Liasson gave misleading report on NPR poll results, suggesting independents favor congressional Republicans

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

On the October 12 edition of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, while discussing a recent poll jointly conducted by both a Democratic and Republican polling firm for NPR, national political correspondent Mara Liasson attributed to the Republican pollster, Glen Bolger, the assertion that "[o]n the question of Congress, independents are siding with Republicans." However, in the comments following Liasson's attribution, Bolger made no such claim, nor does the poll itself support such a conclusion.

During her report, Liasson featured an audio clip of Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg saying, "When we asked the question when you look at the way things are in Congress, by 48 to 35 percent -- by 13 points -- it leads them to want to vote Democratic for Congress. So, the more things play out in Washington, they find themselves leaning more and more to the Democrats." Liasson replied, "Not so fast, says Republican Glen Bolger. On the question of Congress, independents are siding with Republicans." Bolger was then heard, asserting: "We lost the 2006 election because of independent voters. When you look at independents, they don't buy the argument that the Democrats are making. On this message they agree that it's time for a change; it's time to vote against the incumbents regardless of party." In fact, Bolger and Greenberg were referring to different questions, neither of which supports the assertion that "[o]n the question of Congress, independents are siding with Republicans."

Greenberg was referring to the question: Does the "way things are going in Congress" make you "more likely to support ... the Democrats ... or ... the Republicans for Congress?" As he noted, by a margin of 13 percentage points, respondents favored Democrats. Further, when asked a similar question -- does "the way things are going in Washington" make you "more likely to support" the Democrats or the Republicans for Congress? -- 47 percent of respondents said that it made them more likely to support the Democrats versus 33 percent who favored Republicans. The poll data released by NPR did not detail Republicans', Democrats', and independents' individual responses to these questions.

Bolger, meanwhile, was apparently referring to the question below, which asked respondents to choose the statement that "comes closest to your own opinion":

It is time for a change in Washington, and it is time to vote against all incumbents regardless of party. Republicans have messed up the Iraq War and have too many scandals, but Democrats have done nothing to change Washington, and have only worked to help their special interest friends.

...or...

It is time for change in Washington. President Bush has left us bogged down in religious civil war, with the continued support of Republicans in Congress. They did nothing about health care, energy independence, deficits or immigration and have opposed every new effort on health care and lobbying reform. We need to support Democrats to bring change.

While, overall, respondents favored the second option by nine percentage points, 47 percent of independents agreed with the first statement, while 40 percent chose the second. However, by concurring with the first statement, these independents were not "siding with Republicans," as Liasson suggested. Indeed, the first statement is critical of both parties, as it says: "[I]t is time to vote against all incumbents regardless of party."

Further, an October 12 online article accompanying Liasson's on-air report asserted that the poll found that "[b]y big majorities, Republicans, Democrats and independents say they do not like the way the Democratic-controlled Congress is doing its job." In her on-air report, Liasson similarly asserted that "[b]ig majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents say they don't like the way the Congress, which is now controlled by Democrats, is doing its job." But the poll did not ask respondents whether they approved of the "Democratic-controlled Congress." Rather, it asked the general question: "[D]o you approve or disapprove of the way the U.S. Congress is handling its job?" Moreover, contrary to her suggestion that respondents were focused on congressional Democrats -- who control Congress -- in expressing their disapproval, in fact, when asked to choose between the two parties based on the "way things are going in Congress," respondents chose Democrats by a 13-point margin, as Greenberg noted in Liasson's report.

From the October 12 edition of NPR's Morning Edition:

LIASSON: There's also a potential trouble for the Democrats in voters' judgment of the new Congress. Its overall approval rating is even worse than the president's: 69 percent disapprove, 25 percent approve -- and that's a bipartisan judgment. Big majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents say they don't like the way the Congress, which is now controlled by Democrats, is doing its job.

But, says Stan Greenberg, those strong feelings do not seem to be leading voters to turn to Republicans.

GREENBERG: When we asked the question when you look at the way things are in Congress, by 48 to 35 percent -- by 13 points -- it leads them to want to vote Democratic for Congress. So, the more things play out in Washington, they find themselves leaning more and more to the Democrats.

LIASSON: Not so fast, says Republican Glen Bolger. On the question of Congress, independents are siding with Republicans.

BOLGER: We lost the 2006 election because of independent voters. When you look at independents, they don't buy the argument that the Democrats are making. On this message, they agree that it's time for a change; it's time to vote against the incumbents regardless of party.

From NPR's October 12 online article:

But ironically, strongly negative views of the Democratic-controlled Congress don't seem to be helping the Republicans.

Likely voters are even more negative toward Congress than toward the president -- 69 percent disapprove and 25 percent approve of Congress.

The attitudes are not partisan. By big majorities, Republicans, Democrats and independents say they do not like the way the Democratic-controlled Congress is doing its job.

But Greenberg says that those strong feelings do not seem to be leading voters to turn to Republicans.

"The more things play out in Washington, they find themselves leaning more and more to the Democrats," he says.

Not so fast, says Bolger. On the question of Congress, independents are siding with Republicans, he says.

"We lost the 2006 election because of independent voters," he says. "When you look at independents, they don't buy the argument that the Democrats are making. On this message they agree that it's time for a change, it's time to vote against the incumbents regardless of party."

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Mara Liasson
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