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April 27, 2005

ABC/Washington Post on Judicial Nominees

The conservative wing of the blogosphere took great exception yesterday to the latest survey from the Washington Post and ABC News that gave front page play to the assertion that "a strong majority of Americans oppose changing the rules to make it easier for Republican leaders to win confirmation of President Bush's court nominees."   The complaints fell into two categories, (1) that the sample was unrepresentative and (2) that the questions "changing the rules" was biased.  MPs quick take is that the former complaints are largely unfounded, the latter debatable.   Let's take a closer look.

1) Biased sample?  Our friend Gerry Dalyes (of Dalythoughts) nicely summarized the first grievance [though as he points out in the comments section, he did not endorse it]: ]

The Ankle Biting Pundits , Erick at Red State and Powerline have all noted (hat tip to Michelle Malkin that while the 2004 exit polls showed that the parties were at parity among voters, the sample in this poll is not; it includes 35% Democrats and 28% Republicans- a 7 point advantage for Democrats.

The problem with this complaint is that ABC News and the Washington Post -- like most polling organizations -- surveys all American adults, not just registered or likely voters.  The voting population is slightly more Republican than the population of all adults.  Screening for voters is appropriate in a pre-election survey intended to track the campaign or forecast the outcome, but a survey of what "Americans" think ought to survey, well,  all Americans.   Even if you disagree, the issue is not one of "bias" or "over-representation" but of a difference in the population surveyed. 

Among all adults, as opposed to registered or likely voters, most survey organizations have shown a slight Democratic advantage in party ID over the last year, consistent with the ABC/Post results.  I put together the following table that averaged data from 2004 and year-to-date 2005 when available:  The surveys from CBS/New York Times, Harris, the Pew Research Center and Time/SRBI all show a Democratic advantage of two to six points.  Gallup (subscription required) is the exception, showing party ID at parity. 


More to the point is this sentence in the ABC analysis:

Thirty-five percent of respondents in this survey identify themselves as Democrats, 28 percent as Republicans, about the same as the 2004 and 2005 averages in ABC/Post polls. It was even on average, 31 percent-31 percent, in 2003 [emphasis added].

If anyone from ABC or the Post is reading, it would be helpful to see those averages from 2004 and 2005.  Nonetheless, considering the ABC/Post poll's +/-3% sampling error, the party ID results are within range of the results for the other surveys from 2005 presented above (with the exception of Gallup's 35% GOP number), though they do look a point or two more Democratic than the average of the other surveys. 

If we were confident that this small difference resulted from random chance or some sort of sample bias aloine, we would want the ABC/Post pollsters to weight their data to correct it.  The problem is that the difference could be the result of a slight variations in question wording, in the content of earlier questions that might affect responses the party ID question the end of the survey, or perhaps they reflect a small real but momentary change in party identification.  If the difference is just about sampling error or sample bias, weighting could make the survey more representative.  If the difference is about any of the other issues, weighting would make it worse. 

The irony of all this -- one likely not lost on other pollsters -- is that the Washington Post enabled this criticism by breaking with past practice and putting out a PDF summary that included complete results not only for party identification and ideology, but also for the full list of demographics.  MP commends Richard Morin and the Washington Post for taking this step, even though it seems to be bringing them only grief. 

Yes, consumers of poll deserve this level of transparency.  Yes, it is appropriate to ask tough questions about how well any poll represents the nation.  But leaping to the conclusion that the sample composition is "ridiculously bad" (Ankle Biting Pundits) or that it shows "egregious" bias (Powerline) is just flat wrong. 

2) Biased question? - The second category of complaint took issue with the wording and context of the question that was the focus of the coverage:  "Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm President Bush's judicial nominees?" 

Judicial filibuster is an example of the type of issue that makes pollsters lives miserable. The underlying issue is both complex and remote.  Few Americans are well informed about the procedures and rules of the Senate, and few have been following the issue closely (only 31% tell robo-pollster Scott Rasmussen they are following stories on the judicial nominees "very closely").  So true "public opinion" with respect to judicial filibusters is largely unformed.   When we present questions about judicial nominees in the context of a survey interview, many respondents will form an opinion on the spot.  Results will thus be very sensitive to question wording.  No single question will capture the whole story, yet every question inevitably "frames" the issue to some degree. 

To MP, the most frustrating bias in media coverage of polling -- be it mainstream or blog -- is the pressure to find a settle on a single question as the ultimate measure of "public opinion" on any issue.  In a sense, public opinion about issues like the judicial filibuster is inherently hypothetical.  Many Americans, perhaps most, lack a pre-existing opinion.  If we want to know how Americans will react to some future development (or whether they will react at all), no single question can tell us what we need to know. 

The best approach in situations like these is to follow the advice of our old friend, Professor M:

The answer is NOT to find a single poll with the "best" wording and point to its results as the final word on the subject. Instead, we should look at ALL of the polls conducted on the issue by various different polling organizations. Each scientifically fielded poll presents us with useful information. By comparing the different responses to multiple polls -- each with different wording -- we end up with a far more nuanced picture of where public opinion stands on a particular issue. If we can see through such comparisons that stressing different arguments or pieces of information produces shifts in responses, then we have perhaps learned something

So what can we learn from different polls on this issue?  The PollingReport has a one page summary that includes most recent polling on the issue (including survey dates and sample sizes): 

In mid-March, Newsweek found 32% approved and 57% disapproved changing the rules regarding filibusters with the following question:

U.S. Senate rules allow 41 senators to mount a filibuster -- refusing to end debate and agree to vote -- to block judicial nominees. In the past, this tactic has been used by both Democrats and Republicans to prevent certain judicial nominees from being confirmed. Senate Republican leaders -- whose party is now in the majority -- want to take away this tactic by changing the rules to require only 51 votes, instead of 60, to break a filibuster. Would you approve or disapprove of changing Senate rules to take away the filibuster and allow all of George W. Bush's judicial nominees to get voted on by the Senate?

At the beginning of April, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 40% who wanted to eliminate the filibuster and 50% wanted to maintain it, when they asked this question:

As you may know, the president of the United States is a Republican and Republicans are the majority party in both houses of Congress. Do you think that the Republicans have acted responsibly or do you think that they have NOT acted responsibly when it comes to handling their position and allowing full and fair debate with the Democrats?

Then there is this week's ABC/Washington Post survey that found 26% supporting a rule change to make it easier for Bush to win confirmation of his judicial appointees and 66% opposed.  The ABC question had two parts:

"The Senate has confirmed 35 federal appeals court judges nominated by Bush, while Senate Democrats have blocked 10 others. Do you think the Senate Democrats are right or wrong to block these nominations?"  48% said "right," 36% said wrong, 3% both and 13% were unsure

"Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?" - 26% support, 66% oppose, 8% unsure.

In an online survey, Rasmussen Reports asked a national sample several different questions.  Unfortunately, they did not release the verbatim language.  The following comes from language in their online release: 

"Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans believe that every Presidential nominee should receive an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. That's down from 50% a month ago."

"When asked if Senate rules should be changed to give every nominee a vote, 56% say yes and 26% say no. A month ago, those numbers were 59% and 22% respectively"

The Republican polling firm Strategic Vision asked the following questions this past week of sample of registered voters in Florida:

Do you approve or disapprove of a Republican plan in the United States Senate to limit Democratic filibustering of judicial nominations and allow a vote on the nominations?  Florida registered voters: Approve 44%, Disapprove 33%, Undecided 23%.

Do you approve or disapprove of Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominations in the United States Senate? Florida registered voters: Approve 28%, Disapprove 57%, Undecided 15%

One thing largely missing in the questions asked by public pollsters is a better sense of how informed and engaged Americans are in this issue.   So far, only Rasmussen has asked, "how closely have you been following the issue?"  Unless I've missed it, no one has asked for a rating of the importance of the issue as compared to issues like health care, Social Security, Terrorism, Iraq, etc. 

In the same vein, MP wishes that a public poll would ask Americans an open-ended question about this issue.  It would first ask, "have you heard anything about a controversy involving President Bush's judicial nominations?"  Those who answer yes would then get an open-ended follow-up: "What specifically have you heard?"  The answers would help show how many have pre-existing opinions that demonstrate worry about conservative nominees or about the President Bush has getting his nominees confirmed. 

MP does not agree that the question asked by the ABC/Washington Post poll is inherently biased: "Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?"  There is much I like about this question:  It is clear, concise and easy to understand and interpret because it avoids the use of often unfamilar terms like "filibuster." 

The problem is -- and here the conservative critics have a point -- it is just one question and it does reflect one particular framing of the issue.   As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, there is another question they could have asked that is equally concise and clear:  "Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules so that judges can be confirmed by majority vote?"  We might take Ponnuru's suggestion a step further and ask whether rules "that make it easy for a minority of Senators to block a nomination even when majority of the Senate supports it?" 

Different questions may produce greater support for the Republican position, as the various results presented above imply.  Understanding public opinion with respect to judicial nominees is not about not about deciding which question is best, or whether any one question alone is biased.  It is about measuring all attitudes, even the ones that conflict, and coming to a greater understanding of what it all means.  The answers may be contradictory, but sometimes, so is public opinion.

[minor typos corrected]

Related Entries - Polls in the News, Weighting by Party

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on April 27, 2005 at 01:54 PM in Polls in the News, Weighting by Party | Permalink


Hello again, Mark.

"Our friend Gerry Dales (of Dalythoughts) nicely summarized the first grievance:"

Thanks. However, I'd point out that while you are correct that I summarized the objections in that manner, I am concerned that your excerpt of what I wrote gives the impression that I was making that grievance.

Here's the next two paragraphs that I wrote:

"However, another thing that I know is that partisan self-identification can and does change over time. It is an attitude more than an attribute. The perception people have of each party can and does change, and that can and does lead to people changing how they self identify. Let me use some data accumulated by Harris to demonstrate. Since 1980, the percentage of American adults who self-identify as Republican has ranged from 24% to 33%, as Democrat from 33% to 41%, and as Independent from 22% to 29%. Even if one throws out the highest and lowest single reading for each (so as to minimize the chance that an outlier is skewing the ranges), the volitility still shows– 26-33% Republican, 34% to 41% Democrat, and 23% to 29% Independent.

Changes in self-identification can occur fairly quickly, too. From 1975 to 1980, the range for Republicans was from 21% to 24%, with most readings being in the 21-22% range. During the Reagan years, they ranged from 26% to 31%, with most readings being closer to the top of that range than the bottom. So while it is possible that the partisan breakdown in this survey is indicative of a problem, it could also be indicative that a change in how people feel about the parties has occurred, and this poll is simply capturing a measure of this delta."

I think this is important because of what you are getting at here:

"The irony of all this -- one likely not lost on other pollsters -- is that the Washington Post enabled this criticism by breaking with past practice putting out a PDF summary that included complete results not only for party identification and ideology, but also for the full list of demographics. MP commends Richard Morin and the Washington Post for taking this step, even though it seems to be bringing them only grief. "

Indeed! They should not be criticized or punished for providing this extra information, and I am afraid that your excerpt from my site gives the impression that this is what I was doing.

What I focused on was the representation of self-described conservatives in their sample. It is well below historically established norms. However, I neither think it was a spurious sample nor do I think the poll was conducted poorly. As I wrote at the end of my article, I think something else is at play here.

Posted by: Gerry | Apr 27, 2005 3:08:48 PM

ps- my last name is Daly, not Dales. Dales is a nickname. :-)

Posted by: Gerry | Apr 27, 2005 3:09:40 PM

And one more note that I should make since I just quoted a bunch of Harris data. The Harris surveys in question were also of adults, not just registered voters or likely voters. I mention this to show that I was doing an apples to apples comparison.

Posted by: Gerry | Apr 27, 2005 3:17:31 PM


A) Big time apologies for goofing up your name. That was dumb. It's corrected, but again, shouldn't have happened.

B) You are right, you did not endorse the view that the ABC/WaPo sample was too Democratic. Thank you for pointing that out. As you'll see, I also added a comment to that effect above

C) I didn't include it above, largely becuase my post felt a bit long, but I did wonder about your statement that "ideological self-identification...is more of an attribute than an attitude." I understand that you based that conclusion mostly on the long term trends in the Harris data.

For what it's worth, the data to test this proposition has been in the public domain for decades, in panel studies that track the attitudes of individual respondents over time done by the University of Michigan and more recently by the National Annenberg Election Survey and the Pew Research Center. I'll keep an open mind, as this may be something I've missed, but let's put it this way: If the data or academic literature support the contention that ideology is more attribute than attitude, it is news to me.

Also consider that it while the underlying attitudes (either party or ideology) may be quite persistent within individuals, the way we *measure* them may introduce short term variation. It is also at least theoretically possible that short term events may move individual responses for a few days or weeks, but that in the long run they return to their long held answer. All of this would get washed out when you aggregate a lot of data over a year's time.

Note also that the New York Times poll (link below) includes a summary of their results for ideology going back at least a decade. Since 2003 they have shown a range of 30% to 37% conservative (averaging 34%) and 17% to 24% liberal (averaging 20%). The WaPo results may be a bit less conservative than average, but they fall do fall within the typical range.


Anyway, as always, thanks for the comments


Posted by: Mark Blumenthal | Apr 27, 2005 5:27:54 PM

Nice analysis. However, many conservatives do think that pollsters at Wash Post/ABC are liberals, and their biases creep through their choice of words and methodology. Probably not intentially, but they seem to be obvious to us conservatives. Similar to what Bernie Goldberg charges in his book Bias.

Why choose adults, and not Registered Voters like they did during the election? Politicians care mainly about voters. Polling adults obviously helps Democrats, and whether intentionally or not, Wash Post/ABC has chosen to do that.

Secondly, with respect to party ID, if Wash Post/ABC, NYT/CBS and LAT keep having samples with more Democrats than Republicans, than either their methodologies are wrong, or we are all fools.

Lastly, if you don't think Wash Post worded that particular question to support their page 1 headline (and vice versa), then I guess I am the type to trust everything MSM says. Liberals don't see bias in that question; conservatives see that as a perfect example of bias. Do you think that if a conservative pollster was doing the polling for Wash Post/ABC, he/she would have worded that way? I don't think so.

Posted by: Cableguy | Apr 27, 2005 6:02:20 PM

Mark, I'm with Cableguy on this one. It's that visceral bias issue I've mentioned before.

"Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?"

That question makes the answer more political than it should be. They didn't need to ask that question because all they had to do was look at their other polls about Bush's approval rating.

If the respondents don't like Bush or don't want his nominees approved, then the other merits/demerits of the argument concerning the filibuster as applied to the specific question of judicial nominees, are no longer relevant. If passed, the rule change will apply to both Democrats and Republicans. To make the question situational, as if it will only ever benefit the Republicans and hurt Democrats, makes it a terrible question.

If I was part of the team at ABC News, I would have STRONGLY advised to make the question less political and more about the issue.

"Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules so that judges can be confirmed by majority vote?"

Perfect question in my opinion. I bet if you ask this question, you get much much different results.

Now, to get to the substance of the issue and why this is more important than "Bush v. Reid" or "Reps v. Dems."

If you read the federalist papers, the Constitution in its original form, required
super-majority votes in seven places: Article I - two-thirds to convict on impeachment (3, cl. 6), to expel a Senator or Representative (5, cl. 2), and to override a presidential veto (7, cls. 2 & 3). Article II - two-thirds vote in the Senate to consent to treaties (2, cl. 2) and called for special majorities if the election of the President should be referred to the House of Representatives (1, cl. 3). Article V - two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the States to amend the Constitution. Article VII required ratifications from 9 of the original 13 States before the Constitution could go into effect.

Clearly the founders thought it important to specificy exactly when a supermajority was required. Nowhere in the writings of our founders (that I have found) did they suggest that a supermajority is required to confirm an appointment to the judicial bench as nominated in accordance with the US Constitution by a President.

However, the Senate has a Constitutional *obligation* to advise and consent on presidential nominees. The filibuster of nominees disenfranchises a majority of United States Senators from fulfilling their constitutional obligation to advise and consent. Therefore, the filibuster in as it applies to presidential nominees, is in my opinion unconstitutional.

However, who has standing to sue on Constitutional grounds? The President is is clearly harmed, but can a president file suit against the US Senate? Is that not a violation of the separation of powers? The answer therefore has to come from within the US Senate with a move for a vote on the Constitutionality of the cloture rule as it applies to item being filibustered.

So, forget about politics - if it's unconsitutional, it's unconsitutional. If the rules are changed, I expect that it will come back to haunt us. But principle is principle.

That's my rant. Man is it good to be talking about something other than exit polls ;-)

Posted by: Rick Brady | Apr 27, 2005 7:05:27 PM

I think possibly the biggest problem with the ABC News/Washington Post poll story wasn't the poll itself, if was the headline. The headline to the story stated: "Filibuster Rule Change Opposed"
You had to go searching for the poll question itself to discover that it neither used the word filibuster, nor described the process. If the headline had read "majority oppose changing Senate rules to allow Republicans to confirm more judges", and then the story stated specifically what the question was instead of burying it at the end of the pdf link then at least the reader would have some idea of what the poll actually meant.

Posted by: Patrick Wise | Apr 27, 2005 7:32:47 PM

Astute point Patrick! I've noticed similar disparities in headlines v poll questions from the MSM pollsters. If they want those headlines, they should ask questions the right questions.

Posted by: Rick Brady | Apr 27, 2005 8:34:58 PM

aside from the fact that WAPO ran with a bad question as their only data point, the fact remains that most people do not support the end of the minority party's ability to stop "extreme" nominations. I suppose, if this were a matter of principle, this finding would hold for whoever was the minority party. Its not a D vs R thing per se.

Yet, the conservative posters here are unable to stop thinking in terms of their own preferences. Again.

WAPO and Times repeatedly run with their own survey data, regardless of which party it supports. ITS THEIR DATA! They paid for it, they will write a story about it, dammit. Its that simple. See CNN/USA today regarding gallup data.

As for the headline, it probably occured because it matches the sentiment "they" believe exists on the whole--Delay is in trouble, Shavio was a disaster, and this fillibuster thingy aint playing well either. So that's probably why they do it. Show me that WAPO never, ever runs a headline in tune with PO that doesn't match the question or data when it "hurts" democrats, and then I'll be sympathetic. Until then, give it a rest. Bernie Goldberg? Anecdotal nonsense. And I'm being generous.

Posted by: Dr. C | Apr 27, 2005 10:01:22 PM

"WAPO and Times repeatedly run with their own survey data, regardless of which party it supports. ITS THEIR DATA! They paid for it, they will write a story about it, dammit. Its that simple. See CNN/USA today regarding gallup data."

Yes. But at least they should admit that their political bias can "push" respondents into answers. I'm not saying that they conduct Push Polls. I am saying that their visceral bias gives them outcomes that may not reliable. If they are not reliable, it is no longer science.

If bias can creep in, it will. That's why we have double blind studies. Perhaps WaPo should work harder to ensure greater diversity on their staff (or not try to pass themselves off as being objective) because I don't think that a conservative would have allowed that question to go out to the public.

Some on the right will go so far as to say that they did this on purpose to frame public opinion and serve a liberal agenda. I don't see it like that. I just think this is one example of not enough political diversity amongst those who wrote and/or edited this question.

But maybe I'm just bitter because the survey didn't come out the way I wanted it to.

It would be an interesting question to research. Take a sample of political public opinion survey questions from the major polling institutions and "blind" them so the reader does not know which organization they came from. Then circulate the survey to a sample of the public and ask them to rate the question as left leaning, balanced, or right leaning.

Hmm... If only I had more time...

Posted by: Rick Brady | Apr 27, 2005 11:57:12 PM

Just my two cents, but Rick's perfect question:

"Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules so that judges can be confirmed by majority vote?"

Is not so perfect in terms of Senate rules. Judges CAN be confirmed by a majority vote right now, they need a supermajority to get to a vote, and in fact, a number much smaller than the majority can stop a nomination in committee. Is the committee system unconstitutional too? In any case, back to the floor. Changing that process requires a change in the rules to eliminate the filibuster. The people who want to make this change do so with the intention of making it easier to confirm their judicial nominees. Perhaps ABC/Washington Post shouldn't have said who specifically was trying to change the rule, but what they asked accurately reflects the situation. Is it inherently biased to call Republicans "Republicans"? To name the President? How do you eliminate biases that exist in a thing's proper name? At some point, a situation just is what it is.

Posted by: JBean27 | Apr 28, 2005 11:42:10 AM


I considered your comments about self-identification as well as the data in the Times' summary you linked.

The results of those considerations are here:


Posted by: Gerry | Apr 28, 2005 12:36:43 PM

JBean27, without a change in Senate rules, a majority vote is not always good enough and the change in the rule will ensure that judges can be confirmed by a majority vote. So, I see your point. Maybe Mark's alteration of Ponnuru's suggestion is a better fit after all.

Although the question isn't perfect, I suggest that it's a heck of a lot better than the WaPo question which begs a response that is necessarily correlated with factors independnet of the issue at hand.

Of course, I'm presuming that the existing rules are unconstitutional. To answer your question above, I think that any rule that prevents a Senator from performing her Constitutional duty to advise and consent on presidential on any Presidential nominee is unconstitutional.

If the framers wanted supermajority requirements for approving a presidents nominee (which is the defacto effect of the cloture rule here), then they would have specified a supermajority requirement.

If the Democrats today want a supermajority to force a vote on presidential nominees which has the defacto effect of blocking a majority of Senators from performing their Constitutional obligation to advise and consent, then they should alter the Constitution to specify this requirement.

I know many don't agree with this position, but I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why preventing a vote on Presidential nominees is constitutional.

Posted by: Rick Brady | Apr 28, 2005 1:15:12 PM

JBean27, another thought regarding: "Judges CAN be confirmed by a majority vote right now, they need a supermajority to get to a vote..."

That's like saying "blacks CAN vote right now, but they need to pay the poll tax before they can vote."

Under existing Senate rules, "some" judges can be confirmed by majority vote, but others cannot. Under existing rules, "some" US Senators get to exercise their Constitutional obligation to advise and consent, while others cannot. The cloture rule, like the poll tax, is the mechanism for disenfranchisement.

Ponnuru's suggested wording for the question is suddenly looking better to me. Not "perfect," but better.

Posted by: Rick Brady | Apr 28, 2005 3:59:57 PM

You can believe what you will about the constitutionality of the Senate rules, but it doesn't change the basic facts, and I don't believe it's in any way a pollster's job to conduct constitutional interpretation. The situation is what it is, and whether it's equivalent to the poll tax or civil disobedience is in the eye of the beholder.

Setting aside an attempt to find perfect, neutral language - a nearly impossible task - the Post/ABC question attempted to describe what is going on in the Senate in an accurate way, and does not deserve the criticism it's receiving.

Posted by: JBean27 | Apr 28, 2005 8:28:30 PM

More evidence that Washington Post editors/pollsters are biased liberals:

From OpinionJournal.com: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/

The Post Defends Its Phony Poll
In an online question-and-answer session yesterday, a reader asked Michael Abramowitz, the Washington Post's No. 2 national editor, about the misleading poll questions we noted Tuesday:

Washington, D.C.: You chose a very badly worded poll question to highlight as a front page headline yesterday. Why in the world would you do this? Everyone makes mistakes in designing polls, but it should be your job as editor to ensure that polls are interpreted correctly. Giving so much play to an obviously misleading poll result suggests that you are more interested in creating catchy [sic]

Abramowitz: I am getting a number of questions about our poll yesterday, which indicated substantial opposition to GOP efforts to end filibusters of judicial nominees in the Senate. Let me make a general point about our polling operation, which is run by Rich Morin, one of the best in the business. He is scrupulously fair, and he goes over these questions in depth with other editors and reporters. I thought the questions in this case were fine. . . .

I would like to quote Rich directly on the question of biased questions, which has come up a bit on blogs in the last day or two. Here is what he said: "The debate over judicial selection currently raging is political and it is deeply partisan. It is a fact that Republicans are trying to change the filibuster rule to make it easier to get a vote on the contested Bush nominees--that is the context of the current standoff. To omit that information about the partisan cast of the debate would bias the result by completely removing the issue from its context. Also, I believe the question does not plant biases that would unfairly favor Democrats or disadvantage Bush or the Republicans. Yes, the question does state the obvious by reminding Democrats about the partisan nature of the debate and what the immediately [sic] effect of making a change would be. But the language also would be expected, appropriately so, to cue Bush supporters, Republicans and religious conservatives in a positive way. The fact that the question attempts to sort out Democrats and Republicans, Bush supporters and Bush opponents, in a way consistent with their interests is an advantage, not a disadvantage."

To summarize Morin's argument: The poll accurately presents this as a partisan dispute. Republicans and Democrats can be expected to know which side of the partisan dispute they are on. Therefore the poll is fair.

This is nonsense. The survey subjects are not politically active Democratic and Republican partisans but "randomly selected adults," many of whom belong to neither party, and many of whom likely know nothing more about the issue than what the poll questions tell them.

A poll question that seeks to gauge public opinion on such a matter should present the argument for each side and ask people to choose between them. But the Post poll presented only the Democratic talking points--that a majority of judges haven't been blocked and that the other side wanted to change the rules "to make it easier for the Republicans." It never used the word filibuster or stated the crucial fact that the Democrats are preventing the Senate from voting on the nominees at all.

The problem with the poll questions is not, as Morin claims, that they provided "information about the partisan cast of the debate." It is that they presented only one side of the argument, leading one to suspect that this was not an honest effort to gauge public opinion about the debate but a dishonest effort to influence the outcome.

Posted by: Cableguy | Apr 29, 2005 4:00:00 PM

I'd like to know the party affiliation of those that Rich Morin consulted with on that question. Visceral bias is a bias in your gut that you may not even know affects your decisions. If you consult others with the same visceral bias, you'll get the same viscerally biased outcome. Although I don't know who he consulted, I'm willing to bet that he didn't talk to many (if any) Republicans about that question. Political and ideological diversity in major media polling industry seems to be lacking - and it's hurting the credibility of the entire industry.

Posted by: Rick Brady | Apr 30, 2005 2:24:31 AM

Quote from Newsweek article "In the past, this tactic has been used by both Democrats and Republicans to prevent certain judicial nominees from being confirmed."

This is not even close to accurate. With nonsense like this being passed off as "news", it's hard to argue that any poll question wording could achieve any meaningful result. Republicans have bottled up nominations in committee, but have never done what the Democrats are doing now. The only filibuster prior to the current ones was Fortas in the late 60s, and that was a bi-partisan block, rather than a straight party-line deal.

The Republicans have gotten killed on the public relations side of this question. And I'd be surprised if they can come up with 50 votes. Amazing how they still think like losers with a 55-45 advantage.


Posted by: Bob | Apr 30, 2005 10:46:32 PM

I wrote: "Political and ideological diversity in major media polling industry seems to be lacking - and it's hurting the credibility of the entire industry."

Why is this important?

Because as Republicans increasingly view the polling companies as biased, they may be less inclined to participate. If Republicans decline to participate at a higher rate than Democrats, then the polls are biased, leading more Republicans to view the polls as biased and less likely to participate (downward spiral).


Take another look at your declining response rates. Are you SURE that there is no differential response? Are you SURE that you are not contributing to declining response rates?

I come from the perspective that it's always best to wear your baises on your sleeve. Bias dressed up as obectivity is much more harmful than overtly expressed (or at least acknowledged) bias.

Maybe it's time to implement an aggressive affirmative action plan to ensure greater political diversity in the ranks ;-).

There is no such thing as "objectivity"; however, wording of poll questions reached by compromise between a small but diverse group of partisans, may be the closest thing to it that we can get.

Posted by: Rick Brady | May 1, 2005 1:45:31 AM

Drats! HTML clipped my post. That ">>" sign used to say:


Take another look...

Posted by: Rick Brady | May 1, 2005 1:46:34 AM

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