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Judicial Watch Poll: Zogby Responds

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Zogby International has posted a response to the
criticism last Friday from various sources, including yours
truly
, of a poll they conducted for Judicial Watch. The argument should
sound familiar:

Zogby International stands by its recent telephone
poll conducted for Judicial Watch, a conservative interest group based in Washington. The survey
probed the thinking of likely voting Americans about New York Sen. Hillary
Clinton, and while some have charged that Zogby's questions were biased to
solicit responses that would put Senator Clinton in a bad light, the results of
the survey belie that charge. The responses to the Zogby survey were quite
similar to the responses given to similar questions asked in an ABC
News/Washington Post survey of May, 2006, and a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of
August, 2005.

Zogby International maintains that its wording of
these questions was not biased, largely because the topic - the trustworthiness
of Ms. Clinton - has been at the center of exhaustive public discourse over the
past 15 years and is one about which most American voters had drawn conclusions
long before the Zogby survey. The similar results of the other two surveys,
cited above, emphasize this fact.

Having made a similar
argument
using precisely the same survey results, I have to agree that most
Americans have drawn conclusions with respect to Senator Clinton and her
trustworthiness. But if Mr. Zogby believed so strongly that Americans had
already made up their minds about Senator Clinton, why did he begin his
question by reminding respondents that "some people believe that the Bill
Clinton administration was corrupt?" Why not just ask, without the
preamble, "how concerned are you that there will be high levels of corruption
in the White House if Hillary Clinton is elected President in 2008?"

That preamble is the main reason critics like me concluded
that Zogby's questions were "biased to solicit a response." Zogby's odd defense
makes that intent even more obvious.

Why? Consider that pollsters frequently provide this sort of
factual preamble when asking about an issue about which many respondents may be
unfamiliar. One such example, noted by a commenter who disagreed with my
criticism of the Zogby survey, is a question asked on a recent Newsweek survey about the recent controversy
involving the Walter
Reed Army
Medical Center:

Since news reports last month about neglect and
poor health care for military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center,
do you think the Bush Administration has done a good job or a bad job of
dealing with this situation?

Although the author of that question probably assumed that
respondents would distinguish between the problems at Walter Reed and the way
the Bush administration dealt with those problems, the commenter is right to
see this question as a bit leading. Doesn't the existence of "neglect and poor
health care" imply that a "bad job" has been done?

It is not hard to find similar examples. Media pollsters
often use such preambles when asking about issues of great interest to
political insiders that are nonetheless unfamiliar to most Americans, and
accusations of bias often follow. Consider the recent controversies over questions
on Terry
Schaivo
, the NSA's monitoring
of domestic phone records
or the Senate
filibuster
.

Whatever you conclude about the presence existence of bias (subconscious
or otherwise) in those examples, all had one thing in common: Most Americans
were unfamiliar with the facts involved. The pollsters included an introductory
preamble in the hope of providing respondents with just enough background information
to help answer the question.

But in defending his questions, Zogby provides a totally
different explanation. The "trustworthiness" of Senator Clinton, he tells us, "has
been at the center of exhaustive public discourse," something about which "most
American voters had drawn conclusions long before the Zogby survey." Well if
that is so, why did respondents need to be reminded that "some people believe
that the Bill Clinton administration was corrupt?" What possible purpose does
that preamble serve, except the hope that it would lead respondents to a
desired answer?