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Pollsters can spin their data too

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–For years, when conservatives would complain about liberal bias in the main stream media, they were derided and dismissed as paranoid right-wing nuts. Then in 2003 along came Bernard Goldberg’s book “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News” and liberals had to admit to at least some bias in America’s newsrooms.

“I know a lot of you believe that most people in the news business are liberal. Let me tell you, I know a lot of them,” “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney said during an episode that aired Nov. 7, 2004. “And they were almost evenly divided this time. Half of them liked Senator Kerry; the other half hated President Bush.”

While CBS’ curmudgeonly commentator was going for a laugh while taking a jab at Goldberg, it should be noted that many a truth is said in jest.

Other media members were a bit more direct in admitting the liberal leaning of American’s news personnel.

“Where I work at ABC,” investigative journalist John Stossel told CNSNews.com in 2004, “people say ‘conservative’ the way they say ‘child molester.'”

“The elephant in the newsroom is our narrowness. Too often, we wear liberalism on our sleeve and are intolerant of other lifestyles and opinions,” said Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana in a 2005 article. She added, “We’re not very subtle about it at this paper: If you work here, you must be one of us. You must be liberal, progressive, a Democrat. I’ve been in communal gatherings in ‘The Post,’ watching election returns, and have been flabbergasted to see my colleagues cheer unabashedly for the Democrats.”

Thanks to Goldberg’s “Bias,” many in the media have had to admit the left-leaning propensity of America’s newsrooms. While little has changed in the way the news is reported, at least charges of media bias can no longer be brushed off as the paranoid rants of a lunatic fringe.

There is one segment of the media that has thus far been reluctant to admit its bias. Political pollsters still insist that they are above the partisan fray. However, a recent report on a poll conducted by Gallup organization reveals that poll takers can spin their results with the best public relations firms in the land.

The headline “In First 100 Days, Obama Meets or Exceeds Expectations” accompanied a recent Gallup poll indicating President Obama garnered a 56 percent approval rating in his first few months in office.

Of Obama, Gallup reported, “American’s general assessment is quite positive, by better than a 2-to-1 margin.” The report added, “The new poll also finds that Americans generally got what they expected in the Obama presidency … more indicate he has exceeded their expectations than fallen short.”

The report also includes a comparison with fellow Democrat Bill Clinton’s first 100 days in office. Clinton received an approval rating of 55 percent during the first few months of his first term in office. Comparison of Obama’s numbers to the approval ratings of other past presidents was not offered.

It is worth noting that among presidents who were elected, rather than assuming the office because of death or resignation, in the last half of the past century, Obama’s approval rating in the first 100 days is only better than one: Clinton’s. Richard Nixon enjoyed a 61 percent approval rating and Jimmy Carter had a 63 percent rating after 100 days in office.

Ronald Reagan had a positive rating of 67 percent and John Kennedy an 83 percent approval rating in the first three months as president. Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed a 73 percent approval rating after his first 100 days.

Gallup did report the numbers of its Obama poll forthrightly. How could it not? However, when the report explaining the Obama poll is contrasted with that of another recent president, it becomes clear that Gallup tried to spin the results in order to present Obama in the best possible light.

In 2001, the headline heralding the results of Gallup’s poll of President George W. Bush’s first few months in office was: “After 100 days, Bush’s Job Approval Rating on Par With Previous Presidents’.”

President Bush enjoyed a 62 percent approval rating after his first 100 days in office, which is 6 points better than Obama’s. However, Gallup’s explanation of the poll sought to downplay the 43rd president’s favorable rating by comparing it with each of the eight presidents elected since 1953.

“Bush’s current 62 percent rating after three months in office places him just below the middle –- in fifth place -– among the eight presidents in the last half of century who were first elected to office on their own (rather than having assumed the office through the vice-presidency because the president died or resigned),” reported Gallup.

The Gallup poll report also pointed out, “While these early positive ratings of Bush indicate how the president is currently faring with the public, they should not be interpreted as predictive of what might happen over the next three years.”

Gallup was careful to put Bush’s first 100 days into “perspective” in an obvious attempt to downplay his positive poll numbers by comparing him to all elected presidents since Eisenhower. In fact, Gallup sought to further qualify Bush’s positive poll numbers by saying, “In general, the rating a president receives early in the term are quite favorable, but decline over time.” No such comparisons or qualifiers were offered for Obama’s poll numbers.

When a pollster attempts to explain and interpret the results of any poll, it reveals an obvious bias, which has no place in polling. A polling organization should simply present the results of a poll and leave the spinning and slanting to the liberal media. At least they are beginning to admit they are biased and left-leaning.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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