Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Digging Into The Latest Poll Results

The polls are coming! The polls are coming! It's the patriots' warning cry today, not too dissimilar from a cry heard across the New England countryside 330 years ago.

Today's USAT poll rolls out the supposed national response to the President's New Direction in Iraq speech, and as expected, the media herald the bad news:
President Bush's address to the nation last week failed to move public opinion in support of his plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq and left Americans more pessimistic about the likely outcome of the war.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, more than 6 of 10 people back the idea of a non-binding congressional resolution expressing opposition to Bush's plan to commit an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.

But is that what the poll really says? Let's dig a bit deeper.

Let's start at the bottom, question 21, which tells us 2/3 of those polled did not watch the speech, so earlier questions regarding Bush's plan and favor or opposition to the troop surge must be read in light of a sample that didn't benefit from hearing a clear exposition of the president's plan.

More telling is what we can learn about the sample from the limited information USAT makes available (1,003 adults 18 years of age or older). Here, I look for an area where the news is good and see how the sample responded. The economy is good -- jobs up, unemployment down, inflation under control, outlook positive.

Yet, when asked "Do you approve/disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the economy," the results are 45 approve, 51 disapprove, 4 no opinion. So we are dealing with a biased public that didn't hear the speech.

We could toss out the poll now because of that, but let's not quite yet. If they don't like the President's plan, how about the Dems' plan?

Well, 75% of those polled don't think the Dems have a plan, considerably worse than the results for Bush in the same question, where 69% thought he was plan-less.

And what do they think should be done in Iraq? The cut and run crowd (now to 12 months out) are the majority, with 56%, but keep fighting polls well enough, with 42% -- far better than the 17% who want to cut now.

Most troubling is that about the same amount of Americans feel we will lose in Iraq as feel we will win (49/47) -- but remember, this is a biased crowd that didn't watch the speech and that's a statistical draw.

Finally, it's very interesting that 50% in this particular sample don't feel we can win in Iraq, no matter what the troop level. They have checked out, either because they don't want us to win or because their definition of "win" is either anti-war (win = victory without blood), anti-American (win = lose) or unrealistic (win = everyone loves Uncle Sam). Fortunately, 45% feel we can win -- and that's split between "win with more troops" and "win even without more troops."

Bottom line: Bad news for Bush, for sure, but not as bad as it's presented because of an inherently biased sample and selective reporting.

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