Fox News reports a key result from its latest poll:
The world's "going to hell in a handbasket," according to a majority of voters in the latest Fox News poll.This is true -- but not quite in the way Fox wants you to think it is.
And that's draining support for President Obama’s policies.
Yes, it's true that, according to the poll, "58 percent of voters feel things in the world are 'going to hell in a handbasket,'" while 35% of respondents say that "everything will be all right." (No choice in the middle was offered.) This is just the latest in a series of push-poll-y questions in Fox surveys. (An example from a while back: "Do you think the Democratic Party should allow a grassroots organization like Moveon.org to take it over or should it resist this type of takeover?")
But it's the placement of this question that's important here. In a 42-question survey, this was question #4, right after questions about approval of Obama and Congress and a question asking about the direction of the country.
Why put the "hell in a handbasket" question near the front of the survey? Presumably so it will influence respondents' answers on questions starting with #5:
Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing on the following issues?And so on.
5. Handling the Islamic extremist group ISIS
6. Foreign policy
7. The economy
8. Do you think the country is better off or worse off today than before Barack Obama was elected president?
In 2009, in reference to a similar planting of a provocative question in a Fox poll, Nate Silver wrote,
... when you ask biased questions first, they are infectious, potentially poisoning everything that comes below. I don't particularly care if Fox News wants to ask leading or even outrightly biased questions -- but they have to ask them after any questions they expect the policymaking community to take seriously.Pew and other pollsters have told us about question-order effects. The National Council on Public Polls warns journalists to take note of question order when considering poll results:
Sometimes the very order of the questions can have an impact on the results. Often that impact is intentional; sometimes it is not. The impact of order can often be subtle.Fox knows this. Fox knows this very well.
During troubled economic times, for example, if people are asked what they think of the economy before they are asked their opinion of the president, the presidential popularity rating will probably be lower than if you had reversed the order of the questions. And in good economic times, the opposite is true.
What is important here is whether the questions that were asked prior to the critical question in the poll could sway the results.