As regular readers know, I hold a special place in my heart for Fox News polling, because unlike independent polls commissioned by major journalistic institutions, Fox News’ surveys tend to be … special.
The network’s latest is a true gem, even by Fox News standards (via Steve M.). The poll asked respondents:
“Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama bypassing Congress and acting on his own to make policies by issuing executive orders, choosing not to enforce laws he disagrees with, and delaying some controversial provisions of other laws?”
Fox got the result it wanted by presenting Republican talking points as fact – a 58% majority of respondents said they disapprove of the president’s actions – but in reality, Obama is not ignoring laws he disagrees with. It led to this question:
“Do you think President Obama exceeded his authority under the Constitution when he changed the health care law on his own by executive order?”
Again, that’s the GOP argument, to the point that it seems Republican operatives literally wrote the poll for Fox, but all Obama did was delay the implementation of an ACA provision that wasn’t ready – a provision Republicans didn’t want to see implemented anyway. George W. Bush did the same thing with Medicare Part D and no one gave a darn.
All of this, naturally, concluded with this question: “Do you favor or oppose impeaching President Obama for exceeding his authority under the Constitution by failing to enforce some laws and changing other laws on his own – or for any other reason?” (Only about a third said they favor the idea.)
The only reason – the only reason – for a purported news organization to word polling questions this way is to generate a result that reinforces a preconceived narrative, which is pretty much the opposite of what legitimate polling is supposed to do.
But it’s the larger pattern that really drives the point home.
Fox News’ habit of playing political games with its polling has been ongoing for a while. I first noted it back in March 2007, when the network’s poll asked, in all seriousness, “Do you think the Democratic Party should allow a grassroots organization like Moveon.org to take it over or should it resist this type of takeover?” Soon after, another Fox poll asked, “Do you think illegal immigrants from Mexico should be given special treatment and allowed to jump in front of immigrants from other countries that want to come to the United States legally, or not?”
In 2009, a Fox poll asked, “Do you think the United Nations should be in charge of the worldwide effort to combat climate change and the United States should report to the United Nations on this effort, or should it be up to individual countries and the United States would be allowed to make decisions on its own?”
In March 2013, a Fox poll asked, “Former President George W. Bush stopped golfing after the start of the Iraq war. Do you think President Barack Obama should stop golfing until the unemployment rate improves and the economy is doing better?”
In June 2013, a Fox News poll claimed, “The Internal Revenue Service admitted it targeted Tea Party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny,” despite the fact that this isn’t what the IRS said.
Earlier this year, Fox News suggested in a poll that the Obama administration “knowingly lied” about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, even though the question was based on discredited conspiracy theories.
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.