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What's the Murdoch/Ailes effect on Obama's approval ratings? (Media Matters for America illustration)

Why not make a Fox question standard in all news polls?

ASK THIS | December 07, 2011

A new NY Times/CBS News poll finds Fox viewers in Iowa are nearly twice as opposed to Mitt Romney as are non-Fox viewers. It would be nice to know just how much of that difference is the result of biased coverage on an impressionable audience. Polls like this could help tell us, and also might expose, as Barry Sussman points out, the extent to which Fox coverage is tearing down President Obama’s approval ratings week after week.

By Barry Sussman

A New York Times/CBS News poll, released Dec. 7, showed Fox News Channel viewers in Iowa nearly twice as likely to oppose Mitt Romney as people who don’t get their news from the Murdoch/Ailes network. There are logical explanations for this in addition to biased, brainwashing coverage by Fox. It is likely for example, that some Fox viewers are more extreme in their views than other Republicans to begin with and don’t need encouragement.

What’s especially neat to me is that the Times and CBS News decided to examine Fox viewers in the first place. They are to be congratulated for that, and I hope they keep on doing it. It took all of one question in the survey to sort out Fox viewers from everyone else – and that question can, if it continues to appear in Times/CBS News polls, lead to volumes of news. Other pollsters and news organizations should be asking the same question, or ones like it. It leads to worthwhile, non-horse-race findings as well as a more nuanced report on how the candidates are doing.

One of my main interests in this way of slicing the data – Fox viewers v. everyone else – is to see how President Obama would come out. I often feel Obama is being cheated on his approval ratings, compared to past presidents. I think his ratings are dragged down by Fox News. Like Republicans in the Senate and House, a main game of Fox, as Media Matters for America so neatly shows, is to let no day pass without ripping into the President, and I think that polls can quantify, to an extent, just how successful Murdoch/Ailes are in their efforts. I think it can be measured in polls, and I’d like to see it tried regularly.

It used to be that there were two sure-fire lifters of presidential approval ratings. One was a national crisis, of almost any sort, regardless of what it was. Hence the expression, “the country rallies around the president in a time of crisis.” The second was activity – just about any activity – that drew public attention and made it seem a president was doing something.

Obama has had plenty of crises and he certainly gets a lot of attention for his activities. But his ratings seldom get to 50 percent approval (May was the last time, according to Gallup), and most often there’s plurality disapproval. You don’t hear the ‘rallying around the president’ phrase much.

Approval ratings are important in that low ratings embolden political opponents, especially those on Capitol Hill, to attack a president, while high ratings tend to make opponents more careful and respectful in their criticism.

My theory is that if there were no Fox News, Obama’s approval rating might be five or ten points higher. I would test it by adding two questions to opinion polls. They wouldn’t take much time to ask but they could provide insight one way or the other. I’d ask these questions or variations of them:

Q. How much of your news do you get from Fox: all of it, most of it, about half, less than half, hardly any, or none? (That question is similar to the one in the Times/CBS News poll; which was Q102 here.)

The second question would enable comparison of Fox viewers with others for their political awareness. There are endless possibilities; here's an example:

Q. Recently Arab leaders Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi were overthrown and Gaddafi was killed. Can you please tell me, which Arab country was Mubarak from? And which was Gaddafi from?

The advantage of a question like this is that it roughly divides people into those who get 100%, 50%, or zero. (Note, I said roughly.) Questions 1 and 2 together divide the people interviewed into groups such as Fox v. non-Fox viewers according to whether they do or do not keep up with events. An assumption might be that those who don’t keep up are more impressionable – and the Fox bias effect, if there is one, would be most telling on them. 

These questions or ones like them are rich in potential. They would reveal, again roughly, for how much of the electorate there is a Fox effect, and what that effect might be when it comes to voting and other issues.

Professor emeritus
Posted by Phil Meyer
12/07/2011, 05:11 PM

Good idea, Barry. Let me suggest some refinements:
1. Add MSNBC as a control. Yes, I know that's a false equivalency, but you need something to compare FOX to.
2. Make it a time series, with a panel. That's the only way to tease out the direction of causation. Maybe Obama disapproval causes viewers to choose Fox more than watching Fox makes them Obama haters. Of course, it's probably a case of mutual causation, a reinforcing loop. But one direction might dominate.
3. Don't forget to control for education. It correlates with just about everything, so you need to filter out its effect.
Now let's go get a foundation grant!

First Amendment Right to Deceive?
Posted by Jack
12/09/2011, 05:02 PM

What are the rights and obligations of an air waves licensee? The broadcast corporations do not own the bandwidth that each is assigned for the purpose of sending out their radio or video signals. So why does a licensee have the right to propagandize and to broadcast in a deceitful manner? Harm is done to the public as a result of so much falsification of the news. What is presented as news analysis is often an effort to intentionally misrepresent an issue or an event or to purposely misconstrue the words and intentions of people in the news.

Is there no requirement that TV and radio journalists present the news in a truthful manner?

Bringing Everything Up To The Surface
Posted by Keith Long
12/11/2011, 01:51 PM

As a writer who is privileged to follow closely the national media and its reporting performance across a wide range of venues, I would like to add my support to the suggestion offered here by Barry Sussman. Polling should include in its format questions
that identify where the public being polled gets its information.

That Fox news is creating its own reality for viewers is a point made by NeoCon David Frum in his piece in the New Yorker
magazine recently,

http://nymag.com/news/politics/conservatives-david ...

and again in his interview by Howard Kurtz on CNN's media show Reliable Sources, Sunday, December 11, 2011.

David Frum writes, "But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the
book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.

"We used to say 'You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.' Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and
conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information."

Sussman is right. If the viewers of Fox have their version of political reality created by their dominant news source, it is certainly germane that pollsters identify and quantify those opinions according to that source.

If biased and even agenda-based media coverage of important news stories from the Fox news channel is ultimately influencing critical decisions such as the election of our president, this is something that must be brought up to the surface in our national dialogue.

Posted by Russell Clepper
12/13/2011, 11:34 AM

The influence Fox News exerts over public opinion has already resulted in the election of one president, and worse, the wrongheaded, criminal war in Iraq that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, not to mention the actual combatants.

Without Fox News' aggressive support of George Bush and his war, I believe it's highly likely we would not have invaded Iraq. They used the national anger and fear resulting from 9/11 to seize a false moral high ground that the national mainstream (legitimate) media dared not assail. Or at least, they were unable to discredit Fox's propaganda with sound journalism techniques such as, for instance, asking tough questions. (During that time, although I was constantly on the watch to hear them uttered in major media outlets, I never did until I finally heard Ted Kennedy ask them on the floor of the Senate during the debate to authorize the war. Later, I discovered Democracy Now! and some other non-mainstream media that were asking those questions, too.)

So yes, put those questions in the polls, Mr. Sussman. This nation needs to wield its power and set its course based on the best information we can get, not on ideologically created sound bites, jingoistic slogan slinging and think tank buzz word fabrication.

Fox has damaged the country enough already. It must be exposed for what it is; a brilliantly conceived organization created to shape public opinion and policy according to a particular ideology, a propaganda machine. It is NOT a reliable source of news information, and that has to become commonly and widely accepted for the fact that it is. Otherwise, it will continue to be successful in its mission and this country will continue sinking into ignorance, poverty, militarism and police state-ism.

Posted by taikan
12/13/2011, 10:22 PM

That there is a correlation between those who watch Fox News and those who are unlikely to support Mitt Romney should come as no surprise. However, correlation does not imply causation.

My guess is that if a pollster were to pose a similar question about news sources it would find that people who get their news from watching PBS and/or from listening to NPR are at least twice as likely to support Obama as those who get their news from other sources. That doesn't mean that PBS and/or NPR are biased, or that they cause their viewers/listeners to support Obama. It simply means that there is correlation between those who trust PBS and/or NPR to provide them with the facts and those who support Obama.

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