Misreading the new CBS poll

The headlines throughout the mainstream media are trumpeting the latest CBS poll: "71% of the country disapproves of the way the Republicans are handling the debt ceiling crisis." The implication being that the Republicans are at fault because of their intransience and Obama is winning the PR battle. However a more in depth look at the poll reveals a skewed, at usual, result.

The poll is of 810 adults, not registered or likely voters. The sample is 25% Republican; 35% Democrats and 41% Independent (for comparison the vote in the 2010 Congressional elections were: 35% Democrat; 35% Republican and 29% Independent)

There is only one question asked: "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Republicans [Democrats] in Congress [or Obama] are handling the current negotiations on the debt ceiling?" There are no follow up questions regarding various proposals for spending cuts or tax increases.

Not surprisingly, therefore, 51% of the Republicans in the sample say they disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, as many Republicans are uncertain if their members of Congress will cave in as they have in the past and they are given no alternative yes or no question.

When Democrats are asked the same question of their party in Congress, 56% approve and only 32% disapprove.

The swing constituents in the poll are the so-called independents, who are invariably in the sample of any major poll skewed to the left, disapprove of the Republicans in Congress by 73%, to 17% approval but still disapprove of the Democrats by 66% to 23%.

As for Obama, the same question elicits the following response. Approve of handling: Republicans: 15%; Democrats: 69%; Independents: 37%. Thus an overall an overall disapproval rate of 48% for the President as published in the poll.

Weighing the sample for the actual party affiliation in the 2010 election the results would be:

Republicans in Congress: Disapprove: 67.5% Approve: 23.2%

Democrats in Congress: Disapprove: 60.3% Approve: 26.6%

President Obama: Disapprove: 51.3% Approve: 40.1%

As any President has a virtual monopoly of the daily news and in Obama's case the nearly unanimous backing of the media, he should score higher than either party in Congress (that he scores as badly as he does in a CBS-engineered poll is significant).

Nonetheless there is little good news for any of the participants to this circus in Washington D.C. But the issue for the Republicans is not that Obama is scoring political points but that the Republicans in this sample and throughout the country are not comfortable with the current leadership and that the Republicans in Congress will cave in as they have so many times in the past. That should be the headline, not an implication that Obama is winning the PR war.