Polling | Media Matters for America

Polling

Tags ››› Polling
  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • Wash. Post falls for anti-choice talking points and spin on abortion polling

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post attempted to explore millennials’ supposed support for abortion restrictions after 20 weeks, but instead pushed anti-choice talking points and failed to account for the intricacies and challenges of producing accurate polling on abortion.

    On January 29, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have banned abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy -- a bill that is based on the scientifically unsound premise that fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks. The Washington Post published an article on January 31 that claimed the bill’s failure “may have offended” a demographic group “both parties are highly interested in winning: millennial voters.” The Post argued that millennials “view later-term abortions differently than abortions overall” by pointing to a Quinnipiac poll from January 2017 that allegedly showed “nearly half — 49 percent — of 18- to 34-year-olds said they would support” a 20-week abortion ban, but that the same group polled at only 9 percent support for the complete outlawing of abortion.

    Accordingly, the Post zeroed in the outrage of younger anti-abortion activists about the failed bill, explaining that the outlet thought that was where “some of the loudest criticism” was originating from. To support this, the Post pointed to a tweet from Lila Rose, the founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action and comments by Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America (SFLA). Hawkins told the Post, “For those Senators who voted against the bill, millennials will be asking how they can embrace such an inhumane procedure for infants who soon can survive outside the womb, and the pro-life generation will hold them accountable.” The article concluded, “The culture battle over abortion is not over — and will continue with the youngest generation of voters.”

    The Post published the anti-abortion talking points of Hawkins and Rose without providing any opposing viewpoints -- giving them free reign to advance their assertions. Beyond quoting Hawkins and Rose, some media outlets have given them a platform to repeat their disingenuous narrative that millennials do not support abortion rights and will ultimately be the group that successfully outlaws abortion. Abortion opponents like Hawkins and Rose often point to polling to support their assertions that millennials, and Americans in general, either want to restrict or completely ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although, the Post and many outlets may attempt to objectively explore Americans' opinions on abortion access, when they do so by relying on decontextualized polling data, such pieces can easily slip into a flawed framing that misrepresents the range of opinions on this topic.

    Polling on abortion should be nuanced and not rely on narrow categories or labels

    As Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained, although “abortion usually gets framed as a two-sided debate” that “Americans support abortion rights, or they don’t,” people “don’t live in this world of absolutes.” Kliff stated that “what most discourse [about abortion] misses is the nuance — the personal factors and situations that influence how each individual thinks about the issue.” Indeed, as Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem -- a public-opinion research firm -- wrote for Vox, her experience as a researcher and pollster demonstrated to her that on abortion, “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” According to Undem, most “standard measures” that firms and outlets use across the spectrum “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue:

    The standard measures ask respondents about when or in what cases abortion should be legal. The question wording and response categories vary across pollsters. But when collapsed into two categories — legal and illegal — you tend to get a divided public.

    [...]

    When it comes to "real life" views on the issue — how people actually experience abortion — the numbers get even more intriguing. Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    [...]

    We need to ask questions about how the public views abortion policy — but do so in a more real and accurate way. We shouldn’t, for example, simply ask "Do you support or oppose recent restrictions to abortion?" when we know most people aren’t aware of any trend or what the restrictions might be.

    Kliff's and Undem's criticisms of standard polling methodologies should greatly influence how outlets interpret and deploy the findings of polling about abortion. For example, the Quinnipiac poll cited by the Post gave respondents a limiting set of categories to express whether they support legal abortion or not; those categories were whether abortion should be “legal in all cases,” “legal in most cases,” “illegal in most cases,” or “illegal in all cases.” As one public opinion research specialist told ThinkProgress, these categories and reductive labels, such as 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' “are ‘very superficial,’ particularly because researchers have known for quite some time that the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labels don’t accurately reflect the American public’s complicated attitudes about abortion.” Indeed, Vox found that when polls gave people options beyond selecting just ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ “about four in 10 Americans” rejected the binary labels, including 18 percent who chose both.

    Vox’s polling also found that Americans have a variety of misunderstandings about the actual realities of abortion, including the prevalence of abortion (they think it’s rarer than it is) and whether the procedure is safe (they inaccurately think it’s more dangerous than it is). Vox suggested that polling about specific laws restricting abortion access could be misleading if questions do not provide an explanation for what those laws entail. For example, before the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, only 15 percent of people polled had heard about the case, but when a polling question explained that the law in dispute led to abortions clinics being closed in Texas, 65 percent respondents said the law put “an undue burden on women who are seeking an abortion.”

    Thus, giving people static categories to choose from to express their opinions about abortion -- particularly ones that are divorced from “how people actually experience” the procedure -- leads to misleading findings that are often misused by outlets, intentionally or not.

    Polling on support for 20-week abortion ban should reflect individualized reasoning for access to later abortions

    Right-wing media frequently push the idea that the majority of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban -- often relying on polling as evidence of their claims. However, just as questions asked in narrow categories often fail to accurately reflect Americans’ actual opinions on abortion access, polling that merely asks whether people support a 20-week ban similarly misrepresents public opinion on the matter in a way that unduly bolsters right-wing and anti-abortion claims.

    There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on the Zika virus found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation.

    In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.” Polling by PerryUndem also showed that people believe that the the power to decide when to have an abortion should be with the woman, her doctor, and the larger medical community -- and not determined by politicians.

    Reporting on abortion polling should reflect that individuals support abortions access because of the reality that people obtain abortions for a variety of personal reasons -- and that when polling considers the specifics of a person’s experience, respondents are far more likely to support greater access to abortion care.

    Media should avoid the dangerous strategy of incompletely reporting on abortion viewpoints, oversimplifying (whether intentionally or not) public opinion polling, or propping up figures who self-servingly tout this talking point, as the Post’s January 31 article ultimately did.

  • Leaked Fox Memo Says Online Polls "Do Not Meet Our Editorial Standards"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Business Insider reported that the Fox News vice president for public-opinion research sent an internal memo “reminding television producers and the politics team that unscientific online polls ‘do not meet our editorial standards.’” 

    After the September 26 presidential debate, Fox News hosts and contributors repeatedly cited online polls, which largely favored Republican nominee Donald Trump, to defend Trump’s widely panned performance. Fox & Friends continued to hype online polls on September 28, the day after the internal Fox memo was sent, with co-host Brian Kilmeade stating that “the online polls show [Trump] winning an overwhelming margin.” In fact, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton dominated in scientific polls. 

    The September 27 memo, sent by Dana Blanton, Fox News’ vice president of public-opinion research, noted that “quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion.” Blanton wrote that "the sample obviously can't be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate.” From the September 28 Business Insider article:

    A Fox News executive sent a memo Tuesday afternoon reminding television producers and the politics team that unscientific online polls "do not meet our editorial standards."

    Dana Blanton, the vice president of public-opinion research at Fox News, explained in the memo obtained by Business Insider that "online 'polls' like the one on Drudge, Time, etc. where people can opt-in or self-select … are really just for fun."

    "As most of the publications themselves clearly state, the sample obviously can't be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate," Blanton wrote.

    As the Fox News executive pointed out, users who participate in such polls must have internet access, be online at the time of the poll, be fans of the website in question, and self-select to participate.

    "Another problem — we know some campaigns/groups of supporters encourage people to vote in online polls and flood the results," she wrote. "These quickie click items do not meet our editorial standards."

    At least three Fox News hosts cited unscientific online polls in the hours following Monday's presidential debate to suggest Donald Trump emerged as the winner of the political showdown.

    While Trump did, in fact, come out ahead in a slew of online polls, the polls were all unscientific, meaning the sample of participants did not accurately reflect the sample of viewers who watched the debate. Such polls are almost always discounted by professional pollsters and analysts.

    The only scientific survey conducted in the immediate aftermath was the CNN/ORC instant poll, which showed viewers thought Hillary Clinton handily defeated Trump. Respondents to a Morning Consult poll released Wednesday also said, by a 49% to 26% margin, that Clinton bested Trump in the debate.

    "News networks and other organizations go to great effort and rigor to conduct scientific polls — for good reason," Blanton wrote in the memo. "They know quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion."

  • Sad! Conservative Media Resort To Unskewing Negative Trump Polls

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    There they go again.

    Conservative media figures, apparently disheartened by recent poll results showing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump heading in the wrong direction, are once again claiming biased or unreliable pollsters are unfairly weighting results against their party. If this sounds familiar, it’s because they did the same thing in 2012, spending months attempting to “unskew” polls showing Mitt Romney losing, only to watch him be soundly defeated on election day.

    In the run-up to the 2012 election, conservatives consistently complained that polls showing President Obama in the lead were inaccurately counting the gap between self-identified Democrats and Republicans. According to this school of thought, the polls were being “skewed” to show Romney losing. One blogger, Dean Chambers, took the data in the polls and reweighted them with a partisan split friendlier to Republicans resulting in “unskewed” polls showing Romney easily winning. Chambers’ work -- which was more akin to wishful thinking than academic analysis -- was nonetheless widely cited by conservative media as evidence of a concerted effort to influence the results of the presidential election in Obama’s favor.

    The polls were not skewed. An average of 2012 election polling predicted that Obama would win by 0.7%. In reality, the victory was by a margin of 3.86%. If anything the polls undercounted Obama’s support.

    Polls can of course go up and down, and the occasional outlier is inevitable. But the argument that the partisan split that pollsters report as they survey voters is somehow skewed to help Democrats is a conspiracy, not actual analysis.

    Despite this, conservative media are once again pushing the “unskewed” theme as recent polls show Clinton leading Trump.

    This time, the charge against the polls is being led in part by the candidate himself. Trump recently responded to a poll showing him losing with tweets that complained “The @ABC poll sample is heavy on Democrats.  Very dishonest - why would they do that?” and “The ‘dirty’ poll done by @ABC @washingtonpost is a disgrace. Even they admit that many more Democrats were polled.”

    The ABC News/Washington Post poll in question shows Clinton ahead of Trump 51%-39%.

    FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noticed the reboot of the “unskewed” theme and asked, “Has anyone seen Donald Trump and Dean Chambers in the same room together?”

    Conservative media figures have also zeroed in on the ABC/Wash. Post poll for criticism. On Fox News’ Fox and Friends, co-host Steve Doocy said that in the methodology for the ABC/Washington Post poll “they actually talked to 12 percent more Democrats than Republicans,” adding, “According to the Gallup poll, there are 3 percent more Democrats in the country than Republicans, so it looks like they've got a favorite in it.” During the same segment, co-host Brian Kilmeade explained to viewers, “So far Donald Trump leads in most independent polls.” This is true, if by “most,” Kilmeade meant none of the last 21 polls included in Real Clear Politics’ general election polling data.  

    The methodology for the poll, conducted by Langer Research for ABC/Washington Post, addresses the partisan breakdown":

    Partisanship can follow political preferences, and in this poll Democrats account for 36 percent of all adults and 37 percent of registered voters – a non-significant (+3) difference from last month. (The former is numerically its highest since 2009, the latter, since 2012.) Republicans account for 24 percent of all adults and 27 percent of registered voters, about their average in recent years, with the rest independents.

    This accounts for little of the shift in voter preferences, however. Even using the same party divisions from last month’s ABC/Post survey, in which Trump was +2, he’d now be -8. The reason, mentioned above, is his comparatively weak performance among Republicans – 77 percent support – compared with Clinton’s support among Democrats, 90 percent. 

    A Reuters/Ipsos poll showing Clinton with a 13% lead over Trump prompted an outburst as well.

    On Fox News host Sean Hannity’s official website, a blog post complained the poll “is heavily skewed.” On his June 27 radio show, Hannity cited the partisan breakdown and described it as a “misleading poll” because the media is “in the tank for Hillary.”

    Hannity apparently didn’t learn his lesson about attempting to unskew polls in 2012, when he was saying things like, “These polls are so skewed, so phony, that we need to start paying attention to what’s going on so that you won’t be deflated.”

    In a post purporting to highlight “More Polling Tricks” from an “EXTREMELY SKEWED” poll, conservative blogger Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit complained this week that “Reuters freighted their poll with 20 percent more Democrats than Republicans” and concluded that “we can safely say that Trump appears to be in much better shape than the poll suggests and could likely be headed to a landslide victory in November.”

    Hoft made a similar argument in September of 2012, complaining that a CNN poll showing Obama leading Romney “drastically oversampled Democrats to get this stunning result.” He then went on to cite Dean Chambers, who said that when “unskewed” the CNN poll showed Romney leading by eight percent.

    Perhaps remembering how much egg the conservative media had on its face after the 2012 debacle, Fox News contributor Brit Hume tried to steer his fellow conservatives away from repeating their mistakes.

    In an appearance on America’s Newsroom, Hume noted that Trump “couldn’t stop talking” about polls showing him in the lead during the primaries, but now “his supporters, the ones I hear from anyway say that the poll is rigged, and all the rest of it.” Then he told host Martha MacCallum, “I don't think your viewers should pay too much attention to that. Look at the polling averages. Look at all the polls put together, to see what you get. And I think the picture's pretty clear. He's trailing, but not insurmountably.”

  • Coulter's credibility rating drops even further with repetition of Obama approval falsehood

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    Echoing other conservative media figures' claims about Gallup polls, Ann Coulter falsely claimed President Obama is "actually the second least popular president, 100 days in, we've had in 40 years." In fact, Gallup itself recently reported that, by two different measures, Obama's approval rating is the second highest of any president since 1969.

  • Stamp of approval: Media tout Obama polling falsehood

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Several media figures and outlets have falsely claimed that President Obama's approval rating is lower than that of most or all recent presidents, according to Gallup. In fact, Gallup itself recently reported that, by two different measures, Obama's approval rating is the second highest of any president since 1969.

  • Dream On

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Remember how during the stimulus debate, the media kept insisting that Republicans had "taken control of the debate," were "driving the message" and all those other phrases journalists love to use in order to pretend that something is happening other than the media deciding to pay more attention to the GOP's arguments? How we kept hearing that congressional Republicans got their groove back by effectively painting the Democrats as big-spending coastal liberals?

    Remember that?

    Well, earlier today, Politico's Glenn Thrush noted a new Gallup poll that he thought showed that approval of congressional Democrats had spiked, while approval of Republicans had dropped. Turns out, Thrush misread the poll; it didn't measure approval of the two parties.

    But it led me to wonder what the public does think of the two parties' congressional leaders. Is all that noise we've been hearing about Republicans having The Big Mo legitimate, or is it another case of the media being badly out of touch with the American people?

    If you guessed "out of touch" -- and, really, why wouldn't you? -- you nailed it.

    CNN conducted a poll just a little more than a week ago that found 60 percent approval for Democratic leaders in congress, and 39 percent disapproval, for a net of +21 points. Republican leaders in congress, however, had won the approval of 44 percent of the public, while 55 percent disapproved, for a net of -11 points.

    That's a 32 point gap between the net approval for the Dems & the GOP. That's huge.

    But the Republicans have produced a web video featuring a 32-year-old Aerosmith song, so get ready for several days of cable news pretending the GOP is, indeed, "back in the saddle again."

  • Newsweek asserted as fact that America "remains right of center," but a former Wash. Times editor disagrees

    ››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

    Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe repeated the assertion previously made by Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham that the country "remains right of center." Thomas and Wolffe cited as evidence exit polling that showed more respondents identifying themselves as "conservative" than as "liberal." But political scientists dispute the reliability of voters' identification with political ideologies, and the former editor of The Washington Times' editorial page asserted "the only problem" with conservatives claiming America is a "center-right" country is that "[i]t isn't true. Or at least, not anymore."

  • Media conservatives claim America is "center-right," but political scientists challenge reliance on voter self-identification

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & DIANNA PARKER

    Several conservative commentators claim America is ideologically a "center-right" country, citing as evidence general election exit polls showing that 22 percent of respondents identify themselves as "liberal," 44 percent as "moderate" and 34 percent as "conservative." But political scientists dispute the reliability of voters' identification with political ideologies, and other polling has found that a strong majority favored the more progressive position on a number of issues.

  • Wash. Times inflated Bush's approval ratings, falsely portrayed unemployment rate under Bush

    ››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN & MORGAN WEILAND

    In an editorial, The Washington Times asserted that President Bush "had very high poll ratings (80 percent to 90 percent) throughout his first term" and went on to say that during his tenure, he "reduced unemployment to still record-levels." In fact, Bush's approval ratings peaked between 80 percent and 95 percent in September 2001 before trending downward through the end of his first term, which he finished at around 50 percent. Additionally, the unemployment rate under Bush after the 2001 recession bottomed out at 4.4 percent in March 2007 -- a higher level than when Bush took office in January 2001, when the rate was 4.2 percent.

  • NY Post's Hurt falsely claimed "most people believe the federal government is the only thing that could actually make health care worse"

    ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

    The New York Post's Charles Hurt wrote that when Sen. Hillary Clinton proposed national health-care reform as first lady, "Americans revolted over her proposals," adding that "she still doesn't understand that most people believe the federal government is the only thing that could actually make health care worse." In fact, recent polling suggests that a majority of Americans support health-care reform proposals that expand the government's role.