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.
Ordinarily, the network’s national polls include one or two obviously slanted questions, written to deliver certain ideologically satisfying results, but Fox News’ latest survey is a cornucopia of partisan gems. On the White House:
“Regardless of how you feel about the health care law, do you wish the president had spent more time on the economy during his first years in office instead of reforming health care, or don’t you feel that way?”
“An economist named Jonathan Gruber who helped the Obama administration develop the health care law has said that a lack of transparency and the stupidity of the American people were critical to getting the law passed. How much, if at all, do Gruber’s comments bother you? Do you think Gruber’s comments prove the administration intentionally deceived the American people about the law, or not?”
And immigration and executive powers:
“Do you think Barack Obama acted within his authority under the Constitution or exceeded his authority under the Constitution when he issued executive orders on immigration without Congressional approval? How concerned are you that Barack Obama’s use of executive orders and acting without Congressional approval may be permanently altering our country’s system of checks and balances?”
And the IRS:
“Do you think Congress should continue to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of hundreds of conservative and tea party groups until someone is held accountable, or not?”
And even Benghazi:
“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the head of the State Department when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and four Americans died. Would this make you more or less likely to vote for her if she runs for president, or would it not make a difference to your vote? … Do you think Congress should continue to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans until someone is held accountable, or not?”
In nearly every instance, Fox received the responses it hoped to hear, which is generally what happens when a pollster drops the pretense of objectivity. Indeed, this is what makes Fox polls amazing – the purported news organization starts with the preconceived narrative and then words the questions to generate the satisfying results.
But as we discussed last summer, 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.
Last year, Fox News even 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.