Recommended reading: Wall Street Journal on polling
Rasmussen figures prominently in this story. An excerpt: What do you think of the job Barack Obama is doing as president? Your answer may depend on how you were asked. Subtle differences in how poll questions are phrased, or in which choices are offered as responses, have a significant effect on polling results. Several recent surveys involving hot-button topics, including Americans’ belief about Mr. Obama’s religion, illustrate how a problematic poll number can take on a life of its own. A number of polls regularly track approval ratings for the president and other key figures. Most polling firms, including Gallup, ask simply if the respondent approves or disapproves of job performance. But political polling firm Rasmussen Reports breaks out approval and disapproval into subcategories to allow respondents to qualify their answer to indicate whether they “strongly” or “somewhat” approve or disapprove of the president. That distinction seems to make the “somewhat” category look like a moderate option, prompting some people who might otherwise register as approvers to disapprove, say polling experts. That makes job ratings for the president look worse under Rasmussen’s lens than under other pollsters’. In fact, the founder of Rasmussen Reports, Scott Rasmussen, recognizes this phenomenon. Last November, he even ran a test to demonstrate this effect. When offered just two options, more people approved of Mr. Obama’s performance than disapproved. When offered Rasmussen’s standard four options, the disapprovers won out.