Thursday, August 6, 2009

Was CNN Poll a Success or a Failure?

I always hated poll stories. To me, they were a poor substitute used by news organizations for genuine investigative reporting, which is much harder to do than to hire a pollster to ask silly questions. But they populate our media every week, giving some political junkie on either side of the aisle to parade around for a few days to say "Look, most people think like me!"

Today brings another example of a poll that for this news cycle will bring joy to the right, but is so meaningless its embarrassing.

CNN Opinion Research Poll interviewed 1,136 adult Americans, including an oversample of African-Americans, by telephone by Opinion Research Corporation on July 31-Aug. 3, 2009. The margin of sampling error for results based on the total sample is plus or
minus 3 percentage points.

On Question 3, pollsters asked, "Do you consider the first six months of the Obama administration to be a success or a failure?" Fifty-one percent said "success," 37 percent said "failure," 11 percent said "too soon to tell," and 1 percent had no opinion.

Then it compares a similar poll conducted in August 2001 about then-President George Bush. Fifty-six percent said "success," 32 percent said "failure," 7 percent said "too early to tell," and 5 percent said they had no opinion, and now the poll is being touted as proof of Obama's failure as a president.

Quickly, this was touted on Drudge as "CNN POLL: After 6 Months, More View Obama Presidency a 'Failure' Than Bush..." and on RealClearPolitics as "After 6 Months, More View Obama's Presidency as a 'Failure' Than Bush's."

The problem is, only 11 percent got it right this year, as compared to 7 percent in 2001.

You can't judge any president as a success or failure after six months. It's ludicrous. We like stories that nurture this instant gratification world. It's easy to put a number on a president's success or failure and say "Here it is!" But in reality, Obama's policies will only be judged for their effectiveness decades down the road.

Six months into Abraham Lincoln's first term, all 11 states in the South had seceded; the battle of Bull Run had been a disastrous loss, and the country was in the first days of its ugliest war. If we had polls back then, I would imagine his numbers would be worse. But I would also doubt anyone now thinks of Lincoln as a failure -- at any point in his life.

You simply cannot judge a president's success on only six months of work. Sometimes a president's impact can only be seen through the light of history. Heck, even Nixon is getting kudos for some of his accomplishments 40 years after the fact.

Instead of spending the money on a poll, CNN should do some of the hard work no one else seems to want to do. A start could be actually getting a few reporters to read through the thousands of pages in the various health-care bills, and get insurance and health experts together to analyze them. Then report on what each bill would really do to Americans. Heck, that's more than our congressmen are doing. It's harder work, but it's better journalism.

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