During this year, the nightly polling and political wrap-up has always been rife with comments from Kossacks skeptical of any polling done by Rasmussen Reports.
Over the years, RR has been one of the most prolific pollsters in the game, and despite the fact that it is an open secret that founder Scott Rasmussen's political proclivities are well to the right of center, their numbers on campaigns have been on the fairway more often than not.
This year, however, it is hard not to go to their webpage and sense an agenda. Apparently, other people in the blogosphere have noticed it, too. Greg Sargent, for example (emphasis mine):
Rasmussen Reports, which often skews its presentation of polling for conservative media pickup, has a funny new poll that’s clearly designed to suggest public opposition to Dems going it alone on health care.
...Take a look at the question wording:
Suppose that Democrats agreed on a health care reform bill that is opposed by all Republicans in Congress. Should the Democrats pass that bill or should they change the bill to win support from a reasonable number of Republicans?
Indeed, as Sargent points out, the trick here employed by Rasmussen is to use the term "reasonable number" of Republicans. "Reasonable" is a very powerful word here, and carries with it the unspoken implication that a bill without ANY Republican support would be, somehow, unreasonable.
Now, polling on health care has been all over the map, as Nate over at 538 pointed out earlier this week in a piece which attempted to address the common flaws which led to biased results.
What is consistent about Rasmussen's coverage of the health care debate is their incessant desire to frame the debate in ways designed to denigrate both the Congress and President Obama. One of the most insipid examples of this was a survey earlier in the week in which Rasmussen reported that two-thirds of voters believed that they understood the health care reform proposal as well, or better, than President Obama.
Of course, there is objective evidence to prove that this poll is false. Indeed, in the recent poll conducted for AARP, just thirty-seven percent of Americans could correctly identify what is meant by a "public option". Nearly one-half of voters either thought it was a total nationalized healthcare program, or admitted that they had no idea.
Asking voters how well they understand a certain piece of legislation is not unlike asking them if they are patriotic, or if they are middle class. The default answer is always going to be "yes". Surely, Rasmussen must know this this, and just as clearly, they must have understood that the poll's results were essentially meaningless. They ran with it, anyway, apparently more enthused at the prospect of taking another quick shot at the President's knees than they were with actually divining public opinion on a sensitive issue like health care.
They are not limited to right-wing cheerleading on the health care issue. Check out the wording on this question about taxes and government services, offered up this week on the front page of their website:
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement... it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money?
Why stop there, Rasmussen? Why not add a parenthetical phrase about how tax cuts regrow hair, whiten teeth, and ensure that your favorite team will win the Super Bowl this year?
Once you've already loaded a question with biased wording (this question, when stripped down, is basically asking people whether they like themselves more, or bureaucrats), you might as well go big or go home.
Amazingly, with their word construction, people favored tax cuts 62-20. Legitimate pollsters, however, word the question very differently. Earlier in the year, both Pew and CBS asked the question simply, and without bias. The wording between the two varied slightly, but the basic construction was: "What do you think would benefit the economy more at this time: cutting taxes on individuals and businesses, or increasing spending on items like infrastructure and other programs?"
Not surprisingly, without the loaded wording, the question was considerably closer.
The danger for Rasmussen, of course, is that they risk damaging their legitimacy with everyone outside of the Fox News crowd.
There are partisans in the polling game, to be sure. But their data is not reduced to the mere act of cheerleading. For example, everyone knows that the guys over at PPP are Democrats, but no one could ever accusing them of using their role as surveyors of public opinion in order to cheerlead for the folks in blue. They run the numbers, and present them to the public, whether those numbers are favorable to Democrats or ugly (like this week's PPP numbers in Arkansas).
For such a prolific firm in the campaign game, it would seem counterproductive for Rasmussen to get pigeonholed as the "right-wing" pollsters. But a cursory glance at their front pages lately render it almost impossible to conclude anything else. It seems a rather sad course to chart for a firm that had been instrumental in examining the election cycles of the past.