Categories: CommentaryMedia

Poll Fishing: How Today’s Media Distorts Data to Drive Ratings


In this country today, there are at least 550 people who disapprove of the way our president is doing his job.


And that, my friends, is national news.


As today’s media gathers more and more moss on its “Obama is falling apart” stone, they have been using any and all means to paint this president as one who is teetering on the brink of collapse.  His pride and joy, the Affordable Care Act, is broken beyond repair.  Never mind the fact that the rollout is extremely similar to that of Medicare Part D.  Or that initial enrollment numbers mirror those of Massachusetts in that younger people are most likely not to enroll until late January or February.  Focusing on these issues wouldn’t give a national audience a sense of urgency that is needed to sell the news.


Plus, those stories just aren’t that sexy.


And so, here we are nearly a month and half into the most comprehensive piece of social legislation in a generation and the media has yet to say a single positive thing about the new law.  Nothing about the new or first time enrollees.  Nothing about the state exchanges and how many states that have created their own exchanges are on pace to dramatically increase their enrollment numbers in November.  And we certainly haven’t heard anything about how Republican governors like Rick Perry have flat-out refused free federal money for the Medicaid expansion, by putting politics ahead of the health and well-being of the people of their own states.


The latest attempt to smear the Affordable Care Act, and more specifically Barack Obama, has come to us via The Washington Post.  In a poll released Tuesday, the Post showed that Barack Obama’s approval rating at an all-time low 42%, a reflection of both the cancelled health policies as well as rocky start to the health care website.  CNN’s bottom line ticker today illustrated that President Obama’s approval rating has slipped 8% since October 1st.  This was the ticker that was on the screen, for all viewers to see, while they they were waiting for an Obama’s press conference where he wasn’t asked about his approval rating a single time.


But again, the headline draws you in.


Here’s the problem with the media distortion that is so prevalent in 2013:  It creates a false narrative.  Right now, the major overlying issue in this country is not whether or not the American people approve or disapprove of the president of the United States.  In fact, the opinions of people in this country don’t even matter to our elected representatives.  We saw this when our government ignored the will of 90% of the American people and refused to pass gun legislation after Newtown.  Barack Obama does not make political decisions based on whether or not 42% or even 52% of the American people approve of the job he is doing.


To prove this point, let’s look at the poll from The Washington Post, that is currently at the center of the media news cycle.  The 42% number sticks out above all others.  However, that number still more than four times better than Congress.  In looking at this poll, we have to be critical of exactly who is polled and how they were polled.  According to this particular poll, 1,006 random adults were polled by telephone from November 14-17.  This statement alone should draw red flags from more critical readers about the validity of this, or any, poll that ends up making national news.


The first issue is the fact that it was random adults who were surveyed.  This can be voters or non-voters.  It can be high school seniors or it can be elderly couples.  Therefore, it’s important to remember that not everybody surveyed will end up voting in future elections.  Next, the fact that this survey was done by telephone is a huge red flag.  The overwhelming majority of millennials were not contacted for this poll, seeing as they are largely cell phone users.  Millennials overwhelmingly support Barack Obama and therefore were not accurately represented.  The last issue to consider is who exactly takes the time to respond to a phone poll these days.  Most people tend to ignore phone calls from an unidentified number or immediately hang up once a robotic voice comes on.  Chances are, the only people who responded to this poll were older, affluent, and were those that had strong opinions about the job the president was doing.  In other words, the people who are most upset about Barack Obama’s leadership.


And when people are angry, this shows that the story is worthy of national attention.


This is how today’s media operates.  They thrive on controversy.  They go for the stories that have sharp divisions between the two dominant political ideologies of the day.  They refuse to recognize successes and instead focus on failures.  They base every single decision they make not on what is important but what will ultimately create the most buzz on social media.  The more buzz, the more advertising dollars.  The more advertising dollars, the richer the network executives become.  The richer the network executives, the richer the CEOs of major corporations.  In other words, the rich get richer.


And, after all, isn’t that the real purpose of news?




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