Saturday, November 22, 2008

OK, so the ridiculous survey by John Ziegler has been rightly denounced as a farce by the Wall Street Journal and we don't need to go into all the flaws with it anymore (see end of post). And I apologize for promoting the site any more than it deserves. As is rightly pointed out by critics, the flaws in the poll can't simply be resolved by asking McCain supporters the same questions. Most of the questions that Obama supporters got "wrong" were negative, questionable "facts" about Obama. A McCain supporter is almost certainly more likely to attribute a negative statement to Obama and get the question "right."

Anyway, the whole effort is just a lesson for third graders that if you ask questions in a certain way, you can usually get the answers that support your conclusion.

But, just for fun, I thought I'd take a crack at Ziegler's challenge:
On Fox, he challenged liberals to sponsor a similar poll of McCain supporters. He told me he was sure McCain backers would do better: “They got their information from a completely different type of media, one that was not totally in the tank for Barack Obama."
And before continuing, please note the following caveat: I like John McCain and don't think this would be a "fair" survey. I think some of the answers are debatable — but no more so than Ziegler's. I'm simply illustrating how easy it would be to use misleading questions with the same type of questionable "answers" as Ziegler used to get a result showing that McCain supporters were misinformed.

So, here's my preliminary list of questions for McCain supporters. I wonder how they'd do (answers at the bottom):

  1. Which candidate started his/her political career at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground?
  2. Which candidate served on the board of an organization that funded Latin American death squads?
  3. Which candidate addressed volunteers of ACORN — a group accused of massive voter fraud — and told them they were "what makes America special"?
  4. In 2006, which candidate warmly addressed the convention of a political party that to this day advocates secession from the United States?
  5. Which candidate served on an education reform board with William Ayers, a radical who bombed public buildings in the 60s and 70s to protest the Vietnam War?
  6. Which candidate said of Barack Obama, "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy?"
  7. Which candidate suggested that small-town voters don't vote for them because "they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion?"
  8. Which candidate received a prayer from a Kenyan witch-hunter to protect him/her from witchcraft during a political campaign?
  9. Which candidate was criticized by the Senate Ethics Committee for his/her involvement with the fraudulent and corrupt activities of a financial institution whose failure cost the federal government $3 billion?
  10. Which candidate's failed bid for the Presidency in 2008 ended after he/she finished fifth in the Iowa Caucuses?
  11. Which candidate was married by a preacher who said "God Damn America" to his congregation?
  12. Which candidate opposes scientific research into the causes of Down's Syndrome, a disorder that afflicts Sarah Palin's youngest child?

  1. None. Obama did not "start his political career" in Bill Ayers' living room. He just attended a fundraiser there — one of many he's attended in his career.
  2. John McCain. He served on the board of the US Council for World Freedom, which reportedly armed and funded various unsavory groups in Latin America in the 1980s.
  3. John McCain. In 2006.
  4. Sarah Palin addressed the Alaska Independence Party. Her husband, Todd, was a registered member until 2002. Some fair-minded folks think it was just a statement of "party preference," not a membership. OK.
  5. Why, Barack Obama, of course.
  6. Why, Joe Biden, of course.
  7. Why, Barack Obama, of course.
  8. Sarah Palin.
  9. John McCain, for his involvement in the Keating Five scandal.
  10. Joe Biden's.
  11. Barack Obama.
  12. Sarah Palin oppposes fruit fly research.

Some flaws with the Ziegler poll I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere:

  1. The answer to the question about who controlled both houses of Congress before this past election is not obvious. The Democrats controlled the House, but had 49 Senators. They only "controlled" both houses if you count the two independents who caucus with the Democrats. So it seems that "neither" would be an acceptable answer.
  2. Obama supporters might be more likely to attribute negatives they weren't sure about to McCain; my guess is that McCain supporters would do the same thing with Obama and get Ziegler's questions "correct".
  3. Some of Ziegler's questions would be easier to answer if he used terms that have been used more frequently in the media (e.g., "Bill Ayers" instead of "Weather Underground"). Even if you just read the New York Times and went to the Huffington Post for your news, you'd have heard plenty about Bill Ayers.
The rest of the flaws (e.g., questionable "facts", using Obama/Biden "facts" from long ago and current year McCain/Palin issues) have been dealt with already.

I leave open the possibility that the media overall favored Obama — but nonsense like the Ziegler survey certainly doesn't give evidence of it.


Phutatorius said...

I think the most significant flaw is that McCain/Palin supporters would have aced the test — Ziegler wants them to take the Pepsi Challenge — precisely because the "facts" aren't facts so much as right-wing talking points repeated to death in the several outlets of conservative dogma. Limbaugh, Hannity, Kristol, The Weekly Standard — they were all on message all the time, and they were all hammering these points home. And of course so much of the conduct ascribed to Obama was amply discussed on the stump by McCain and Palin themselves.

The same is not true of your corresponding half-truths about McCain and Palin. There might be some lefty-tailored news/commentary outlet that was peddling the tawdry McCain/Palin assignations, but this material rarely made it off the fringe and into prime time, or into an Obama/Biden stump speech, much less into the meta-commentary about campaign memes that the cable pundits were always discussing.

Mithridates said...

You're right, in one respect. Obama supporters would not ace my test the way McCain supporters would ace Ziegler's test. The McCain/Palin allegations aren't straight out of any left-wing talking points.

But McCain supporters might do as poorly on mine as Obama supporters did on his. That said, I think my questions are probably still more fair than his - I'll have to work on making them more insidious . . .

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