Friday, October 07, 2005

Another Poll

Polls matter -- up to a point. But I never like them because the questions always are too simple, and the answers too misleading, to really be a reliable guide to all the things they're supposed to mean.

Consider the latest poll, now shouting in headlines across the country. "Only 28 percent say the country is headed in the right direction .... The president's job approval is mired at the lowest level of his presidency — 39 percent."

If you look at the actual poll [PDF alert], you'll see the questions asked, down the line, were identical in structure: "When it comes to handling ________, do you approve or disapprove or have mixed feelings about the way George W. Bush is handling that issue?"

Fill in the blank with "foreign policy and the war on terrorism," or "the situation in Iraq," or "Social Security," or "the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina."

Oh, I have no doubt that just about everybody is peeved with the man, including 1,000 adults who picked up the phone when Ipsos called Oct. 3-5.

But what does that mean? Maybe 10 percent think Bush is "mishandling" Iraq by being too patient, and 10 percent think he's being too assertive and 10 percent think he should move to partition the country and 10 percent think he should move to scrap federalism and identity-based systems of representation.

But they way it's stacked up, and the way it appears in print, it looks like this whopping big majority on one side, and the president, "pulling the country in the wrong direction" on the other.

Just so, the "headed in the wrong direction" result could be read to suggest that about half the conservatives in the country think Bush is behaving too much like a liberal and half the liberals think he's too conservative.

And even if that's true, it doesn't mean Bush is in any sense a moderate. He might be politically bipolar. Or the result may have nothing to do with conservative and liberal, and it might be that people have developed a picture of Bush as someone who is more interested in cronyism than the national well-being.

But you can't tell any of that from the poll we've been presented.

Gods know, though, people will try.

Just so, you can consider question #10 in the survey, which hasn't gotten much news coverage (that I've seen -- it isn't even mentioned in the AP's story on its own poll): "Overall, do you approve, disapprove or have mixed feelings about the way Congress is handling its job?"

Only 35 percent approve; 61 percent disapprove. Bush's approval rating, abysmal as it may be, is higher than Congress'.