Friday, June 29, 2007

Not even Fox can skew the mood

It must be frustrating these days to work for the Bush administration TV network – known officially as Fox News – given the president’s lame-duck status and the grim prospects for a Republican victory in 2008. Even the pollster at Fox News seems incapable of divining a silver lining for the beleaguered GOP. The latest survey, released yesterday, reports that only 31 percent of Americans praise Bush’s job performance (the lowest ever recorded by Fox News); reports that only 46 percent of self-identified conservatives praise his performance (another Fox News nadir); and reports that only 42 percent of “born-again Christians” praise his performance (another Fox News nadir).

This time, not even Fox News' loaded questions provided any sustenance. We'll get to that in a moment. But first, some back story:

In the past, the Fox pollster has occasionally managed to word the inquiries in a way that produced the desired responses, thereby providing some aid and comfort to their favored political party, and making it appear that Bush’s prospects weren’t as dire as commonly perceived.

Back in April, for example, Fox worded a question this way: “Do you think that a congressional investigation into the dismissal of the eight federal prosecutors is a good use of taxpayer money?” And, naturally, since the issue was being framed as merely a pocketbook issue for tax-averse Americans, 51 percent said no, the probe was not a good use of their money. (If that’s the only yardstick for public policy, it would have been fascinating to find out what Fox would have discovered if its pollster had also asked, “Do you think that a congressional investigation of the administration’s conduct of the Iraq war is a good use of taxpayer money?” But that question wasn't asked.)

Another April question was little more than a veiled GOP talking point: “After the 2004 presidential election, the president of the left-wing political action committee made the following comment about the Democratic party, ‘In the last year, grassroots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the party doesn’t need corporate cash to be competitive. Now it’s our party: we bought it, we own it, and we’re going to take it back.’ Do you think the Democratic party should allow a grassroots organization like to take it over, or should it resist this type of takeover?” And, with the inquiry framed that way, naturally 61 percent of Americans said the party should resist such a “takeover.” (The GOP would love to plant the erroneous perception that the congressional Democrats take their orders from The Fox News pollster was happy to lend a hand.)

But lately, some loaded questions have also backfired. Two months ago, Fox asked Americans, “Is it accurate to compare withdrawal from Iraq to surrender?” The introduction of the visceral S-word - much favored by the war's supporters - failed to skew the response. Sixty-one percent of Americans said no, it was not accurate to compare withdrawal to surrender.

So, in the survey released yesterday, the Fox pollster tried again, by radically upping the ante: “If there is an all-out war between the United States and various radical Muslim groups worldwide, who would you rather have in charge – Democrats or Republicans?”

Whoa, an all-out war worldwide…America under siege from an Islamo-fascist conspiracy…a veritable Armageddon that’s too much for even Jack Bauer to handle. Surely only the GOP can save the day, right? The same party that has traditionally trumped the Democrats on national security issues by 25 or 30 points, right?

Wrong. Even with Fox’s Def Con Five framing, 41 percent of Americans said they’d prefer to have the Democrats in charge. Only 38 percent picked the Republicans.

So what can the Fox pollster do next? Surely there must be a question that can produce the desired result. Maybe something like this:

If terrorists were to break into your suburban McMansion and blow up your high-definition TV during the fourth quarter of a cliffhanger Super Bowl, while Bill Clinton was off somewhere having extramarital relations, and Harry Reid was standing in your driveway laughing while Michael Dukakis drove a military tank over your rosebushes, would you deem it a good use of taxpayer money to allow to dictate a Democrat surrender of your country?