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Fox News' unique approach to polling
There is nothing so amazing in American media as the wording of questions in a Fox News poll.
By Steve Benen
Take the results, for example, from the news network's latest national survey, published this morning. It included this truly extraordinary gem:
"In the aftermath of the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya, the Obama administration falsely claimed it was a spontaneous assault in response to an offensive online video, even though the administration had intelligence reports that the attacks were connected to terrorist groups tied to al Qaeda."
Remember, this is part of a question in a poll conducted by an ostensible news organization. It went on to ask respondents, "Which of the following do you think best describes why Obama administration officials gave false information?"
Got that? In a poll that's supposed to be a legitimate measurement of public attitudes, Fox News tells respondents what to think and then asks them to reflect on the "facts" Fox News has presented to them in the least-objective way imaginable.
Respondents were then asked how much they blame former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the attack in Benghazi, followed by a question about how much they blame President Obama. There were no questions about how much the public might blame the perpetrators of the attack, presumably because that falls well outside the agreed upon narrative.
The more one considers the details of Fox News polling, the more amazing the operation appears.
My colleague Mike Yarvitz flagged another gem from a Fox News poll several months ago:
"The Internal Revenue Service admitted it targeted Tea Party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny. How concerned are you that the government's surveillance program designed to track terrorists using phone and Internet records will be used in the same way to target specific groups and individuals that may disagree with an administration's policies?"
Again, note the impressive artistry on display. The question tells you what to think about a manufactured faux controversy, and in this case, quickly changes the subject to raise the specter of government abuse.
As we've discussed before, this has been going on for a long while. Indeed, I’ve long marveled at the kind of questions that make their way into a Fox survey, starting 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?”
As a rule, 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.