- Accuracy in Media - https://www.aim.org -

How the Polls Mislead Us

We are inclined to give some credence to the charge made by Larry Klayman, the chairman of Judicial Watch, that Speaker Gingrich has killed or watered down House investigations of Clinton scandals because of skeletons in his own closet. Remember that Gingrich broke his public promise to have a House investigation of the death of former White House Counsel Vince Foster despite his personal rejection of the official findings.

However, there are other plausible explanations for Gingrich’s statement that there should be no impeachment hearings unless Ken Starr reports overwhelming evidence of a pattern of felonies on the part of the President. It has long been known that the Republicans would rather have a badly wounded Clinton in the White House in the year 2000 than a relatively untarnished President Albert Gore.

The Republican leaders have obviously been intimidated by the polls showing Clinton’s job approval ratings at very high levels despite all the scandals that have swirled around his head. If the polls are to be believed, Clinton’s job approval rating seems to have benefitted from the Lewinsky scandal. An ABC News poll shows that a week before the scandal broke last January, 62 percent of the public approved the way he was handling his job. A week after the scandal broke and after he denied any improper relationship, his rating was up to 68 percent, a 6 point gain.

The day before Clinton gave his TV speech admitting that his relationship with Monica Lewinsky was inappropriate, his rating was still a healthy 62 percent favorable. In the next five days after he admitted having lied, it rose four points to 66 percent. This same poll found that 67 percent opposed Clinton resigning and 70 percent opposed having him impeached. Those figures are intimidating to the Republicans in Congress.

However, slight changes in the wording of poll questions can make a big difference in the response. The Gallup Organization recently found that a slight wording change made a 15-point difference in Clinton’s favorability rating. The ABC News poll obtained a 12-point decrease in those favoring Clinton’s resignation by changing the wording of the question from Clinton “lied under oath that he did not have an affair with Lewinsky” to “given what you know about the Lewinsky issue.”

After the Lewinsky scandal broke last January, the ABC poll found that 55 percent favored Clinton’s impeachment if he had lied under oath. At the end of January, after Clinton denied having done anything improper, there was a 15-point drop in those favoring impeachment to only 40 percent, with 51 percent opposed. A Zogby poll showed what a difference wording of the question could make. With wording that included both lying and asking others to lie, Zogby found that 47 percent favored impeachment and 44 percent opposed. After Clinton’s August 17 confession, ABC News dropped any reference to lying in its questions about resignation and impeachment, boosting the percentages opposing them to 67 and 70 percent respectively. The Zogby poll found that 65 percent said Clinton should consider resigning if he had lied to the grand jury.