The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.
Samantha Sais/Reuters

Adventures in Fox News polling, Part VII

It’s not unusual for Fox News to adopt certain news stories as their own, even if the stories aren’t generating considerable attention elsewhere. Recently, for example, the network has sunk its teeth into the plight of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, a U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico for illegally crossing the border with three loaded firearms in his truck.
 
Instead of sending Tahmooressi home, he was arrested. After a failed escape attempt, the Marine claims he was beaten by prison guards.
 
Fox News’ latest poll includes the kind of question one can only find in a Fox News poll.
“A U.S. marine who mistakenly crossed the border with registered guns in his vehicle has been held as a prisoner in a Mexican jail for two months. Do you think President Obama should publicly demand that the marine be returned to the U.S. immediately, or is it better for the president not to talk publicly about it?”
Notice how the wording guides respondents to the correct answer: the Marin “mistakenly” crossed the border. The guns were “registered.” The marine should be “returned to the U.S. immediately.”
 
Except the language may have been too subtle for poll respondents: only a narrow majority (53%) took the bait and said the president should intervene with public demands.
 
In the follow-up question, the poll asked, “Do you favor or oppose closing the U.S.-Mexico border until the Mexican government returns the U.S. marine?” Respondents were split, with 47% saying they would support closing the border, and 45% opposed.
 
The same poll went on to ask, “Who do you think receives better health care – prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay or U.S. military veterans?”
 
(In Fox Land, the VA scandal suggests veterans are receiving poor medical care. That’s not even close to being true, but facts aren’t necessarily important in the debate.)
 
Of course, the larger point is that Fox News polling is unique. As we’ve discussed before, professional news organizations put a great deal of care into how they word polling questions. To get reliable results that accurately reflect public attitudes, surveys have to be careful not to guide respondents or skew their answers.
 
It’s possible – just possible – Fox is less concerned about accurately reflecting public attitudes, and more interested in advancing an agenda.
 

Fox News and Polling

Adventures in Fox News polling, Part VII