Filibuster Change Opposed: Yeah Right

I am not a polling expert, but I certainly question the new Washington Post/ABC poll that allegedly shows the public does not support ending the filibuster. The actual poll is found here. The poll is reported here.

WaPo’s headline is “Filibuster Rule Change Opposed.” The article begins

As the Senate moves toward a major confrontation over judicial appointments, a strong majority of Americans oppose changing the rules to make it easier for Republican leaders to win confirmation of President Bush’s court nominees, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

GOP leaders are threatening a rule change to prohibit the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees and have stepped up their criticism of the Democrats for using the tactic on some of Bush’s nominees to the federal appellate courts. They say they are prepared to invoke what has become known as the “nuclear option” to ensure that Bush’s nominees receive an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

Here’s what I question. The poll question was not, “Do you believe Senate Democrats are right to deny votes on the President’s judicial nominees?” There is no poll question that asks, “The Constitution requires a majority vote for approval of a President’s judicial nominees, but the Democrats, through use of the filibuster, are requiring a two-thirds vote. Do you agree with the Democrats?” Instead, the poll question asks, “Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush’s judicial nominees?” This follows a question pointing out that “the Senate has confirmed 35 federal appeals court judges nominated by Bush, with Senate Democrats have blocked 10 others.” WaPo fails to say that the President has the lowest appointment rate for circuit court judges of any recent President thanks to Democratic obstruction.

Here’s what troubles me more than any of that. Democrats have, through the media, assailed the President’s court nominees for putting religious views ahead of legal views. The Democrats have assailed the nominees for their position on abortion, the ability to separate faith from law, and a host of other moral/religious concerns. What does that have to do with the WaPo poll? It’s simple.

The question on changing Senate rules is question thirty-six. Questions 22-26 ask about politicians using their religious beliefs to help make decisions. Question 25 asks voters which party they think is “more tolerant of different kinds of people and different points of view.” Question 27 asks if “religious conservatives have too much influence . . . over the Republican party.” Questions 29 through 31 ask about Tom DeLay and his ethics. Only after helping the person being polled make the connection between the Republican Party and religion, the President and his use of his religion to help him make decisions, and Tom DeLay’s ethics does the WaPo poll even get to judges, starting out with “do you think judges in this country are (too liberal), (too conservative) or about right?”

Again, I’m not a pollster, but it looks to me like these questions were placed and asked in such a way to lead the person being polled to the conclusion WaPo wanted: Democrats are right, Republicans are nominating religious nuts to be judges and they must be stopped. Lastly, the poll demographics show that 35% were Democrat, 28% Republican, and 32% Independent. 20% were liberal, 47% were moderate, and 30% were conservative. Let’s also remember that a lot of liberals like to think of themselves as moderate (see e.g., Dan Rather) so we can take some of that 47% and move it to the 20% liberal column.

The WaPo poll seems fishy, not because I disagree with the results, but because of how the results were obtained. The poll asks about gas prices, Iraq, and social security: along with judges those are just about the three biggest news items of the day. But, prior to getting to judges, the poll wades through questions about the tolerance of the GOP, control of the GOP by religious types, and Tom DeLay’s ethics. That’s just shady.

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Erick Erickson

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  • It is all in how you ask the questions. I’m certain we see different results if you phrased the question in terms of “The Constitution requires approval by a super-majority for specific matters (such as treaties, impeachment, Ammendments to the Constitution, etc.). Do you think judicial appointments should require a super-majority even though The Constitution doesn’t require one?”

  • From OpinionJournal:

    The Post’s Phony Poll
    “Filibuster Rule Change Opposed” is the headline of the lead story in today’s Washington Post. The paper reports on a poll of 1,007 “randomly selected adults.” The results are here (PDF), and the relevant questions are No. 34 and No. 36, which appear on page 13 (both, for some reason, after No. 35):

    34. The Senate has confirmed 35 federal appeals court judges nominated by Bush, while Senate Democrats have blocked 10 others. Do you think the Senate Democrats are right to block these nominations? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

    Result: Right 48% (22% strongly, 26% somewhat), wrong 36% (17% strongly, 19% somewhat). Here’s the other question:

    36. Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush’s judicial nominees?

    Results: Support 26%, oppose 66%.

    Read these questions carefully and you’ll see that the Post’s headline is false. The poll not only doesn’t use the word filibuster; it doesn’t even describe the procedure.

    I like it how ABC/WashPost teed up respondents for 36. #34 reads like: Democrats HAVE BEEN MORE THAN COOPERATIVE by confirming MOST of Bush’s judges, and #36 follows by implying SO should Republicans get EVEN MORE OF AN ADVANTAGE IN CONFIRMING MORE JUDGES. Without context, the respondent doens’t know that Democrats are filibustering the remaining judges, something that’s never been done before in history.