Monday, September 29, 2008

Brokaw cites non-existent poll results out of "fairness" to McCain

Meet the Press host Tom Brokaw cited non-existent poll results to assert that a majority of Americans think John McCain is better-equipped than Barack Obama to be commander in chief.

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[I]n fairness to everybody here, I’m just going to end on one note and that is that we continue to poll on who is best equipped to be Commander in Chief, John McCain continues to lead in that category, despite the criticism from Barack Obama by a factor of 53 to 42 percent in our latest NBC/WSJ poll.
I was watching when Brokaw said this and wondered what he was talking about. I knew that the latest polls all had Barack Obama tied with or ahead of McCain on the question of who voters support for president. In the latest NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll to which Brokaw refers Obama beats McCain on that question 46%-45%.

So I assumed that Brokaw was parsing some question on which respondents were asked who they felt was stronger on foreign policy or defense issues. It turns that the poll contains no such question.

In fact, there are only two questions that refer to military issues, and they do not prove that Americans think McCain would make the better commander in chief of the U.S. military.

Question 13 asks respondents about their priorities

I'm going to mention four sets of issues. Please tell me which ONE of the following sets of issues is most important to you in deciding for whom you will vote in the presidential election. +

Set A: Economic issues including job losses, home foreclosures, and energy prices.
Set B: Social issues related to moral values including gay rights, guns rights, and sex education for young children.
Set C: Domestic issues including health care, education, and the environment.
Set D: Foreign policy issues including Iraq, Russia, and the war on terrorism.

Set A/economic issues most important ... 57 [177]
Set B/social issues most important ... 10
Set C/domestic issues most important ... 17
Set D/foreign policy issues most important ... 15
Not sure ... 1
As a priority for voters, Foreign policy (including Iraq, Russia, and the war on terrorism) comes in third ahead of only the traditional conservative wedge issues of gays, guns, and sex ed. More people cite the economy as a priority than the other three categories combined.

Question 23 asks respondents to compare Obama and McCain on a range of issues.

On the only military-related question, "The Situation in Iraq," McCain beats Obama 47%-38%. Whatever "The Situation in Iraq" means, the poll's respondents clearly feel more comfortable with John McCain.

But it is an extreme stretch to conclude that this means more Americans think McCain would make the better commander in chief. And even if you are willing to make that extrapolation, Brokaw didn't get the numbers right. McCain enjoys a nine-point lead on the Iraq question. Brokaw, reading from a sheet of paper on his desk, gave McCain a fictional 11-point lead, citing a figure of 53%-42% on the non-existent question of who Americans prefer to be commander in chief.

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