We are going through a

We are going through a period in which our elites have become hysterical about the fact that the Republicans have more or less taken over the federal government, and history is proceeding without any apparent regard for their preferences. This has a lot of consequences; one minor effect is that it is impossible to get straightforward reporting about poll data. This New York Times/CBS poll is being widely touted as showing drastic declines in public support for the Bush Administration in general, and the President’s policies on taxes and Iraq in particular. Given the unanimous, daily drumbeat of criticism, it would hardly be surprising if these claims were true. But as usual, if we look at the actual raw data generated by the Times/CBS poll, the picture gives little comfort to the Democrats and their allies in Baghdad and the press. In particular, consider these findings:
When asked, “How much confidence do you have in George W. Bush’s ability to make the right decisions about the nation’s economy–a lot, some, not much, or none at all?,” the results were: a lot: 39%; some: 42%; not much: 13%; none: 5%.
When asked, “Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the next two years with George W. Bush?,” the responses were: Optimistic–64%, Pessimistic–31%.
When asked, “Do you think the Bush Administration has made a lot of progress, some progress, not much progress, or no progress at all in improving the nation’s economy?,” the answers are: A lot–6%; Some–45%; Not much–27%; None– 20%.
By a 21% to 11% margin, respondents say the 2001 tax cuts have helped the economy, with 65% saying they made no difference.
When asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try and remove Saddam Hussein from power,” 64% approve and 30% disapprove.
Finally, this poll is being cited as showing broad support for affirmative action and a rejection on the Administration’s position in the Michigan cases. Here is the key question that was asked: “Do you think affirmative action programs in hiring, promoting, and college admissions should be continued, or do you think these affirmative action programs should be abolished? ” The responses: Continue, 54%; Abolish, 37%. The key here, of course, is the wording of the question. “Affirmative action” is an infinitely flexible term that many people construe to mean inoffensive outreach measures. This poll did not ask the logical follow-up question about quotas; most polls don’t. The results on that question are not in doubt. It is interesting, nevertheless, that the percentage saying they want to “continue” affirmative action programs was 50% in December 1996, 41% in December 1997; and 54% in this 2003 poll. It is hard to say whether these fluctuations mean anything. Possibly the constant attacks on the President’s position over the last two weeks affected the responses somewhat.
The main point, I guess, is that you can’t trust news stories about polls; you have to read the data yourself to draw any conclusions.