Analytical Illiteracy In Our Media

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Sep 24, 2007 at 10:44

Referring to the poll yesterday purporting to show Obama and Clinton dragging down freshman Democrats in "frontline" districts, Atrios responds by calling it a propaganda poll:

They're sort of right, but I just called it that because it didn't really fit any of the categories neatly. It isn't really a push poll, but nor is it a "message testing" poll as suggested. It's a "conduct a badly worded poll designed to get a specific answer in order to get your willing pals at the Washington Post to get the result you want out into the press" poll. So, fine, not a push poll. A propaganda poll.

In so far as the poll was conducted in order to prompt a negative article about Clinton and Obama in the press, it was indeed a propaganda poll. However, I would like to throw in two caveats. First, the actual poll question seems to be a pretty accurate rendering of what we should expect from the Republican Noise Machine in key Congressional districts:

Some people say (YOUR DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENT) is a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton and will support her liberal agenda of big government and higher taxes if she becomes President. If we re-elect (YOUR DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENT) they will be a rubber stamp for Clinton and will forget the values of our district.

After hearing this if the election for U.S. Congress were held today, would you vote for [ROTATE] _the Republican candidate OR _(the Democratic incumbent), or are you undecided?

Some people, Hillary Clinton, liberal agenda, big government, higher taxes, values of our district… I've seen variations of this attack for years, and I have no doubt we will see it again in 2008. So, in that sense, it is a message testing poll, just one that was conducted with the purpose of leaking it to the press.

The second caveat is how talking heads and the media who dutifully followed through in writing / talking about this poll missed the obvious conclusion to take from the results: it doesn't matter who the Democratic nominee is in these districts. While Obama performs nine points better than Clinton in a trial heat against Giuliani, the Republican attack listed above results in exactly the same drag on local Dems no matter if Obama or Clinton is the nominee. In both cases, as I discussed yesterday, a nineteen point Democratic lead drops to six points. This is a classic double-blind test. Obama is more popular in these districts than Clinton (or at least less disliked), and yet the exact same message has exactly the same impact on local Dems whether he or Clinton is the nominee. The conclusion that should be obvious for anyone with even a modicum of analytical ability is that Clinton and Obama are irrelevant in the question, and that the message, in a vacuum, will have the same impact no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

This poll clearly shows that all Democratic nominees would have the same impact on down ticket Democrats. It is in this way that a poll attempting to prove that Clinton and / or Obama would hurt down ticket Democrats actually did the opposite. This is clear evidence contradicting the longstanding charge that Clinton would hurt Democrats down-ticket more than other potential Democratic nominees. That, actually, is big news. If our media was actually operated by "serious" people with the ability to correctly answer a standard GRE type question, that would have been the story, too. If I were Clinton or Obama, I would mention this obvious analytical lapse the next time I was discussing my education plan. I am not usually this harsh, but I have to say that stupidity like this is damaging America. What else can one call such an obvious case of analytical illiteracy?

Chris Bowers :: Analytical Illiteracy In Our Media

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It would only have been a fair question if they had included (0.00 / 0)
''Others say (THE REPUBLICAN CHALLENGER) is a strong supporter of George Bush and will continue his neo-con agenda of war-mongering and invasion of privacy if his successor as president is another Republican. If (THE REPUBLICAN CHALLENGER) is elected they will be a rubber stamp for the Republican president and will forget the values of our country.''

I would hazard an educated guess that the numbers would then by quite different.

Agreed (0.00 / 0)
The lack of an opposite question makes it extremely suspect.

[ Parent ]
They Can Read (0.00 / 0)
between the lines.

They know exactly what they are doing.

That's why they get so angry when you call them on this sort of shit.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

I think this poll is good news (0.00 / 0)
This essentially means that even in worst case senerio, where the Republicans have gotten their view of the candidates out virtually uncontested, we still are up by six. 

The Politics of Bruno S.

Agree--Message: Dems win (4.00 / 1)
Winning by 6 points instead of 19 is still winning.  The real message is that even throwing all their fear cards out there, the Dems still trounce the GOP and hold Congress.  Tough news for the GOP, not for the Dems.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
That's what I get from it too (0.00 / 0)
The potency of the GOP's tried-and-true bullshit messages is clearly diminishing.  People are figuring out, "all by themselves," as Atrios would say, that the GOP isn't selling anything they want to buy, no matter how they spin their message.

[ Parent ]
Bosses and advertisers (0.00 / 0)
A more traditional framing would be to include a pro-Hillary (or Obama) message along with the negative one.  Something along the lines, "Others say that Hillary Clinton would bring back an economy similar to Bill Clinton's which created 22 million jobs (versus 3 million for George W. Bush) increased the value of the stock market by 400% vs. 25% for George Bush and distributed economic growth among all classes rather than concentrating it among the wealthiest while keeping the country safe from attack and producing a budget surplus.

Clearly, journalism grads know enough to present (at the least) balance.  Given the interference of corporate types who shape news coverage to pander to advertisers, I suspect that was what was involved as well as sheer laziness (or overwork).  It is easier to restate the Republican spin than to do original work.  Heck, networks and the bigfoot journalists of the MSM are living proof that resources are spent on pretty faces rather than on reporting (or at least name faces, Candy Crowley at CNN has been incredibly awful for close to ten years and she's hardly a looker).

What we have here is more than bad education.  It is the complete sell out of journalism in favor of the wealthy and the cost cutters.

They Know, But They Just Don't Care (0.00 / 0)
Clearly, journalism grads know enough to present (at the least) balance.

They know enough.  They just don't care enough.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
good critical thinking texts (0.00 / 0)
journalism programs should require rigorous study of a philosophy-based critical thinking text like this one.  texts like this also deal with identifying common flaws and fallacies in representations of data. 

To be fair (0.00 / 0)
I don't want to sound like a kiss ass, but the biggest reason I read your blogging is that your analytical ability is quite a bit higher than average.  I wouldn't expect everyone to be able to suss as much out of that poll as you did.  However, the actual coverage of it was not merely below average, but incredibly awful and plain wrong.

Yes, But... (0.00 / 0)
This is not rocket science.  This is not PhD thesis stuff.

This is more like bonehead English.  Which I'm sure Chris has taught at some point.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Well, no. (0.00 / 0)
Since they only polled for Obama and Clinton, we get no clue as to the impact of other contenders, and in particular a possible Richardson nomination in ausaging the fears of the firearms crowd.

This is a Test of the Emergency Free Speech System. This is only a Test. In an actual Free Speech Emergency, I'll be locked up.

Problem is Chris (0.00 / 0)
they've left out the guy who has the real electability argument - Edwards.

Clinton has high negatives and is female.  Obama is black, and sorry, that matters in America.  Edwards is a southern white man.

That's the electability issue everyone is trying to avoid. 


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