Adventures In Poll-Reading
Idaho überblogger Clayton Cramer posts about a monthly tracking poll taken by FoxNews earlier this month; specifically, he looks at the results for questions asking about warrantless wiretapping. These results are as follows:
30. Do you think the president should or should not have the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor electronic communications of suspected terrorists without getting warrants, even if one end of the communication is in the United States?
Should Should not (Not sure)
10-11 Jan 06 58% 36 6
Democrats 42% 53 5
Republicans 78% 16 5
Independents 57% 35 8
31. In an effort to identify terrorist activity, do you think the president should or should not have the power to authorize the National Security Agency to do computer searches of large numbers of international phone calls coming in and out of the United States without getting warrants?
Should Should not (Not sure)
10-11 Jan 06 60% 34 7
Democrats 42% 50 8
Republicans 80% 15 5
Independents 59% 34 7
To me, these results aren't very surprising -- by about a 3:2 margin, the public recognizes that the exigencies of war require some common sense in fighting it -- even if it means giving up some "rights" that don't really effect most people anyway. (Not too many people are making overseas calls, and, if you're like me, anyone listening in on my calls would be bored stiff.)
Other polls have shown about the same level of support -- maybe. It really depends on how you ask the question. For example, many on the left have been trumpting the results of a Zogby poll in which 52% of respondents said that Congress should consider impeaching President Bush if it turns out that he wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge. Notice the word "consider". So what do the headlines say? "More Americans favor impeaching Bush". If you believe both polls, 6-8% of the public believes that the President should have the power to order warrantless wiretaps, but that President Bush should be impeached for doing so. Hmmm...
Columnist Molly Ivins wrote this weekend about poll results that she thought showed how Americans were totally supportive of anything that's anti-Bush. Excerpt:
What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing President Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (77 percent) think we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment....
It all depends on how you ask the question. Ivins' doesn't provide the source of these numbers, but you can draw whatever conclusions best fits your needs from almost any poll. For example, the results listed above are what you might expect people to say before they start thinking about it. Would 77% still agree to do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment when informed of the impact this might have on their lives? The numbers will drop when asked about almost any specific plan that involves some additional cost to the person being polled.
Consider this hypothetical poll question: "Would you support legislation that could guarantee to reduce the number of annual traffic accident fatalities in the U.S. by over 90%?" I bet that one would garner a pretty high level of support. Now, suppose this proposed method involved setting a national speed limit of 15 MPH, and requiring that all non-emergency vehicles be fitted with governors to prevent them from going any faster. How much support would this proposal have?
The bottom line: Any political party that goes into an election thinking they don't have to change the way they've been doing business because some polls full of platitudes break their way will continue to lose elections.
Off-topic postscript: You know, that Clayton Cramer seems to be sucking up all the blog-reading traffic coming into Idaho... I should do something about that.