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March 13, 2006

Polls on Censure?

The proposal by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) to censure President Bush over the domestic eavesdropping program crossed an important threshold this morning.  It was mentioned in all the major "mainstream" newspapers and at least two cable news networks (CNN and Fox).   As such, it appears to meet the criteria that pollsters have offered as when considering whether to include a topic in national news media polls.  So after more than six months of organized campaigns to get pollsters to ask questions about impeachment, we may now need to consider how pollsters will ask a question that, as far as I can tell, no one has yet asked about President Bush:  Should he be "censured" by Congress?   

As summarized here back in January, a number of liberal websites have been conducting organized email campaigns to get pollsters to ask questions about the potential "impeachment" of President Bush.  In response to the email deluge, two prominent media pollsters explained why they have not asked any such questions and what conditions might motivate them to do so:

Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport (8/30/2005):  "The general procedure Gallup uses to determine what to ask about in our surveys is to measure the issues and concerns that are being discussed in the public domain. We will certainly ask Americans about their views on impeaching George W. Bush if, and when, there is some discussion of that possibility by congressional leaders, and/or if commentators begin discussing it in the news media. That has not happened to date." [Article available to subscribers only, but also quoted here].

Washington Post Polling Editor Richard Morin (12/19/2005):  "We do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion--witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls."

MP's quick search of the various poll archives finds no mention of "censure" in connection with President Bush.   However, MP found several fairly straightforward "censure only" questions in the massive Polling Report archive of Clinton question (parts I, II & III) asked during that period that pollsters might want to emulate now:

CBS News: "Given what you know right now, do you think Congress should censure President Clinton -- that is, should Congress vote to publicly reprimand President Clinton for what he has done -- or don't you think Congress should censure him?"

ABC News:  Do you think the Senate should censure or officially reprimand Clinton for his actions in the Monica Lewinsky matter, or should it drop the case without censuring Clinton?

Harris:  Do you think the Senate should vote to censure the President for his behavior without removing him from office, or not?

Gallup:  "Regardless of whether or not you think Clinton should be impeached, do you think Congress should or should not vote to censure Clinton -- that is, pass a formal resolution expressing disapproval of his actions?"

Now any of these questions would probably require an introduction that describes Feingold's call for censure, and the nature of that description would certainly influence the results.   MP can easily imagine a heated debate over the language of any such introduction.  We should also assume that Americans are no better aware of the meaning of the term "censure" than they are of impeachment.  However, the meaning of that term seems easily deduced from the text of any of the questions cited above.

We should also note the obvious:  National media pollsters do not automatically ask questions on every proposal floated by a potential presidential candidate.  However, Feingold's censure trial balloon seems to meet the general criteria articulated by Newport and Morin above.  So perhaps we will see questions on the topic -- and argue about their meaning -- in the next round of media surveys over the next month or so.

Related Entries - Impeachment, President Bush

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on March 13, 2006 at 05:11 PM in Impeachment, President Bush | Permalink


This is so odd. The only reason this is worth mentioning in the polls is because all the major media outlets have chosen to give Feingold the air time, lack of seriousness notwithstanding. Sure, I don't doubt Feingold is serious, but even the Democrats aren't buying it. So what you have here is news being news simply because its in the news, surely to be followed up by polls which say that some percentage of the population, roughly equal to the number of Democrats and disaffected conservatives, wants Bush censured. The news will then pick this up and paste it all over the front page. Its like one big echo chamber.

Posted by: stephen | Mar 14, 2006 4:38:42 AM

Re: Stephen

You've neatly ignored all the points made in the post. "Even the Democrats aren't buying it." Huh? The only poll remotely made regarding impeachment was done months ago, and showed a large degree of support _in the general population_ for impeachment. And that poll was done before it became apparent that the Bush administration was breaking the FISA law. One would expect that, given that the case against Bush has gotten stronger, and that censure is a less severe consequence than impeachment then, well, you can finish this sentence yourself...

"Some percentage of the population, roughly equal to the number of Democrats and disaffected conservatives..."

...alternatively, roughly the percentage of people who disapprove of Bush, which in most recent polls is roughly 60% of the population.

So, if 60% of the population thinks the President should be censured, wouldn't that be news?

Say, if 30% of the population thought that the President should be censured, wouldn't that be news?

The only argument against polling this question is a fairly brazenly partisan one, and belies the fact that the person making it is afraid of what the answer would be.

Posted by: Rick | Mar 14, 2006 12:29:41 PM


The Democratic leadership wont even censure the President, Russ Feingold notwithstanding. You wrongly assume that anti-Bush sentiment is all coming from the pro-left, a mistake the Democratic leadership doesn't seem to be making, except for when they pray to the alter of the elite money-laden liberals.

Plenty of conservatives and Republicans are not happy with the President, none of which will be voting for any Democrat in November. So while the polls may make you feel better, the truth is that very few House seats will be lost, if any. There are a few contested seats, and Republicans have more contested seats than do Democrats, so the odds are that Republicans will lose a few seats, but the polls are doing more to give Democrats a comfy illusion that this November is going to be a rebuke to the right wing warmongers.

But I suppose it is news in the blandest sense, just like it was news that seven thousand troops have deserted the service since 9-11. So whatever makes you feel good.

Posted by: stephen | Mar 14, 2006 4:21:17 PM


Since when has polling depended on "the Democratic leadership" before it was allowed to ask questions? (I thought it was usually the other way around.) Or are you taking Richard Morin's (ludicrous) policy and running with it? Before, the threshhold was for any serious Democratic leader to talk about censuring Bush. Now, when that happens, you move the threshhold beyond a single leader to the entire Dem leadership.

One supposes that, if that were to happen, the threshhold would then include the Republicans, since they control Congress.

Why poll Americans at all, when you only need to talk to Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert to find out what might make its way through Congress?

"You wrongly assume that anti-Bush sentiment is all coming from the pro-left"

Uh, where do I say anything remotely like that? I say that the disapproval rating of Bush, which is measured close to 60% these days, would likely translate to support of censure. I don't know if that's true, but I think it's certainly a reasonable question for a pollster to ask.

As for the rest of your post - you're straying _way_ off topic. I wasn't talking about Congressional elections, "elite money-laden liberals" (aside: ROTFL - geez it's amazing how pervasive the myth about rich liberals persists in spite of all the evidence to the contrary) or any of the other things you talk about.

The point is pretty simple: poll about censure.

Posted by: Rick | Mar 14, 2006 6:14:06 PM

Anybody looking for a conservative, life-long Republican who is irate enough to demand censure as a minimum? Where do I sign up?

Posted by: wj | Mar 15, 2006 3:15:59 PM

I called Senator Specter's office to go on record as supporting censure. In talking to the receptionist, she told me that he had been deluged by calls: THE MAJORITY WERE FOR CENSURE! Why else do you think Specter got up there and double-talked for too long reading about lawsuits from back in the 1760s, etc., all of which made so little sense, I wondered if the chemo had affected his mind.

Posted by: Leigh | Mar 15, 2006 9:14:46 PM

We now have the first two national polls on censure. Yesterday American Research Group showed Americans as a whole SUPPORTING it 46-44, and registered voters supporting it 48-43. ( http://americanresearchgroup.com/ ). The same poll showed Americans opposing flat-out impeachment of Bush by only a 7-point margin! Tonight, however, Rasmussen shows Americans as a whole opposing censure 45-38. ( http://www.rasmussenreports.com/2006/March%20Dailies/Censure.htm )

So who's right? ARG has a fairly good accuracy rating, although I'm extremely suspicious (for obvious reasons) of their conclusion that political independents actually support impeaching Bush more than they support censuring him. Rasmussen also has a fairly good record, but seems to have a mild but consistent GOP bias. (If you calibrate Rasmussen's poll by comparing their daily polls of Bush's popularity with those of most other pollsters in the last few days, you reach the conclusion that right now the American people are dividied virtually evenly on whether they favor Feingold's censure measure.)

So we DO, at least, seem to have solid evidence that, contrary to the MSM's regularly repeated wisdom, it is not a political death sentence for Democrats (or, for that matter, Republicans) to vote their actual consciences on this subject -- if, of course, they have consciences.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw | Mar 18, 2006 12:41:16 AM

Rasmussen has "some" bias to the right?

Uh. The dude works for World Net Daily, wrote a book called "The GOP Generation" where he claims the GOP will dominate for the next 100 years, and all of his political donations are to Republicans.

How can he be considered a fair pollster?

Posted by: Martin Jacobs | Aug 11, 2006 3:11:00 PM

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