Part 2—Where does Dr. Luntz find them: Last night, we liberals were given a good warm feeling at the start of the Maddow Show.

Results were in concerning the State of the Union Address. Right at the start of the program, we were helped to understand that the results were incredibly good:
MADDOW (/1/25/12): All right. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Here’s something you don’t see ever. This was— Look, this was posted by CBS News, by their polling unit! CBS was polling approval or disapproval of the proposals made by President Obama in his State of the Union speech last night.

Poll results like this aren’t usually found in nature. But this was apparently the response. If you can’t see it there, the disapproval rate was 9 percent, and the approval rate was 91 percent.
“Here’s something you don’t see ever,” Maddow said, sharing the sky-high approval numbers for Obama’s proposals.

“Poll results like this aren’t usually found in nature,” Maddow said—and her statement was technically accurate. But results like that are frequently found after a State of the Union Address. Here was Maddow, one year ago, providing the same warm feeling:
MADDOW (1/26/11): Halfway through Barack Obama’s first term, his State of the Union address last night is being pretty universally hailed as centrist, as not too liberal, not too conservative, but right down the middle of American politics. And that is something that Americans like to hear.

The instant reaction polls to President Obama’s speech last night were almost comically positive. CBS reported that 92 percent of the people who watched the speech approved of Mr. Obama`s proposals, 92! CNN reporting that 84 percent of people had a positive response.

Those sorts of numbers do not happen in politics! Those are crazy numbers.
You never see it—except once a year!

“Those sorts of numbers do not happen in politics,” Rachel told us last year. This year, she was amazed by the CBS numbers all over again! “Poll results like this aren’t usually found in nature,” she exclaimed this time around. We liberals got the same feeling we got last year—and we maybe got conned just a tad.

This is one of the services rendered on partisan cable “news” shows.

Last year, we checked past polling results for State of the Union Addresses. It turned out that data like these are pretty much the norm when we the people watch our presidents render their annual address (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/11). We took the trouble to point this out—but our efforts were all for naught. Last night, Rachel was mega-surprised again, just as she had been last year!

(Last year, we didn't post the numbers we found. We suggested you do a quick search.)

This is the way of partisan cable. Indeed, if we liberals got a thrill up the leg as we watched Rachel exult last night, conservatives had been well-served the night before as they watched Sean Hannity’s show, with Frank Luntz’s focus group.

Luntz’s voters were not in step with those CBS numbers. Early on, the doctor said that 15 of his 27 subjects had voted for Obama in 2008. But few of them seemed to be inclined to vote for Obama again. No tape of this session is on-line at Fox. But working from the Nexis transcript, these are the first reactions the good Dr. Luntz adduced:
LUNTZ (1/24/12): If you were to give the American people a single sentence to describe what you thought of the speech, what would it be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The same old rhetoric that comes out of every State of the Union speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to see leadership to deliver on the rhetoric.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard the same thing and the same passions I heard throughout his campaign, and at every other State of the Union. I don't believe it anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was dark and divisive. It was not for me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I appreciated the fact that he honored and remembered our troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was contradictory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was in full-on campaign mode.
We don’t know how Luntz came up with this brood. But it looks like the folk at CBS News don’t have their phone numbers!

Who knows where such focus groups come from? That said, we were most impressed by these voters’ reactions to one particular part of the speech. After a commercial break, Dr. Luntz played a bit of tape, then asked a key question:
LUNTZ: Sean, I want to go right now to a clip about fairness because the president talked about it several times tonight and he's going to do it again and again between now and Election Day. This is a very divisive clip about the principle of fairness. Let's take a look.

OBAMA (videotape): We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules.


LUNTZ: “Everyone plays by the same set of rules. Everyone plays by the same set of rules.” Who is against that here?
“Everyone plays by the same set of rules?” As it turned out, lots of folk were against that there! (Luntz had called this “a very divisive clip” based on the group’s electronic reactions during the actual speech.)

Dr. Luntz chided his subjects for their negative reactions. For ourselves, we were struck by how weak the intellectual skills of some of us the people can be. We were also struck by the fury, which would be more clear on the tape:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (continuing directly): It's not true. He says everyone plays by the same set of rules, and the tax credit is for you, and the tax breaks are for you, it's— He singled out everybody.

LUNTZ: What's the issue? I don't get it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nonetheless, there were loads of scoundrels and cheats particularly in the financial system and the system has not been fair, it has been rigged. And it needs to be improved. It cannot be fixed perfectly but it needs to be improved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't make life fair. Life is not fair. And there's no way to do it. And that's really code for what the president is saying. And I think it's just—he's just talking socialism again. And economically—

LUNTZ: Wait, wait, wait!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's asking for fairness of outcome, not opportunity.

LUNTZ: Hold on! He says everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What is the problem with that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can the expectation be that we play by the same set of rules when government doesn't?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I don't think you can talk about fairness and having a fair share and working the same when you're giving people, you're holding hands and you're giving people too many opportunities.
If memory serves (there is no tape), the second “unidentified male” was one of the actual Obama supporters. But that first unidentified female could tell that Obama was speaking in code.

Hannity viewers are skilled with code. Our side is skilled with whistles.

In fairness, a few of Hannity’s helpers groped toward statements which made internal sense. For example, the last man seemed to be saying that Obama’s actions don’t match that rhetoric, given the fact that he has been “giving people too many opportunities.” But the fury which boiled up was striking—and many of the reactions didn’t make real clear sense.

In fairness, these are regular voters; these people aren’t professional pundits or analysts. You can’t expect average voters to express themselves with as much clarity as the lofty professionals will. That said, we were struck throughout by the fury which boiled from this group, more than half of whom were said to have voted for Obama. Here’s what happened when Hannity suggested a question for those voters—a clownishly leading question:
HANNITY: I'd like to ask the group this question. When they go back to 2008 and, and the soaring rhetoric and he was going heal the planet, “yes, we can,” and all the excitement. I call it Obama-mania.

Three years later, $5 trillions of new debt, unemployment is not fixed. The country I don't believe has come back. I mean what are the— Has he failed or has he succeeded and what do they think about the money that he spent, the debt he has taken on, more than any other president in history?

LUNTZ: Let's ask the question of Obama people. You voted for him.


LUNTZ: Why did you vote for him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for him because I felt this country needed a totally different path. I did feel that I had gotten a lot of good speeches.

LUNTZ: And did you get what you're expecting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely not! Totally opposite!

LUNTZ: You voted for him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for him, and I believe that at the time there was change and he supports our military. My brother was killed in Afghanistan. So for me tonight he provided what I needed.

LUNTZ: You voted for him. Did you get what you're expecting?


LUNTZ: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he is going back to the same old thing that happened before. He wants to blame the rich and just—

LUNTZ: Did you find him to be divisive tonight, yes or no?


LUNTZ: Did you find him to be polarizing tonight, yes or no?

So it says on the transcript. We wish we could show you the tape.

Hannity’s clownishly leading question produced some angry retorts. Meanwhile, the cable gods looked down in pleasure over the past two nights. Dr. Luntz had a focus group which seemed very angry with Obama. At the same time, Dr. Maddow had poll results which amazed her all over again.

Back to Hannity's herd:

What do those angry voters think? What do they think Obama has done? What are the particulars behind their obvious fury? What do they think when they hear Newt Gingrich insult Obama as the “food stamp president?” What do they think Obama has done in that particular area?

We would like to see such voters interviewed by Rachel or by Ed, who does know how to speak with respect to average folk of the other tribe. No handful of voters can represent the understandings of the full electorate, or of any segment of same. But our side’s viewers got conned a tad last night, as their side’s viewers got conned a bit one night before.

What do voters think about x, y and z? Our side doesn’t seem very curious.

Tomorrow: The Washington Post and the Palmetto State 3


  1. You will not find a better example of false equivalency than today's post by Mr. Somerby.

    1. OK, let's see... Bob says that Sean Hannity (who is an idiot, by my reckoning) tilts things in his direction in an obvious way, explaining how he does it. Bob also says that Rachel Maddow (who is an idiot also, by my reckoning) tilts things in her direction in an obvious way, explaining how she does it. Bob appears to be making the point that both cable hosts appear to be earning their salaries by being deceptive in painfully obvious ways. He supports the claim with ample evidence and clear reasoning.

      I don't see false equivalence there, Real. I do think that I'd be cheesed if I were either a big Sean Hannity fan or a big Rachel Maddow fan, but since I'm mostly a fan of rational argument, I side with Bob much more often than not.

    2. One is lying and one isn't.

      I'll give you a hint: Mr. Somerby writes “Poll results like this aren’t usually found in nature,” Maddow said—and her statement was technically accurate."

      By my reckoning Maddow's statement, without Mr. Somerby's spin, is about the same as what she had said the year before: poll results are usually skewed positively after a SOTU speech.

      Now, how the hell did Luntz and Hannity manage to come up with an anti-Obama panel given that fact?

      Lies are never equivalent to the truth.

    3. And I just realized that when I wrote this, I assumed that you were reacting negatively to Bob's post because you're a Rachel fan whose feelings were hurt. I see that a LOT in the commentary here. (I find my hackles rising every time Bob criticizes Paul Krugman, who I think deserves another Nobel for his work in political discourse.)

      I apologize for that assumption.

    4. Nick, who won't just let it goJanuary 26, 2012 at 11:55 AM

      I also have to apologize because I don't watch Rachel Maddow's show. (Nor do I watch MSNBC. Nor do I watch Fox or CNN. Cable news makes me want to tear my hair out, and I don't have enough of it left anymore.)

      It could be that Rachel went on after Bob's quotation ends to make the point that these poll results are what one would expect to find after a SOTU. In the excerpt above, though, I don't think Bob's interpretation is spin.

      I do, however, think your reference to Bob's statement is spin. As I read it, Bob's statement about polls as they exist in nature is "technically accurate" because polls are unnatural. They don't exist in nature--they are manufactured. I interpret it this way because (a) Bob is a comedian and (b) he follows it up with a kicker ("But results like that are frequently found after a State of the Union Address").

      Now Rachel Maddow could just as easily had a kicker in her statement that Bob omitted, and as I said above, if that's the case, boy do I have egg on my face.

    5. No, Bob is right she played it like he states. She gave no context to poll results being overly positive after a SOTU address. If Hannity did this sh%* after Bush II had approval ratings in the 70s after "Mission Accomplished" or 90 after 9/11, without mentioning Bush I's 91 at the end of the first Gulf War, RA would be able to see the disembling. For whatever, reason he refuses to see it now.


      Both sides played us for rubes.

  2. Maddow and Ed will *never* give a full airing to disenchanted Obama voters.

    1.) Ed actually gets into shouting matches with guests over the particulars of Obama's term. He's thrown Dylan Ratigan off his show once. LOL

    2.) They will follow up with either Melissa Harris-Perry or Michael Eric Dyson to explain how all those "complaints" are just that. Complaints. And we all know that Good Soldiers don't complain. They shut up and show up to vote.

    A "general" (and very general) complaint one such voter could offer would be Obama's continued defense of Bush's extra-legal activities. Things Obama ran pretty hard against back in 2008. (Besides being the anti-clinton, but let's save that for another time) All things Obama has thrown under the proverbial bus since taking office.

    Ed and Maddow do not want to go there. Neither does Hannity.

    1. "And we all know that Good Soldiers don't complain. They shut up and show up to vote."

      Isn't that what Republicans do? You must realize that Republicans aren't ever going to vote for a Democrat. Probably not ever.

      As far as disenchanted Obama voters go, I cringe when I hear them! Haven't they been watching the Republican side show for three years?

      Here's the quote that I think sums it up:

      “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” ~Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, (R-Ky.), October 2010

      Wow, what a guy! Oh and he has REALLY good health insurance to boot.

    2. So you're saying Democrats should act a lot more like Republicans?

  3. So, Luntz picks a focus group that, shockingly enough, has some reactions that are exactly in line with the narrative the Republicans are promoting. Luntz heroically tries to make them see reason (not spew Republican talking points) or explain themselves more clearly. Luntz fails (at least at that task). Shocking.

  4. There's no equivalence (Hannity/Maddow), because there's no equivalence of result. Fox has changed political discourse in the U.S.

    Ms. Maddow & MSNBC have, by contrast, achieved nothing for liberals or the left.

    Is this really a coincidence?

  5. The Real Anonymous:

    Now, how the hell did Luntz and Hannity manage to come up with an anti-Obama panel given that fact?

    The polls were of people who watched the speech, a self-selected group that tends to favor the president.

  6. IMHO Obama was self-contradictory and contradicted his actual governing style. Consider the two sentences Bob quoted:

    OBAMA (videotape): We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

    There's no contradication between everyone playing by the same rules and a disparity in wealth. If we all play by the same rules, some will do better than others. Warren Buffet and Steven Jobs will make billions. People who pass their actuarial exams will be comfortable. And, those without effective job skills will barely get by.

    If everyone gets a fair shot, that means some will succeed in grabbing the brass ring, and some will fail and wind up in the gutter.

    Furthermore, in this very speech Obama contradicted himself by proposing a bunch of special rules for favored classes of businesses. And, his Presidency has been marked by rules favoring some and disfavoring others.

  7. For anther observer's view of the (alleged) Elite Ignorance of Ordinary Americans, see: http://volokh.com/2012/01/25/charles-murray-on-elite-ignorance-of-ordinary-americans/