Five by 8 – 4/5/10: The survey says…

The Monday Morning Rouser:

1) We haven’t heard much from Rob Daves, since he left the Star Tribune where he ran the Minnesota Poll, a constant target of critics who never quite figured out that polls don’t predict elections. In an MPR commentary, Daves takes on a recent Harris poll that purports to show that 40 percent of those surveyed think Barack Obama is a Socialist.

As a number of observers — including the insightful Gary Langer at ABC News — have commented recently, the wording of the Harris Interactive questions is not unemotional. “Anti-Christ” and “socialist,” in our culture, are strong, value-laden words that carry a lot of negative, emotional social valence. Contrast them with more neutral question wording often used to measure positives and negatives: “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama,” or “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president?”

Moreover, the question was introduced with, “…here are some things people have said about President Obama,” followed by only negative descriptors. This is certainly an unbalanced measure, offering no non-pejorative choices. Citing others’ opinions first also is a known way to interject what methodologists call “acquiescence bias” into the measures. Take a look at Langer’s critique; it’s worth reading.

A possible first step to the solution: News stories about polls should include exactly the question that was asked. Second step: Stop substituting poll stories for in-depth political coverage.

In other news, a new poll shows the demographics of the Tea Party are much broader than media accounts would suggest, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Gallup poll release, however, doesn’t reveal any of the questions asked, except for one that asks whether people support or oppose the Tea Party. Based on that question, the headline easily could have read: Tea Party enjoys limited support.. If the poll is true, and only 28 of those surveyed say they support the movement, is media coverage of it a little out of whack?

2) “Disney has almost certainly already colonized your 3-year-old’s brain. McDonald’s has planted a flag in there, too, along with My Little Pony and Pepsi and even Toyota,” Slate says in its story of just how easily the little critters’ brains absorb brand marketing, based on research from UW Madison.

This is not necessarily a bad thing:

Kids who get branding at a young age tend to be what we think of as bright kids. McAlister and Cornwell found that the more sophisticated a child’s “executive function” (which covers growing abilities to sort and reason rather than actual knowledge), the more likely that child was to have begun using brands as in the same ways an adult might. The savvier kids had gone even beyond the already sophisticated step of associating logos, objects and locations with a particular brand and were beginning to add values. “About 30 percent of the children could offer and support a judgment about how others would view a user of a product,” McAlister told me. A child might say that another child who had a birthday party at McDonald’s might have lots of friends (here, the questioned child could point to a box on a grid filled with lots of happy faces) because “McDonald’s has a playground and you can play there and everyone likes you.”

3) Can TV ads prevent suicide? Scotland is going to find out, the BBC reports. “Helping people to break the silence surrounding suicide is vital – not just for those of us living with that kind of pain but all of us.” Interesting approach; recognizing that suicide is best dealt with by admitting it exists. Compare that with the Star Tribune’s editor’s note a week or so ago in which the paper acknowledged it doesn’t do suicide stories for fear of prompting more. ” We restrict ourselves to suicide stories that truly involve news, such as those of public figures or those that occur in highly public places or those that document significant trends,” editor Nancy Barnes said.

4) Today is the first full day of the Major League Baseball season. As one gets older, one spends less time talking about the ballgame the day after, and more time talking about who sang what at the game. Here’s Steven Tyler of Aerosmith at last night’s Red Sox game.

In 1968, Jose Feliciano caused a stir — to be kind — when he sang the National Anthem at the World Series.

On the field, The Story’s Dick Gordon talks to Perry Barber about the challenges she faces as a female umpire, and the satisfaction she gets from making the tough calls.

5) As a person in the news business, I think I’m required to type this word in all posts — iPad. There. Here’s, a classic ad, updated.

Conan O’Brien tweeted over the weekend, “Just got the new iPad. This amazing device has already revolutionized the way I use a calculator.”

Bonus: A nice look at the myth-busting Web site,, by the New York Times. But stupidity and ignorance online may be spreading faster than it can be fixed.


Over the weekend, Apple released its iPad, a light, flat, touch-screen computer with fewer functions than a conventional laptop. What do you really need your computer to do?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Clergy sex abuse and the response from the Catholic church. The Vatican has responded to charges that bishops and Pope Benedict himself did not act to prevent priests from sexually abusing children, saying that outsiders are persecuting church. But critics of the Catholic church charge secrecy still shrouds action against suspected abuse perpetrators. Two who have worked to address the sex abuse problem within the Catholic church offer their perspectives. (This program responds to this one.)

Second hour: Colum McCann. His critically acclaimed book, “Let the Great World Spin,” a vivid series of New Yorkers’ perspectives, set against a high wire artist’s astonishing walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador with 30 years of experience in the Middle East and Iraq, talks about the war in Iraq.

Second hour: Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Douglas Shulman, speaks live at the National Press Club.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: NPR’s Anne Garrels, who has covered conflicts and wars from Chechnya to Beirut, from Kabul to Baghdad, and with many stops in between. After 23 years she’s decided it’s time to leave the battlefields.

Second hour: TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – It’s becoming more common for people to buy shares in local farms to get boxes of produce. Minnesota artists are now using the farmshare concept in a new program to support local artists. MPR’s Rupa Shenoy will have the story.

National Public Radio has the story of a medical mystery in a south Florida community, more cases of child brain tumors keep emerging. Residents and state health officials have noticed the trend — and stopped dismissing coincidence.

  • John O.

    Aside from the subliminal (or not so subliminal) slant of the questions asked, the lifespan of any given poll is short-lived. Yes, polls may provide a sense of what respondents think today, but to try and extrapolate an election outcome seven months away based on this poll or that poll today is questionable, at best.

    A lot of things can happen between now and then that could affect November elections one way or the other. It certainly makes for great fodder on the internet and the cable talking heads. Or raising money for candidates and/or causes.

  • Kassie

    “the question was introduced with, “…here are some things people have said about President Obama,” followed by only negative descriptors.”

    So, when did “muslim” become a negative descriptor? Is “christian” a positive one? And in my circle “socialist” is positive too.

    And great choice on the morning rouser. Lovely song and a lovely woman.