McClatchy misrepresents Quinnipiac poll on Ricci case

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

A McClatchy article misrepresented poll findings from Quinnipiac University to falsely claim that a "strong majority of the American people oppose" Judge Sonia Sotomayor's position in Ricci v. DeStefano. In fact, the poll question to which McClatchy referred did not ask about Sotomayor's position in the case.

In a June 3 McClatchy Newspapers article, reporter Brendan Doyle falsely asserted that a "strong majority of the American people oppose the position that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor took on an affirmative action case [Ricci v. DeStefano] that will figure prominently in her Senate confirmation hearings, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll." Doyle later added that "71 percent favor promoting the white firefighters, plus one Hispanic, who scored well on the test, and only 19 percent side with the city -- and Sotomayor -- in abandoning the test and awarding no promotions." In fact, the poll question to which Doyle referred did not ask about Sotomayor's position in the case -- whether Sotomayor and the other members of the majority correctly applied U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals precedent in interpreting a federal statute. Rather, the poll asked whether the Supreme Court, which doesn't have to consider 2nd Circuit precedent, should rule for the city or order it to promote the 14 white and one Hispanic firefighters who scored high enough for promotion.

The Quinnipiac University poll question at issue stated:

As you may know, the United States Supreme Court will be deciding a case involving New Haven, CT's use of promotion tests for firefighters. Because no blacks scored high enough to qualify for promotion, the city decided to throw the test out. Do you think the Supreme Court should uphold the city or order the city to promote the 14 white and one Hispanic firefighters who scored high enough for promotion?

Doyle's misrepresentation of the poll question echoes Quinnipiac University's own misrepresentation of the question in its press release on the poll findings. As Media Matters for America noted, in a June 3 release, Quinnipiac falsely claimed that "American voters ... disagree 71-19 percent with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's ruling in the New Haven firefighters' case, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today." The headline of the Quinnipiac poll release similarly falsely claimed that "U.S. Voters Disagree 3-1 With Sotomayor On Key Case, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds." MSNBC hosts Willie Geist and Monica Novotny have also misrepresented the Quinnipiac poll.

From the June 3 McClatchy Newspapers article, "Public disagrees with Sotomayor in poll on affirmative action case":

A strong majority of the American people oppose the position that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor took on an affirmative action case that will figure prominently in her Senate confirmation hearings, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

In the case, Ricci v. DeStefano, Sotomayor sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., which threw out the results of a test used to promote firefighters when no blacks achieved a score high enough to merit promotion.

Americans oppose that decision strongly; 71 percent favor promoting the white firefighters, plus one Hispanic, who scored well on the test, and only 19 percent side with the city -- and Sotomayor -- in abandoning the test and awarding no promotions.

[...]

The survey adds fuel to Republican plans to make Sotomayor's ruling on the case a political issue during her Senate confirmation hearings.

[...]

A majority of every demographic group -- Republicans, Democrats, Independents, men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics -- favored the promotion of the firefighters who passed the test. The strongest support for Sotomayor's decision came from African-Americans. However, a majority, 53 percent, disagreed with it, while 33 percent agreed and 14 percent had no opinion.

Despite the tide of public disagreement with her New Haven ruling, that doesn't necessarily mean that the public opposes Sotomayor's nomination. Asked if her vote on that question makes it more or less likely that they'd support her nomination, 59 percent said it makes no difference, while 28 percent said it makes them less likely to support her, 7 percent said more likely, and 6 percent had no opinion.

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