'This Poll Is Designed to Produce Certain Results'

J$P Instant Transcript! Pat Caddell analyzes recent opinion polls on the Terri Schiavo controversy. Updated!

From Fox News Live, March 26 2005:

BOB SELLERS [FOX NEWS]: Most Americans have strong opinions about the Terri Schiavo case, and some new CBS polls suggest that their feelings are mostly on one side of that debate. In one poll asking what should happen to Terri Schiavo now, 66% of those that responded said the feeding tube should not be reinserted. In another sampling, people were asked if they were in a coma, would they have their doctor remove the feeding tube? An overwhelming 82% responded yes to this. But notice the poll use of the word "coma", even though almost all doctors agree that Terri Schiavo is not in a coma. So, is this CBS poll really fair and accurate? We're asking Democratic strategist and Fox News Contributor Pat Caddell. Pat, what's your read on this?

PAT CADDELL: Well I'm very concerned, because I've always said in the years I was polling, that if you tell me the results you want and I'll write the questions for you. Now sometimes we ask people when they don't have a lot of information, this is a very complex case, what they think. But what's being presented in these polls, particularly with CBS when it's so disturbing to me because it's being cited everywhere, and it's not being cited accurately. But when you start your survey interviewing people, and describe a situation which is not the actual condition of Terri Schiavo, you have a problem. But even more importantly, the question that has been drawing the most attention is the argument that 82% of the people said they didn't want the President or Congress involved in this matter. Well that's not what the question was actually asked. The question that was asked on the poll was whether they should be involved in determining, in deciding what should happen to her. I happen to disagree with what the Congress did, but that is not what they did. They simply allowed her the right to go to Federal Court to seek a review of the facts. This is being presented, and then everyone is saying well look, we have a huge majority of evangelicals concerned, everyone's saying they're against it. That means George Bush is in trouble, everyone's opposed to this. That's not what was asked. And you have to be very careful, both that people understand the actual situation, and form the questions the way that people can make a proper judgment. As well as report them as such. What's being reported today by CBS, and what is being said on the other networks which are using CBS's poll rather than their own surveys, is saying that people say they should not be involved. That is not what was asked of people.

SELLERS: Uh-huh. There is also something that Michelle Malkin talked about the other day in her column, and you're kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum politically from her, typically, I would assume. And she talked about the ABC poll, which asks a question about, "Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage, and has been on life support for 15 years".

CADDELL: Yes, and she's not on life support.

SELLERS: Exactly.

CADDELL: This has been a problem in which, in terms of explaining so people know. When ABC asked their poll last Sunday, only 16% of the people had been following the case closely. So a lot of people, for instance, assume what we're dealing with is a situation where someone is on life support means that you're getting breathing, that your organs are being run by a machine, and that you're near death. That's not the case here. People need to be explained to them exactly what the situation is.

SELLERS: Well then let me ask you this, Pat. Because this verges on a push-poll, which you--

CADDELL: Yes. Exactly.

SELLERS: So if you ask enough questions you can lead up to an answer that you want. Do you think CBS is doing that purposely, or carelessly, or what?

CADDELL: I don't--I never--let me just put it this way. Usually they do their surveys most of the time in conjunction with the New York Times. This was one they did separately. I have to tell you, when I've seen complex issues, only once, which is in the Los Angeles Times with the recall here in California, have I seen a survey that made me wonder whether or not the results were prejudged before they were written. This poll is so basically designed to produce certain results, and then is being reported as such, makes me very concerned. Now it could be just pure incompetence, however I suspect that there's more here than that.

SELLERS: Can you give--

CADDELL: And I'm a pollster. My business, it's not about where you stand on the political scale. If you're in the business of public opinion, it is to give the American people a proper reflection of their voice once they've had a chance to properly reflect what the actual facts are. It is not to design a poll to come out and try to drive the news media.

SELLERS: I don't know if you're prepared for this, but I'll put you on the spot. If you could ask a question, what do you think would be a better question to ask, to get a feel for how people feel about Terri Schiavo?

CADDELL: Well, the first thing I would do is I would've started by asking people what they exactly knew about the situation. And then described actually the differences in these kinds of conditions, from the difference in life support, the difference in--

SELLERS: Vegetative state.

CADDELL: --vegetative state, so they understand it. And the fact is that there are several controversies here. Give an accurate reflection. And then ask people how they feel about it, once they've had a chance at least to get a scan on what is a very complicated issue. You don't start, and if you're going to get in the business of the Congress or what they're doing, then you should state what they did--which was to allow a review. Now whether the people favored or opposed it. Not just a question that says that they were going to be involved in deciding her fate. None of us basically--I'm amazed at the 13% who wanted it. But that's not what's being reported. What's being reported is saying the poll says that the Congress and the President, 82% say the President and the Congress should not be involved.

SELLERS: OK, interesting conversation, Pat. Thank you very much.


Update: Welcome "Best of the Web" readers (and thanks to Mr Taranto)!

posted: Sat - March 26, 2005 at 03:35 PM       j$p  send