NY Post exaggerated results of ambiguously worded poll question about Obama and Blagojevich scandal

››› ››› HANNAH DREIER

The New York Post falsely reported that a Rasmussen poll found that "[n]early one in two Americans thinks it likely" that President-elect Barack Obama or members of his staff were "in on" the scandal involving Gov. Rod Blagojevich and that 23 percent of respondents in the poll "[s]ay it's 'very likely' an Obama aide will be implicated." In fact, the poll found that 23 percent of respondents found it "[v]ery likely" and 22 percent of respondents found it "[s]omewhat likely" that "Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the Blagojevich scandal" [emphasis added]. The Rasmussen question itself is ambiguous as to whether "involvement" is limited to instances of wrongdoing by Obama or his staff, of which there is no evidence.

In a December 16 article, the New York Post falsely reported that a December 11-12 Rasmussen poll found that "[n]early one in two Americans thinks it likely" that President-elect Barack Obama or members of his staff were "in on" the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), and further falsely reported that 23 percent of respondents in the poll "[s]ay it's 'very likely' an Obama aide will be implicated" in connection with the scandal. In fact, in response to the same question -- not two separate questions, as the Post report suggested -- the Rasmussen poll found that 23 percent of respondents found it "[v]ery likely" and 22 percent of respondents found it "[s]omewhat likely" that "Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the Blagojevich scandal" [emphasis added]. Rasmussen did not ask in that or any other question how likely respondents thought it was that Obama or one of his staff was "in on" or "implicated in" the scandal. Moreover, the Rasmussen question of whether Obama or his staff were "involved" in the scandal is itself ambiguous; as Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld noted, "[F]or respondents, 'involved' could mean anything from having had perfectly routine discussions about [Obama's Senate] seat to something genuinely pernicious." As Media Matters for America has noted, both U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the criminal complaint against Blagojevich have made clear that there are no allegations or evidence of misconduct by Obama or his staff in connection with the case.

The Rasmussen poll asked the following question:

3* How likely is it that President-elect Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the Blagojevich scandal?

23% Very likely

22% Somewhat likely

35% Not very likely

11% Not at all likely

10% Not sure

In purporting to report the Rasmussen poll's results, the Post wrote:

Nearly one in two Americans thinks it likely Barack Obama or someone on his team was in on Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged corruption scandal, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey released yesterday.

Blagojevich was arrested last week and charged with, among other things, seeking to appoint the successor to Obama's Senate seat in exchange for $1 million.

45%

Believe Obama, or staffer, involved

23%

Say it's "very likely" an Obama aide will be implicated

In addition to falsely asserting that Rasmussen polled whether respondents believe Obama or his staff were "in on" or "will be implicated" in the Blagojevich scandal, by recounting the 45 percent and 23 percent figures separately, the Post also falsely suggested that the two results came from separate Rasmussen poll questions. In fact, the 45 percent figure represents the number of respondents who said it is either "[v]ery likely" (23 percent) or "[s]omewhat likely" (22 percent) that "Obama or one of his top campaign aides" was "involved" in the scandal.

In addition to Sargent and Kleefeld, Washington Monthly blogger Steve Benen also noted that the Rasmussen poll question is "more than a little ambiguous":

The exact wording of the question was: "How likely is it that President-elect Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the Blagojevich scandal?"

The problem, of course, is that "involved" is more than a little ambiguous. For that matter, asking about "Obama or one of his top campaign aides" opens the door awfully wide.

Indeed, while I suspect some news outlets will pounce on the Rasmussen results as evidence of public doubts about Obama, the exact same pollster, on the exact same day, found that Obama's approval rating is still soaring, and one point shy of a post-election high.

In other words, looking at the Rasmussen numbers, Americans either a) believe the president-elect or his team were part of a major corruption scandal, but don't care; or b) think Obama or his aides were "involved," but not in a way that reflects badly on the president-elect or his team. My hunch is that it's the latter.

Rasmussen has used questions in the past that were ambiguous or that misrepresented the debate over a particular issue.

Network/Outlet
New York Post
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Barack Obama, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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