A closer look at the NY Times/CBS News poll

by Brad Jacobson

Considering many of the staggering results of Thursday’s New York Times/CBS News poll, overall media coverage and examination of the findings have been less than thorough. With the seeming sea change that has occurred, when comparing public opinion before both conventions to public opinion now (the period measured in the poll), you might think it would garner at least as much attention as, say, lipstick-on-a-pig palooza.

Taken as a whole, findings of this poll — some noted in Thursday’s national media discourse, some not — paint the bleakest picture yet for the McCain/Palin ticket. The following compares opinions before the convention to current opinions:

  • Independents: 43%-42% for McCain; 48%-41% for Obama. While the Independent vote is constantly touted as the determining factor in this election, this specific figure was one of the least discussed in the media, including The New York Times article that broke down its very own jointly published poll. The closest Times reporters Robin Toner and Adam Nagourney get to noting this switch? “And the New York Times/CBS News poll found no evidence, at least to date, that Ms. Palin has allowed Mr. McCain to expand his appeal to women voters or independent voters.” While this figure is in an online graphic snapshot of some of the poll’s findings, it’s perplexing how Toner and Nagourney managed to omit the fact that Obama is now up by 7 points among Independents.
  • Moderates: 48%-36% for Obama; 56%-33% for Obama. Though it’s not completely clear what separates a “moderate” from an “Independent,” aside an Independent having a specific registered political affiliation, I didn’t see this result discussed anywhere yesterday, including in the Toner and Nagourney article; in fact, the category isn’t cited once (save in that side graphic). Imagine that: a 23% spread among so-called Moderates isn’t worthy of mention. Incidentally, a later question in the poll asks respondents whether they consider themselves liberals, moderates or conservatives. 39% of Americans, the majority, consider themselves moderates; 24% liberal and 33% conservative.
  • White women: 44%-37% for McCain; 47%-45% for Obama. This figure was more broadly discussed but — with rare exception, such as on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show — not with anywhere near the attention or specificity it deserved. A Lexis/Nexis search came up empty for any mainstream news headlines (as opposed to op-eds) noting Obama’s 10-point overall gain among white women. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews typified the handling of this rather dramatic shift:

CLARENCE PAGE: What these polls have shown is that Palin helped immensely with Republicans, especially Republican women. Not so much with non-Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Not Hillary people?

PAGE: Definitely not Hillary people.

MATTHEWS: There is a still a problem he faces, Barack, despite these good numbers for him, older white women have a problem. I have to think some of it might be age and ethnicity, put it together nicely. But some people aren’t used to this new situation of a candidate like Barack. I’m trying to say it as nice as I can.

It’s true: Obama’s numbers are lower among white women age 45 or older. Yet even in that category, he jumped six points, from 36%-42%, now trailing McCain 42%-49%. Moreover, among white women under age 45, Obama gained 15 points, going from 39%-54%. Matthews mentions this great disparity between under or over age 45 voters, but fails to note this specific number about white women under age 45 or Obama’s overall 10-point bump with white women. Instead, he focuses on Obama’s difficulty winning over old white racist women who are still afraid of voting for a black man. He should point that out, but omitting the other two figures heavily skews the reality of this poll’s results and further entrenches the media myth that only a small number of white people support Obama.

  • 78% of Americans rate the economy “fairly bad” or “very bad” (it’s an even split: 39% fairly bad; 39% very bad. 61% think the economy is “getting worse”; 32% think it’s “staying the same; a whopping 6% think it’s “getting better.”
  • 53% think the war in Iraq is “not part” of the war on terrorism.
  • Sarah Palin’s favorable rating, at 40%, has plummeted to only two points higher than that of Joe Biden’s, at 38%. (Factor in that Biden has been around forever and people are still just beginning to get to know Palin.) Even more telling, Palin’s 30% unfavorable rating is nearly double that of Biden’s, with an unfavorable rating of 17%.
  • Percentage who think “Obama shares the values most Americans try to live by”? 66%. (You might be surprised to know this hasn’t changed much since before the conventions; back then, 63% thought that, which goes to show how widespread the false — and yes, overtly racist and xenophobic — “Obama-is-not-one-of-us” meme has been carried in the media. Wouldn’t this be an impressive and reassuring figure to call out? 66% of Americans think a black man named Barack Hussein Obama shares their values. Oh, by the way, more Americans think Obama shares their values than does John “Country First” McCain (61% see him sharing their values). Talk about quashing another received media notion. Of course, nary a peep about this figure.
  • Is the candidate “someone you can relate to”? Obama: 57% yes; McCain: 47% yes; Obama: 40% no; McCain 51% no. This one continues to dismantle the myth of Obama as “other.” Could that be why it got no play?
  • If either became President, “will it make the United States’ image in the world better, make it worse, or will it have no effect…”? Obama: better 55%; worse 15%; no effect 26%. McCain: better 26%; worse 25%; no effect (aka McSame) 46%. Truly brutal.
  • Did McCain and Obama pick their respective Vice Presidential running mates on the basis of them being “well-qualified for the job” or because they would “help win the election”? Biden: 57% well-qualified; 31% help win the election. Palin: 17% well-qualified (yes, more than 10 points lower than President Bush’s favorable rating); 75% help win the election.
  • “If Barack Obama is elected President and cannot finish his term in office, do you think Joe Biden would be qualified to serve as President, or would you be concerned about him?” 65% qualified; 24% concerned. “If John McCain is elected President and cannot finish his term in office, do you think Sarah Palin would be qualified to serve as President, or would you be concerned about her?” 33% qualified; 62% concerned.
  • President Bush’s disapproval rating stands at 68%, which, as Toner and Nagourney point out, “was as high as it has been for any sitting president in the history of New York Times polling.” Ouch.

Please note: I purposely omitted Obama’s high number on “change” and McCain’s high but lesser number on “commander-in-chief” because both of these figures received wide focus in the national media. Part of the reason is that these differences are real. They exist. They should receive attention. Unfortunately, however, these two differentiators, tried and true talking points of both campaigns, obscure the myriad other differentiators between these two candidates, as well as their running mates. The mainstream media is famously lazy, the simpler the storyline the better: Obama’s the change guy, McCain’s the war guy. But as the breakdown of these other numbers show, citizens are regularly fed other storylines that are patently false, such as Obama somehow holding values that are distinctly different from those of most Americans. Or that he’s seen as an elitist by any substantial portion of the populace, when, in reality, those who see him as such tend to be insultingly disingenuous media elites with multi-million-dollar contracts who are being paid to stoke the horse race or clownishly dishonest GOP lackeys who are projecting a false attribute onto a candidate who not long ago finally paid off his student loans and lived off of food stamps for part of his childhood.

Note to media: Why don’t you ask the 66% of Americans who think Barack Obama shares their values if he’s an elitist? And why don’t you let Americans know that fewer of them think John McCain shares their values? From now until the election, whenever desperate McCain surrogates and GOP water-carrying members of the media trot out this demonstrably false and racially coded talking point against Obama — and they will — responsible members of the media no longer have any excuse to entertain this wholly fabricated smear.

Cross-posted from MediaBloodhound.

4 replies »

  1. So, you’re accusing the mainstream press of … malfeasance?

    I know that our press these days is helpless in the face of any kind of research data, so there’s a temptation to write this off as predictable ignorance. Still, in this case the things you’re noting are so obvious that basic stupidity may not fully explain it all.

    There is a narrative, and it must be served….

  2. You forgot the most important poll: who people would rather watch football with. . .

    People would rather watch a football game with Barack Obama than with John McCain — but by barely the length of a football.

    Obama was the pick over McCain by a narrow 50 percent to 47 percent, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo! News poll released Friday that generally mirrored each presidential candidate’s strengths and weaknesses with voters. Women, minorities, younger and unmarried people were likelier to prefer catching a game with Obama while men, whites, older and married people would rather watch with McCain.

    It’s troubling though that more men would rather watch with McCain. Also, those quoted who’d rather watch with Obama sound like they think it’s more a chance to chat with Obama than bond over America’s favorite pastime. Not that that’s bad.

  3. Thanks for the breakdown. There’s some pretty incredible data there, and some really good stories, if the mainstream media wasn’t so busy being distracted by all the crap that passes for campaign “news.”

  4. Oh man, Russ, where do you find that stuff? More importantly, to what level have we sunk when some may, in fact, cast their vote on that kind of consideration…never mind, we elected the guy we’d rather have a beer with. (wait, we elected the recovering alcoholic that we’d rather have a beer with)

    Thanks, Brad, i found the breakdown of this poll a lot more interesting and pertinent than the flap over the Yahoo poll that discovered that America still has racists who won’t vote for Obama because he’s half black.