Since last week's Democratic National Convention, various polls sought to measure the effect of the four-day event on the election horse race and public opinion more broadly. Several polls showed Senator John Kerry achieving a small bounce, while one showed President George W. Bush gaining ground. But you wouldn't know it from the rampant distortions of polling data by pundits and conservative media outlets. With several media outlets focusing on the Gallup poll -- the only poll to show any bounce for Bush -- and downplaying and distorting those with positive results for Kerry, viewers have been given a false impression of post-Democratic convention public opinion of the presidential candidates.
Following is a summary of the various polls:
ABC News/Washington Post
Registered voters: 50 percent for Kerry v. 44 percent for Bush (6 point Kerry bounce)
Likely voters: 49 percent for Kerry v. 47 percent for Bush (8 point Kerry bounce)
Registered voters: 49 percent for Kerry v. 42 percent for Bush (4 point Kerry bounce)
Registered voters: 48 percent for Kerry v. 43 percent for Bush (2 point Kerry bounce)
Registered voters: 50 percent for Kerry v. 47 percent for Bush (1 point Bush bounce)
Likely voters: 47 percent for Kerry v. 50 percent for Bush (5 point Bush bounce)
FOX's Cameron and Wilson played up Gallup, played down the rest
On the August 2 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, FOX's reporters and anchors interpreted the ambiguous, sometimes conflicting poll data as a clear victory for Bush. In his report from the Kerry campaign, chief political correspondent Carl Cameron labeled Kerry's two-point bounce in an ABC News/Washington Post poll "insignificant" while noting that "the Gallup poll, the most respected survey that's tracked convention bounces the longest, says Kerry got nothing. And Bush still leads 50-46 percent."
Cameron also offered his historical take on the data: "Historically, no challenger has ever actually won the presidency with little or no bounce coming out his convention." But while Cameron relied on Gallup's historical poll data for this observation, he neglected to note that Gallup's editor-in-chief, Frank Newport, told The New York Times that the unusual circumstances of this campaign -- including a highly polarized electorate and unprecedented pre-convention TV advertising -- might render public opinion resistant to this historical trend:
History does predict that there will be a bounce. ... But we've seen such unusual stability in the poll numbers so far this year, and we do know that people are remarkably more focused on the race this year than they have been in previous elections. So, who knows? There is certainly the possibility that the bounce this year will be less than history would suggest.
Instead, Cameron offered a wholesale endorsement of the Republican spin on the issue: "Now coming out of the convention, it's Republicans who are accurately saying it's Kerry who is weaker than any challenger in history with zero to little bounce at all."
On the FOX All-Star Panel at the end of Special Report, substitute host Brian Wilson (who was filling in for regular host Brit Hume) took Cameron's pro-Republican spin a step further. Wilson introduced a discussion of the post-convention polls by again briefly summarizing the various polls before focusing on Gallup, the poll most favorable to Bush: "Let's move on to the Gallup poll, which is a very respected poll. This one is really surprising a lot of people, because it's pretty good if your opponent holds a convention and you get the bounce. And that appears to be what happened in this particular poll." After finishing his summary, Wilson concluded, "Well, I think the one thing we can say is no substantial jump anywhere, and in at least one respected poll, the Bush team actually took a bounce." So according to Wilson, three polls indicating a two- to eight-point improvement for Kerry is "not substantial," but one "very respected poll" with a five-point improvement for Bush is "a bounce."
Washington Times, National Review cited only worst poll for Kerry to observe "silent bounce," "dull thud"
Conservative print and Internet outlets followed a similar pattern. A Washington Times op-ed titled "The silent 'bounce'" cited only the Gallup poll in support of its assertion that "John Kerry became the first presidential candidate since 1972 Democratic nominee George McGovern to fail to get a bounce in the Gallup Poll among likely voters following a Democratic or Republican national convention."
In a National Review Online article titled "Thud," NRO contributor Robert Moran (who is "vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates") used figures from the Gallup poll to gird his contention that "that dull thud you hear may be the John Kerry flop of 2004." Without mentioning any other polls, Moran concluded, "Did the Kerry campaign get a bounce for its product? At this point, the answer appears to be no."
FOX & Friends hosts mischaracterized polls to show Kerry slipping
The Gallup Poll's Newport appeared on FOX & Friends on August 1 to explain that the "best way to characterize" his organization's new poll is to say it shows "no change." The show's hosts ignored his advice, claiming later in the same program -- less than an hour after Newport appeared -- that the most recent Gallup poll shows a negative trend for the Kerry-Edwards '04 campaign. Co-host Steve Doocy described an on-screen graphic of the poll's overall results showing 50 percent of likely voters supporting Bush-Cheney '04 and 47 percent supporting Kerry-Edwards '04, compared with a 47-49 Republican-Democrat split two weeks earlier. Doocy used this poll as evidence that Kerry experienced a "five-point negative bounce, from one ahead to four behind," and asked, "So what went wrong for Mr. Kerry?"
Co-host E.D. Hill agreed with Doocy's mischaracterization of the Gallup poll and, as additional evidence of Kerry's failure to achieve a convention bounce, offered a separate Newsweek poll that actually showed the opposite. The Newsweek poll, conducted July 29 through July 30 (both before and after Kerry's convention speech) showed a three-point increase in Kerry's lead, from a 47 percent-44 percent Kerry advantage three weeks earlier, to a 49-42 lead. But Hill falsely claimed, "[E]ven though Kerry is still leading in the Newsweek poll, he lost points and people are kind of shocked by that."
Hannity misrepresented Iraq poll results, skewed public opinion of Bush on national security issues
During an August 2 interview with Kerry campaign spokesperson Michael Meehan, FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes co-host Sean Hannity distorted the new Washington Post/ABC News Election 2004 poll, falsely asserting, "[O]n the war in Iraq, on the war on terror, and issues of national security, by far the president has a significant lead over Kerry."
According to that poll, however, Kerry has a two-point lead (48 percent to 46 percent) on the following question: "Who do you trust to do a better job handling the situation in Iraq"; meanwhile, Bush holds a three-point lead (48 percent to 45 percent) on this question: "Who do you trust to do a better job handling the US campaign against terrorism?" (Results are within the statistical margin of error.) The Washington Post/ABC News poll also indicates that while Bush holds a three-point lead (48 percent to 45 percent) on who "will make the country safer and more secure" (also within the margin of error), Kerry leads by five points (48 percent to 43 percent) on who will do better in "improving the U.S. intelligence agencies" and by eight points (52 percent to 44 percent) on who is "better qualified to be commander in chief of the U.S. military" -- both exceeding the margin of error.
Hotline editor Chuck Todd misrepresented public trust in Bush
On MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of National Journal's The Hotline, claimed, without citing any support for the assertion, that the American people "believe their president." In fact, recent polling data suggests otherwise.
Asked by host Chris Matthews whether there is a "Michael Moore factor running in the country right now?" Todd replied, "I don't think so. I think people -- Democrats forget, people, particularly in the middle, believe their government. They believe their president. They may not agree with him, but they believe their president."
However, the above-mentioned Washington Post poll indicates that only 41 percent of the American public believe that Bush is "honest and trustworthy," compared with 47 percent who believe that Kerry is "honest and trustworthy." The new CBS News poll indicates that 39 percent of Americans believe Bush has "more honesty and integrity compared to others in public life" (compared with 38 percent who believe that of Kerry), with 25 percent stating Bush has less honesty and integrity than other public figures (compared with 14 percent who believe that of Kerry). In the Gallup poll referenced above, Bush rated at 43 percent (compared with Kerry's 48 percent) on whether he is "honest and trustworthy." In the Gallup poll that included an additional day of survey data (August 1), which was released on the evening of August 2, Bush also rated below Kerry (44 percent, compared with Kerry's 46 percent).