers Focusing Too Much on Iraq and Too Little on Issues at Home." Trouble is, Question Eighteen's results flatly contradict that sub-hed. A full 50 percent of respondents said terrorism should be a higher priority than the economy. And only 35 percent said the opposite--again, a nearly 3-to-2 preference for foreign policy.
Unfortunately, question 17 does not. Question 17 is, of course, the source of the main "70%" headline, and it really does say that 70% of people really do think that there should focus more on the economy. (17% say "War with Iraq", and 13% say "Both"... since both are not being focused on right now, that's more like 83% in favor of more economic discussion.) The two questions are related, of course, but also look at the distinction (again!) between what's being asked here. One says "War with Iraq", and the other says "Terrorism". Yes, Americans say that the U.S. government should prioritize terrorism, but that does not by any means or by any standards back up the Standard's assertion that the Times is being remotely disingenous by saying that Americans are sick of the Iraq question. In fact, it shows the assumptions of the Standard (as I mentioned above) that the American people actually think that Iraq and Terror are synonymous, an assumption that they give no reason for.

Funny thing is, even if you do assume that, these two questions are "half-samples". Add them together and average them out, and you still get a massive call for more focus on the Economy on the part of the polled citizens, especially if you (logically) add in "Both" to the "Economy" side. By leaving out question 17 and the "half-poll" aspect, the Standard does a fantastic job of blowing apart its own critique.

To be honest, though, question-by question responses are unnecessary due to a simple fact. There are eighty-seven questions on this poll. Of all of these, the Standard could find three to criticize, two of which, as I've shown above, are perfectly credible. They didn't even address or mention the other questions, which again brings up the question of what exactly they aren't telling us. How many questions contradict the ones that they've pulled out? Why do they just keep on comparing it to the headline, instead of actual text in the article? Why leave out CBS, whose findings were substantially similar? As Holmes said, why didn't the dog bark?

In the end, the answer is clear. There's no reason to doubt the Times study on the key point of Economy vs. Iraq, and every reason to doubt its critics. Once again, the neo-cons (and Rhinos) prove that they're spinners and little else. Half-assed spinners at that.

(By the way, the .pdf of the study is here, for those who want to check themselves.)

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