Instant Reaction to the "Surge" Speech

01/11/2007 04:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Mark Blumenthal Mark Blumenthal is the Head of Election Polling at SurveyMonkey.

Two survey organizations - CBS
and ABC/Washington
- went into the field immediately after the Presidential address
last night to gauge reactions among those at home. Both polls appear to show the same
polarization in reaction: Republicans
are supportive of the President's "troop surge" plan, most independents and
virtually all Democrats are opposed. As
always, we need to be cautious about instant
reaction polls
. Opinions may change
in response to the news coverage over the next few days, but despite some
differences that may seem divergent when taken at face value, both surveys
paint roughly the same general picture.

The two polls differed in terms of their methodology. CBS News conducted a "panel-back" survey. They attempted to interview respondents from
a larger survey conducted last week for a second time. They were able to contact and interview 458
adults and (I assume) weighted the results as they usually do to match national
US Census estimates for demographic characteristics like gender, age and
race. The ABC/Post survey involved a fresh
new random sample of 502 adults, all contacted for the first time immediately
after the speech.

The biggest challenge of fielding this sort of "instant reaction" poll
following a presidential address is that the president's fans are more likely
to tune in than other Americans. Did
that happen in this case? The evidence
is mixed. The two polls produced
estimates of the audience size that differed, but not by much (31% on the CBS
poll and 42% on the ABC/Post poll).** However, the Post's summary notes
that "the President's supporters were disproportionately represented among the
audience," while CBS found few
differences between speech-watchers and other Americans. According to the CBS release, "Democrats,
Republicans and Independents were about equally likely to have watched."

That difference probably explains the divergent results among speech
watchers. According to the Post, "47
percent [of speech watchers] support sending more troops, while 51 percent
oppose." On the CBS poll, 33% of speech
watchers favor more troops and 59% oppose."

When you look at all adults, however, the polls show more similar
results. Both polls show similarly
strong polarization, with most Republicans favoring a troop surge, and most
independents and Democrats in opposition (thanks to Jon Cohen at the Washington Post for providing full
cross-tab results from their survey in the table below).


I am reading between the lines a bit, but the data above suggest that general
assessments of President Bush- both among speech watchers and other Americans -
are driving judgments about the troop surge.
Since the majority of Americans are skeptical of Bush, they are also
skeptical of this new proposal. I would
guess that if we tabulated these results by the Bush job rating, we would see
an even greater polarization: Those who approve of Bush's job performance
overwhelmingly in favor, while those who disapprove are overwhelmingly

**My calculation suggests that the difference in the estimate of the
audience size is statistically significant, but keep in mind that the other
differences in methodology (a "panel back" survey vs. a fresh random sample) may
well explain that difference.

Also keep in mind that on a one-night survey of this sort, the pollsters
must abandon the usual "call back" procedures designed to interview those who
are harder to contact. In this case, the
challenge is especially acute in the Eastern time zones, where the pollsters
did all of their dialing between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. So it is likely that both samples - even
after demographic weighting - are skewed a bit toward those more likely to stay
at home. Does this methodological compromise skew the
substantive results? Pollsters will debate
that point, but one reassuring bit of evidence is that the CBS post-speech
sample of adults had roughly the same party identification result (35%
Democrat, 29% Republican) as the larger pre-speech debate sample (35% Democrat, 27%