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Poll Report on Congressional Approval Distorts Reality

Charles at Political Arithmetik shows how poll reporting can distort political reality in his post on the latest LA Times/Bloomberg poll on approval/disapproval of congress. He explains that the LA Times headline "Approval of Congress Lowest in a Decade" overstates the case by tracking only one pollster, a fairly common practice in MSM poll reporting. To get a full picture, he points out, all polls should be tracked.

In this case the headline gives the false impression that congressional Democrats, as the majority, are in trouble. And some writers have even anchored their reporting on this and other misconceptions based on "trends" reflected by just one pollster. Charles explains:

My problem with this story is a common one. What it says is exactly true, but it ignores all polling not conducted by the LATimes and Bloomberg. This IS the lowest LA Times Poll reading of Congressional approval in a decade.

But what is not reported is that since January 2006, 42 of 146 national polls have found approval below 27%. That is 29% of the recent polls, so a congressional approval rating of 27% is by no means unique in the last decade. (If we include 27% approval then 56 of the last 146 have been this low or lower-- 38% of polls in the last year and a half.)

Charles does his own analysis of a much broader selection of polls and finds that the current congress is about 4 points higher in net approval than the low points of the 2006 (GOP majority) congress. This is not to say that congressional Dems don't have to worry about the public's view of their performance -- there has been a decline in approval since January, as the author notes. But Dems should keep in mind that trend reporting that ignores all but one pollster provides a muddled reflection of political reality.