The battle over judicial filibusters begins today in earnest. I urge Republicans to stand on principle and ignore the polls. The main reason is that the polls are misleading.
As I have told you many times before, poll results have everything to do with the wording of a question, especially when the public is uninformed about the issue. And the public is woefully uninformed about judicial filibusters.
Polls (and the media) consistently portray the battle over the nuclear option as a question of minority rights to oppose controversial nominees, rather than a question of whether nominees can obtain an up-or-down vote. This is seen clearly in the most recent authoritative poll on the nuclear option: the Gallup poll, which supposedly shows that the public is opposed to the Republicans’ approach. But listen to the way Gallup posed the question:
As you may know, the filibuster is a Senate procedure which has been used to prevent the Senate from passing controversial legislation or confirming controversial appointments by the president, even if a majority of senators support that action. A vote of at least 60 senators out of 100 is needed to end a filibuster. Do you favor or oppose the use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate?
Well, we certainly don’t want anything controversial happening. I guess we’d better oppose the filibuster!
This sort of misleading wording is critical to the outcome, since only 12 percent of respondents claim to be following this seemingly arcane issue “very closely.” In addition, this analysis of the poll notes:
Gallup and other polls also confuse voters by simply asking whether Americans “favor or oppose” the filibuster. It is well-known by researchers that many poll respondents get confused whenever they are asked to react to negative concepts such as filibuster, recall, rescission, veto, etc. This confusion is why you see so many Republicans favoring the filibuster rule (43 percent in Gallup’s poll) and Democrats opposing it (31 percent). This is the most solid, data-based evidence that the filibuster polls are not to be taken seriously.
If the pollster really wanted accurate results, he would ask people a simple and straightforward question, which describes the filibuster in more neutral terms, like this:
As you may know, Republicans are seeking to end the use of the filibuster as it applies to President Bush’s judicial nominees. This would mean a simple majority vote (rather than the current 60 votes) would end floor debate on a nominee, clearing the way for an up-or-down vote to confirm or reject the nominee. Do you favor or oppose the Republicans’ plan to allow an up-or-down vote on all judicial nominees in the U.S. Senate?
There is nothing biased about this language. Indeed, the bolded portion is the pollster’s own description of the Republicans’ plan, as set forth in his report about the poll. But instead of using this straightforward language in asking the question, the pollster felt obligated to describe the President’s nominees as “controversial” — a frightening word for uninformed voters not following the issue closely.
These poll results are not to be trusted. Unfortunately, everything is riding on something just as shaky as the poll numbers: Republicans’ ability to communicate to voters what this issue is really about. We’ll see today how effectively they do that.
(Link to The Hill article via Betsy’s Page. Link to Washington Times article via Captain Ed.)
P.S. If Republicans really want to communicate effectively, they should do what I have repeatedly encouraged them to do: start with Owen, and make the issue about parental notification for abortions — a topic that polls very well, the pollsters’ biases notwithstanding.