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« On Ronnie Earle Raising Money For Democrats. | WILLisms.com | Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 52 -- Terminator. »

NBC's Agenda On Judicial Nominees.

Rule of thumb: Public opinion polls in off election years, especially ones dealing with complicated issues, are generally not very purposive.

Polls can, however, be used by unscrupulous (or, less likely, lazy) news organizations to drive the debate on specific issues in the direction they prefer. The recent spate of atrociously bad question wording, for example, harms the public debate by creating a false consensus based on question wording effects. It is likely difficult to imagine if you are reading this blog, but most Americans don't really care about, or even follow, politics, especially when there's no election happening. Thus, more often in odd years than in even ones, people offer completely uninformed responses in public opinion surveys.

There is a good example of how the disengaged public reacts to detailed issues in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey (.pdf) (via Daly Thoughts).

Asked about "Democrats in the Senate preventing President Bush's judicial nominations from coming up for a vote," respondents:

Generally Support Action: 30%

Generally Oppose Action: 38%

Feel Neutral About This Action: 21%

Do Not Care About This Action: 7%

Not Sure: 4%

Meanwhile, when asked about, "Congress considering putting an
end to the Senate's filibuster procedure, which requires sixty senators rather than fifty-one to end debate and hold a confirmation vote for judicial nominees
," respondents:

Generally Support Action: 31%

Generally Oppose Action: 32%

Feel Neutral About This Action: 19%

Do Not Care About This Action: 13%

Not Sure: 5%

Clearly, regular people don't really care about this issue. That the responses are somewhat mixed indicates that people have not put a lot of thought into the issue. But the media have to create a narrative on the issue, and the "people mostly don't care" meme is not engaging television.

The Media Research Center, meanwhile, took note of NBC's agenda-driven selective use of a different, largely irrelevant, poll question, from the same survey:

Williams led the May 18 NBC Nightly News: "Good evening. For days here we've been talking about the threat of the U.S. Senate going nuclear, as they call it, ending the use of the filibuster to block votes on judges used by both sides for years. To try and head that off, last night and all day today, a few senators have been doing what they do best: They've locked themselves in a meeting where they've been trying to hammer out a deal, something they think the American people would prefer. Well, tonight, some new numbers are out and a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, they show that by a margin of 56 to 34, Americans want the Senate to weigh in on the President's judicial nominees rather than giving them blanket approval. But can the Senate keep from going nuclear? We'll begin there tonight with NBC's Chip Reid on Capitol Hill for us..."

As Williams spoke, viewers saw a graphic with a vague description of the poll question: "Confirming Judges? President's Nominee: 34% Senate Decides: 56%"


This poll question truly proves nothing. The way the question is worded (.pdf) renders it irrelevant to the discussion:

When there are vacancies in the federal court system, should the Senate generally confirm the President's judicial nominees as long as they are honest and competent, or should the Senate make its own decision about the fitness of each nominee to serve?

Should generally confirm president’s nominees: 34
Should make its own decision: 56
Depends(VOL): 5
Not Sure: 5

Of course the Senate should make its own decision, but not the minority party of the Senate, which was recently dealt an electoral setback (at least in part) on this very issue. A simple majority of the Senate should make the decision for the Senate. And the proposed rule change (a.k.a., the "nuclear option," which is such a terrible misnomer) is a matter for the Senate, using its own internal procedures, to determine on its own. There is nothing nuclear about having an up-or-down majority-rules vote to confirm the President's nominees.

Meanwhile, all those millions of Americans watching NBC Nightly News are bombarded with partial information which creates the distinct impression that there is a consensus against the President, which, in turn, has the potential to create a bandwagon effect for those truly on the fence or disengaged.

This is just another example of how members of the media use ostensibly "scientific" and "objective" polls to drive their ideological and partisan agendas.


More ridiculous bias.

Posted by Will Franklin · 19 May 2005 05:14 PM


At the end of this little bit of meaningless nonsense - you link to an Andy Roth piece where he basically lied to his readers. The Pozen comments were in a written statement and first reported over at Congressional Quarterly. Seems Andy forgets to tell the reader the key portion of things he brings up.

Posted by: pgl at May 19, 2005 06:37 PM

Also - since Le Club for Rich People's Soc. Sec. blog comment section is basically blocked, tell Andy that the AEI luncheon that CQ and the press is reporting on was Wed. whereas the Economic Roundtable he mentioned was today. Now if Andy can't read - ask him what makes he qualified to comment on anything. Since you linked to this IDIOTIC comment ...

Posted by: pgl at May 19, 2005 06:51 PM

Meaningless nonsense?... That is exactly the garbage the Democratic fillibuster would like the American people to swallow! Priscilla Owen deserves an UP or DOWN VOTE!
pgl, Why is that so hard to understand? Think about it...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 19, 2005 06:55 PM

pgl seems to have some anger issues! Is it just me or did pgl seem rather hostile?

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 19, 2005 07:59 PM

He must work for NBC.

Posted by: Will Franklin at May 19, 2005 08:05 PM

I think he might be a she.

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 20, 2005 05:06 AM

I get the feeling he doesn't care for Andrew Roth...

Posted by: Zell at May 23, 2005 06:57 AM