Sunday, December 21, 2008

Media Misrepresentation ?

An informal (and admittedly "unscientific") poll created by AOL addressing the Obama eligibility issue has had over 97,800 respondents so far. Those participating in this survey come from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

As I previously pointed out, only about 42 percent of those answering this survey believe there are no issues or unanswered questions associated with Obama's Eligibility. In all but 5 states and the District of Columbia, those who feel that Obama's eligibility has not been settled outnumber those who believe otherwise.

My previous article on this topic was met with a firestorm of protest in the comments section of the blog post (some comments were removed and are no longer visible). Several claimed that Obama is currently the most popular new president ever, and that most Republicans and McCain supporters are changing their minds in large numbers and supporting Obama. They stated that this was based on recent "scientific" polls.

So I investigated a bit to see if I could track down the source of these claims. And sure enough, there have been stories on CNN and in other media about a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted on December 1st and 2nd of 2008 which made many positive assertions about Obama's approval ratings. There was also a NBC/Wall Street Journal survey performed on December 5-8, 2008 which reported similar results.

I decided I would look a bit deeper at these very positive poll results. After all, it seemed a bit difficult for me to believe that people were so deliriously positive about Obama when such a small fraction of the population voted for him (reportedly, Obama votes constituted 63.7 million out of the 122.4 million votes in the 2008 election, out of an estimated population of 305.9 million Americans, not counting US nationals not resident in the US; in other words, no more than 20.89 percent of Americans voted for Obama), and there are currently substantial defections from his base among the liberals, left-wing media, African Americans and anti-war and gay rights activists.

There were a number of things I found curious about these two polls with very similar reported results:

Small samples

*Both were small surveys. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was only of 1009 people, and many questions were only posed to a fraction of these people. In some cases, only 500 were asked certain questions. The CNN/Opinion Research Poll queried only 1096 people.

Not Representative Samples

*Reading through the documentation of NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, it is clear that those sampled were not particularly representative of the population. For example, the only people surveyed were those who did not own a regular landline telephone, and only used cellular telephones for their telephone needs. That is representative?

*the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey only included 10 percent Hispanics, although Hispanics are well in excess of 15 percent of the US population. So they are off by more than 50 percent in sampling this population.

*Ninety percent of those in the NBC/Wall Street Journal Survey are registered to vote. This compares to about 150 million registered US voters out of 213 million eligible to vote, or a "Voting Age Population" of 231 million. The number registered to vote constitutes 70.4 percent and 64.9 percent respectively of eligible adults and voting age adults in the US, a far cry from the 90 percent reported for those participating in the survey.

*38% of those surveyed reported voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and for George W. Bush in 2004 (question 25). George W. Bush won 47.87% of the popular vote in 2000 and 50.7 percent of the popular vote in 2004. Clearly, this is a strongly biased sample and not at all representative.

Misreported results

*Only 41 percent of those surveyed were excited about Obama's presidency, or otherwise positive, by my reading of the responses to the questions (such as question 11, asked of only about 500 people). This is a far cry from the reports of 80+ percent in the press. The press seems to be reporting on this situation in a somewhat biased manner.

*About 53 percent of those questioned did not feel that strong a relationship with Obama (question 12).

*43 percent of those polled were somewhat doubtful, or very doubtful that Obama has the right personal characteristics to be President (question 13).

*Only 37 percent were certain that Obama's presidency would represent a change in direction (question 14).

*Only 54 percent of those expressed confidence that Obama's goals for the country were appropriate (question 15).

*Twenty three percent of 500 or so asked felt Obama was not being as "open and accessible" (whatever that means) as he should be (question 19). I would have made this a more pointed question about his lies and things he has hidden. The responses to a more direct question might have been much more revealing. After all, it depends on how you ask the question in these surveys.

*Only 52 percent thought that the election of Obama presaged a period of American unity, where people would work together (question 24). This is in sharp contrast to reports in the media from various polls of 80 percent or more that believed we were headed for a period of great unity, and that even Republicans and those who voted for McCain were joining in to support Obama. Wow, quite a discrepancy there!

Confused respondents

*Of the 500 or so asked, about 76 percent were very concerned or somewhat concerned that the country might experience a deflationary economy. About 82 percent were very concerned or somewhat concerned that the country might experience an inflationary economy (questions 36a and 36b).

So when at least this NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll is examined carefully, it does not look very representative and its results were not reported very reliably. I have to wonder, is this because Rupert Murdoch, who now owns the Wall Street Journal, has recently abandoned his previously-held conservative positions and reportedly ordered all his media assets, including FOX News, to support Barack Obama, or at least not report anything negative about him? Murdoch is renowned for meddling in the political and editorial views of the elements of his media empire, like television stations and newspapers. Is this another example?

If this sort of blatant misrepresentation of the facts concerns you, please complain to the Federal Communications Commission.

Robert Stevens