Wash. Post's Weisman "won't believe" impeachment polls, even those conducted by his own paper

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

During the May 11 edition of the Post Politics Hour online discussion at washingtonpost.com, Washington Post White House correspondent Jonathan Weisman replied to a question -- "How is Washington handling the news that almost 40 percent of Americans support impeachment of [President] Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney?" -- by stating: "We're not. I haven't seen the polling that you are referring to, and until I do, I won't quite believe it." A recent InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion poll, however, found that 39 percent of Americans favor the impeachment by Congress of Bush and Cheney, and polling conducted over a year ago for the Post indicated that one-third of Americans would support Bush's impeachment and removal from office.

In his May 8 syndicated column on TownHall.com, political strategist and pundit Matt Towery reported that a recent InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion poll found that nearly four in ten Americans favored impeaching the president. Towery, the CEO of the Atlanta-based polling firm InsiderAdvantage, wrote:

Our InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion poll asked this:

"Would you favor or oppose the impeachment by Congress of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney?"

Favor: 39 percent.

Oppose: 55 percent.

Undecided/Don't Know: 6 percent.

The survey of 621 registered voters has been weighted for age, race, gender and political affiliation. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

In addition, a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted April 6-9, 2006, found that 33 percent of respondents favored impeaching Bush and removing him from office. According to an April 11 Post article:

The depth of public dissatisfaction with Bush and the highly partisan nature of the criticism are underscored by public attitudes toward efforts by some in Congress to censure him or impeach him for his actions as president.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders view both scenarios as remote possibilities. Still, more than four in 10 Americans -- 45 percent -- favor censuring or formally reprimanding Bush for authorizing wiretaps of telephone calls and e-mails of terrorism suspects without court permission. Two-thirds of Democrats and half of all independents, but only one in six Republicans, support censuring Bush, the poll found.

Last month, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced a resolution in the Senate to censure Bush. A majority of Americans, 56 percent, said his move was driven more by politics than by principle.

Calls to impeach Bush are not resonating beyond Democratic partisans. One-third of Americans, including a majority of Democrats (55 percent), favor impeaching Bush and removing him from office. But more than nine in 10 Republicans and two-thirds of independents oppose impeachment.

At the time, Media Matters for America Managing Director Jamison Foser noted several flaws in the structure of this poll that might have reduced the number of respondents supporting impeachment:

Notice that [Post polling director Richard] Morin claims the results to the questions about censure and impeachment indicate "the highly partisan nature of the criticism" of Bush. But do they really? Or do they reflect the fact that the Post injected partisan politics into the questions? The censure and impeachment questions were worded as follows:

40. As you may know, Bush authorized wiretaps on telephone calls and e-mails of people suspected of involvement with terrorism, without first getting court approval to do so. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold has called for Congress to censure or officially reprimand Bush for doing this. Do you think Congress should or should not censure or officially reprimand Bush for authorizing these wiretaps?

41. Do you think Feingold is calling for censuring Bush mainly (to use the issue for political advantage), or mainly (because he believes it is the right thing to do)?

42. Democratic Congressman John Conyers has called for creation of a committee to look into impeaching Bush and removing him from office. Do you think Congress should or should not impeach Bush and remove him from office?

Perhaps the partisan split in the poll results simply reflects the fact that the Post chose to identify censure and impeachment as matters being promoted by Democrats?

By contrast, the Post's January 1998 poll, which asked several questions about the possibility of impeaching President Clinton, did not associate the idea with either political party.

There's another crucial difference between the way the Post asked about impeachment in 1998 and the way it asked about impeachment in 2006: In 1998, the questions asked whether Clinton should be impeached for specific reasons. Two of the questions asked were:

If this affair did happen and if Clinton did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?

If Clinton lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman, and he did resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?

In asking if Bush should be impeached, the Post omitted any mention of any reason why one might think he should be.

Finally, in 1998, the Post asked if Clinton should be "impeached." In 2006, the Post asked if Bush should be impeached and removed from office -- leaving no room for the respondent who thinks he should be impeached but not removed, as Clinton was.

So, in 1998, the Post poll gave respondents a specific reason why Clinton might be impeached, didn't tie it to either political party, and didn't include his removal from office in the question. But in 2006, the Post did link the possibility to one party, did not give respondents a specific reason why Bush might be impeached, and did include his removal from office in the question.

Since April 11, 2006, The Washington Post has conducted 10 polls asking respondents if they approve of the job President Bush is doing. None of these polls has asked whether respondents favor impeaching Bush and removing him from office.

Before the April 2006 poll, the Post gave several rationales for refusing to conduct polls on impeachment. In her November 13, 2005, column, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote that Morin told her the Post does not "do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached" because such a question "is biased and would produce a misleading result." Media Matters for America Managing Director Foser pointed out the inconsistency in Morin's claim: The Post, under Morin's direction, asked similar questions about then-President Bill Clinton throughout 1998. Morin then changed his story, saying that "we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion."

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