Push poll – (noun) a seemingly unbiased telephone survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular candidate and disseminates negative information about an opponent.
ABC News decided this morning to ask America, “Whither the Tea Party?” But instead of displaying data from the ABC News/Washington Post poll that tends to be objective in nature, ABC News went with the less-scientific route. Quoting findings like, “[A]mericans by a broad 23-point margin say the more they hear about the Tea Party movement, the less they like it, rather than liking it more,” and “six in 10 Americans aren’t particularly interested in additional information about the Tea Party, and 41 percent aren’t interested ‘at all,’” the results seem pretty bad.
Let’s take another look. First, we can rule out that a traditional push poll was performed – since original research does not indicate that “additional information” was offered. Instead we have a classic case of twisted poll reports.
ABC News does a fine job of burying the most important polling indicator – approve/disapprove of the Tea Party – five paragraphs down. “All told, 41 percent of Americans identify themselves as supporters of the movement, compared with a high of 47 percent last September.” That sounds bad, but look at their historic data:
Brace yourself, because a year ago total support for the Tea Party was 42 percent: one whole point more! In the same period, opposition to the Tea Party fell as well, for a total of four points. If you keep in mind that the margin of error for this data was +/-4 points, and you have a big non-story.
But it’s the other two sample questions that really have a tendency create fake news narratives.
One could listen to Question 36, being an avid Tea Partier, and answer ‘NO.’ You can also reason that “interest” in additional information about the Tea Party fell because of the mid-term elections: people figured out what the movement was about.
But Question 37 demonstrates the worst example of sound research tactics.
In typical public opinion research, pollsters will offer a single passage of information to be tested with the aforementioned question attached. But with nothing to test, we are left at the mercy of whatever the subjects tend to hear most.
This will no doubt be the first in a series of polls with analysis bent on downplaying the influence of conservative grassroots in America. Pay close attention to the actual tabulated data and ignore the news article that comes with it. Otherwise, you’re just getting pushed around after the fact.