Why Are Polls Ever Front-Page News?

The Washington Post today leads its front page with a story, “Public Option gains support,” a story based on a Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Attorney, law professor and talk show host Hugh Hewitt examines the polling methodology and reports the sample:

Only 20 percent of adults identify themselves as Republicans, little changed in recent months, but still the lowest single number in Post-ABC polls since 1983. Political independents continue to make up the largest group, at 42 percent of respondents; 33 percent call themselves Democrats.

ABC News/Washington Post pollsters called just over a thousand people, only found 20% who said they were Republicans, and they think it’s news that Obamacare is now winning the day in American public opinion overwhelmingly. I’m stunned. I think I need to go lie down.

Hewitt notes that Rasmussen reported that at the end of September of this year, the party breakdown in the country was 32.1% Republican, 37.5% Democrat. If all the rest were independents, you’d get 30.4% independent.

It’s always been a matter of principle for mainstream journalists to insist “We don’t make up the news.” But every story based on public opinion surveys blows that claim out of the water.

Here, by the way, is the .pdf text of Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill, released the week after the committee approved the measure.  It’s 1,502 pages.

UPDATE (10:40 a.m.): Kellyanne Conway (president & CEO of the polling company™, inc./WomanTrend) does a deeper analysis of Washington Post poll:

Asking an under-informed public in a poll about “public option” is incomplete. It calls for a response to feel-good phraseology rather than a probing of underlying ideology. “Public option” in health care is not so different from “campaign finance reform,” “Violence Against Women’s Act,” “revenue enhancements” or for that matter, “world peace’ and “no rain this Saturday.”

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