Hannity quoted CBS State of the Union snap poll, ignored CBS' own caveats on poll's reliability
On the February 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity quoted a CBS poll that showed "77 percent of the people watching [the State of the Union address] liked his [President Bush's] agenda." In doing so, Hannity touted poll results that CBS' own Bob Schieffer warned his audience may not be reliable.
On the February 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity quoted a CBS poll that showed "77 percent of the people watching [the State of the Union address] liked his [President Bush's] agenda." In doing so, Hannity touted poll results that CBS' own Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer warned his audience may not be reliable. Hannity ignored warnings by Schieffer and others that -- as Media Matters for America noted -- such after-speech polls offer a highly skewed indication of the public's view of the speech because those who listen or watch the speech, by and large, support the president already.
Hannity was quoting a question on the poll that actually read, "Did our [CBS'] viewers tonight approve of President Bush's proposals?" Seventy-seven percent of those polled responded that they did approve. But before reading the poll's results, Schieffer warned CBS viewers that the poll "does not necessarily reflect the feelings of the country because, traditionally, we found out, in recent years, more Republicans watch when a Republican makes the speech. More Democrats watch when a Democrat makes the speech."
Beyond the accuracy of such polls, other commentators suggest that whatever boost in overall ratings a president receives after delivering a State of the Union message, the uptick is usually short-lived. Previous snap polls show that a president experiences a temporary bump on even the most controversial issues. After the 2005 State of the Union address, a CBS News snap poll showed Bush enjoying a 12-percent boost in his Social Security proposal (from 44 percent to 56 percent), and a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll put approval of his Social Security plan as high as 66 percent. By the next week, the Gallup poll had approval for Bush's Social Security plan back in the mid-40s. On Iraq, the CBS snap poll saw a nearly 20-point jump in approval of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq (47 percent to 64 percent). Yet, by the end of February 2005, CBS News polls witnessed Bush falling back to 45 percent.
Snap polling can also show nearly extraordinary leaps in popularity. In January 2002, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 62 percent of Americans already felt the nation was headed in the right direction. Nonetheless, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll (subscription required) conducted after Bush's January 29, 2002, State of the Union address found that 90 percent of the people who watched the speech said they thought Bush's policies would help move the United States in the right direction.
From the February 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: There seems to be just contempt for him [President Bush] -- you know -- waking up and getting out of bed and being the president. I think the president, very wisely, last night [during the State of the Union address] just stuck to his guns, and what he believes in, and made his case; and that CBS poll shows that 77 percent of people watching liked his agenda.
From CBS's January 31 coverage of Bush's State of the Union address:
SCHIEFFER: We want to give you some idea now how the president's speech went over with people watching at home. CBS News, with the help of a company called Knowledge Networks, chose, at random, 700 adults who told us they planned to watch the address tonight. We gave them WebTV so they could get on to the Internet and answer our questions about the speech.
Now, remember, this does not necessarily reflect the feelings of the country because, traditionally, we found out, in recent years, more Republicans watch when a Republican makes the speech. More Democrats watch when a Democrat makes the speech.
But, here, were the questions: Did our viewers tonight approve of President Bush's proposals? Seventy-seven percent approved; 23 percent did not. We asked them what affect the president's proposals would have on their lives: Fifty-nine percent said they would make their lives better; 9 percent said worse; 33 percent said the proposals would have no effect on them. On some issues, our survey shows the impact of the speech tonight. Fifty-two percent say the war in Iraq has been worth the cost. Just last week, just 45 percent of the same group thought so. And finally, here is a disappointment. When asked if President Bush will be able to accomplish his goals -- this will be a disappointment to the president, I should say -- 32 percent said yes, only -- and 68 percent -- 8 percent -- said no. They did not think he would be able to accomplish his goals.