FOLLOWING MONEY IN 2016 PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

FACT CHECK: Does New Poll Re: John McCain Indicate 2/3 Of Arizonans "Believe It Is Time For A New Senator"?

The well-respected Behavior Research Center is out with its new Rocky Mountain Poll on the approval ratings of Arizona's long-time Senator John McCain.  The BRC's news release suggests - and the Associated Press amplifies - that 67% of Arizonans think it is time for a new Senator.  However, the poll actually asks respondents if they believe McCain should be re-elected; his current term does not expire for almost four years (election in 3 1/2 years).

In this context, "it" clearly means "now", which is far different from the poll's actual November 2016 date.  (Earlier in that year, if Republicans defeated him in a primary.)

While the news release and the ensuing news coverage do reflect the numbers and the questions, they do not add the critical data of the next election date.  The wording of the re-election-or-new-Senator question is as follows:

Do you think U.S. Senator John McCainshould be elected to another six year term or doyou think it is time to elect someone with newideas and interests to represent Arizona in theUS Senate? 
Respondents were not told that McCain was elected to his most-recent (his 5th) 6-year term in 2010 and that the next election is in 2016.  Some respondents may have known that and figured that his advanced age would be reason for a new Senator, some may have thought that the question was similar to asking "if the election were held today".

Regardless, the confusion caused by the blurry wording of the question is compounded when it is reported without clarification.  Especially at a time when recall petitions against other elected officials are being circulated or threatened, this misleading reporting can be dangerous.

BRC's news release does not clarify that the re-election question is being asked one-third of the way through the long term, and has no true obligation to do so.  But, the AP's lead paragraph practically lifts the faulty wording from the news release's headline: "67% believe it is time for a new senator."

To be sure, McCain's poll numbers ARE lower than ever, and if the question WAS asked whether respondents wanted to replace McCain today, the same 2/3 might answer "hell, yeah".   But, that is NOT what was surveyed.  And, that should NOT be reported.

FACT CHECK'S GRADES:
--BRC: "C-" for unusually poor question.-wording and result-synthesizing
--Associated Press:  "D" for going along with the news release headline and wording without analyzing the questions.

(Arizona's Politics has requested responses from both BRC and AP, and will update as needed.)

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