NBC Political Director Chuck Todd cherrypicked a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll to dismiss the possibility that Republicans will regain control of Congress in the November election. He did this despite evidence within the same poll that the political landscape in 2010 resembles 1994, when Republicans picked up 54 seats to take control of the House.
On the July 13 "Morning Joe," Todd emphasized the finding that 72 percent of the country has either "just some" or no confidence at all in the ability of congressional Republicans to "make the right decisions for the country's future."
"This wild card about this election cycle which makes it different from '06, which makes it different from '94, is this issue of the public's view of the Republican Party," insisted Todd.
The poll is misleading for a number of reasons, none of which Todd acknowledged.
First, measuring public confidence in President Barack Obama, congressional Democrats, and congressional Republicans, the pollsters grouped respondents who reported "a great deal of confidence" with "a good amount," and "just some" confidence with "none at all." This aggregation resulted in a higher percentage of Americans expressing some or no confidence at all in Republicans than in Obama. But grouping "just some" respondents with "none at all" respondents does not make sense because expressing some confidence is much different from expressing "none at all." If the pollsters had grouped those who reported "a good amount" of confidence with those who reported "just some" confidence, Republicans in Congress would have received 61 percent support, 14 points higher than Obama.
Second, Todd's insinuation that the public preferred congressional Republicans to congressional Democrats in 1994 but not in 2010 contradicts the same poll he cited to advance the argument that Republicans will not maximize their gains in November. As of July 11, 2010, voters prefer congressional Republicans 47 percent and congressional Democrats 46 percent, a negligible difference. By contrast, on August 8, 1994, 49 percent of the public preferred congressional Democrats while only 42 percent of the public preferred congressional Republicans, a seven point edge. In fact, the public preferred congressional Democrats over congressional Democrats in almost every Washington Post-ABC News poll taken through the November election.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough challenged Todd on the preference issue, asking, "Aren't these off-year elections really just an opportunity for Americans to vote up or down for the most part on the party in power, the party that's running Washington?" Todd, seemingly uninterested in demonstrable trends, insisted that the White House and Democrats are capable of turning the election into something other than a referendum on their liberal agenda.
An obstinate Todd continued to rain on the GOP's parade. "Joe, I think it's the difference between picking up 25 or 30 seats and picking up 40 seats," he insisted.
NBC's chief political junkie was all too eager to report the results of a poll forecasting sobering prospects for Republicans without scrutinizing the data or researching relevant historical trends.
A transcript of the relevant portion of the segment can be found below:
July 13, 2010
7:24 A.M. E.S.T.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Hey Chuck, let me ask you something. Of course let's put up the polls really quickly again from the Washington Post and then I'm going to follow it up with some news you say may not as good for Republicans. First of all, let's look at the polls. Sixty-eight percent of Americans have little confidence in Democrats; Seventy-two percent, Republicans. Of course we talk about 58 percent, Barack Obama. Now let's go to the four reasons why you say Republicans may not take back the House in the fall. You wrote about this yesterday and it's very fascinating. You said the favorable ratings the same as the Democrats. And you are exactly right. In fact, in this case it's even worse for Republicans than Democrats. But I guess the bigger question is – and I want to get Mark's thoughts on this as well – aren't these off-year elections really just an opportunity for Americans to vote up or down for the most part on the party in power, the party that's running Washington?
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC political director: Most of the time they are, and for many voters, this will be the case. This wild card about this election cycle which makes it different from '06, which makes it different from '94, is this issue of the public's view of the Republican Party. And the reason you have to sit there and not ignore it is look at what the message the White House is trying to drive. Look at the message that Democratic candidates in congressional races are trying to drive, which is saying, "okay, you may be mad at us, but look at them." And look, when you already have 70 percent of the public having a negative view, you can sell that story – you have a better chance of selling the story.
SCARBOROUGH: Does that work when Democrats – it's a monopoly though in Washington though. I guess that's why it's so much harder to sell. Listen in '94 the Republicans actually had a plan. We haven't seen that yet from this group of Republicans. I guess the bigger question, Chuck is, can you beat something with nothing?
TODD: Joe, I think it's the difference between picking up 25 or 30 seats and picking up 40 seats and 10 seats in the Senate. Do you see what I'm saying? I think the difference between having a good election night and the majority is somehow starting to improve their favorable rating, and starting to go out there and saying, "we have a plan." And right now they don't have that and I think that's what's keeping them from getting the entire enchilada here.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.