Which poll to believe?
New Jersey voters either strongly disapprove of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and think he’s dishonest, or they really don’t care much about the news of his ongoing scandals, depending on which poll you trust.
This morning the Quinnipiac Polling Institute released a poll that indicates that Menendez approval rating is down 15 points in one month. By a 44%-28% margin, New Jersey voters say he is not honest or trustworthy. Menendez’s approval numbers are upside down with 41% of voters disapproving of him and only 36% approving.
Just a week ago, Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press released a poll with the headline Sen Menendez Unaffected By Donor Scandal . The Monmouth/APP poll says that 68% of New Jersey voters had heard about “the donor scandal” but that only 24% thought the senator was involved in any wrongdoing. The poll said that 65% either hadn’t formed an opinion or hadn’t heard enough. The Monmouth/APP poll said that Menendez’s approval ratings werre similar to prior ratings over the last two years. Last week, 41% of the voters approved of the job Menendez is doing and only 28% disapproved.
Menendez has been in Afghanistan and out of the news for most of the week between poll releases.
Usually the Monmouth and Quinnipiac polls report consistent results, within a point or 2 and within the margin of error. But this is the second time within the last year that there has been such a large disparity between the two respected independent pollsters. Last April, Monmouth reported Governor Christie’s approval ratings were 11 points lower than Quinnipiac reported a week prior. There was so much talk about the different numbers last April that Monmouth Polling Director Patrick Murray wrote a column defending his work and criticising Quinnipiac.
This time around, Murray’s poll release is flawed. His numbers are fine. It’s his spin, which determines how most news outlets report the poll, that is the problem.
What was asked and when was it asked?
Murray’s Monmouth/APP poll was conducted from February 6 through February 10. While MoreMonmouthMusings readers and New Jersey’s media outlet’s and reporters were well aware of the Menendez scandal since early November when the Daily Caller reported that Dominican prositutes accused the senator of stiffing them and when State Senator Sam Thompson filed an ethics complaint with the U.S. Senate over Menendez accepting free flights on a donor’s private jet, the New Jersey media blacked out the story until January 29 when The Miami Herald reported the FBI raid on Menendez’s benefactor’s office.
Murray started asking voters about the “donor scandal” one week after the story broke. That 68% of the electorate had heard about it but not yet formed an opinion is not a sign that Menendez is “unaffected” by the scandal.
Murray asked about the “donor scandal” without any mention of the prostitution scandal. “How much have you heard or read about trips Senator Bob Menendez took to the Dominican Republic on a donor’s plane – a lot, a little, or nothing at all?” is the question the Monmouth/APP poll asked.
Quinnipiac did not frame the scandal as a donor scandal. Q asked, “Have you heard or read anything about the controversy surrounding Senator Menendez and his ties to a political donor?”
Obviously, Q’s question is more open ended and does not assume that the scandal is only about “trips Menendez took to the Dominican Republic on a donor’s plane.” Q’s question allows for respondents who heard about the prostitution angle of Menendez’s problems or how he used the power of his office to his donor’s benefit to answer accordingly.
Quinnipiac conducted its poll from February 13-17, a week later into the story when New Jersey voters would have heard a lot more about it and as more details of Menendez’s efforts on behalf on Dr. Salomon Melgen’s Dominican port security company.
Perhaps the most disingenuous spin of Murray’s release is that Menendez’s approval ratings were largely unchanged since the scandal stories broke. Murray hadn’t asked the approval question about Menendez since April of 2012. He completely ignored the campaign of 2012 that Menendez won with 58% of the vote. Murray had to have been aware of the Quinnipac poll released on Januray 23, 2013…a week before the Miami Herald story broke… that indicated 51% of New Jersey voters approved of Menendez. He should have concluded that Menendez’s support was softening…at least a 8-10 point drop since the Quinnipiac release and his own poll, rather than rely on his own historical numbers as if they existed in a vacuum.
Why does this spin matter?
Murray has established himself as the “go to” pollster in the New Jersey press corps. He is the most quoted and most accessable pollster to the press. He’s on the ground with reporters in New Jersey, unlike the Quinnipac pollsters who are out of state. His analysis and spin shapes what reporters think about issues and how they report stories. Since Murray’s poll was released last Thursday, there has been very little Menendez news in New Jersey. I’d bet if a poll asked where Menendez was this past week, less than 10% would respond that he’s in Afghanistan.
On the weekly NJTV show, Reporters Roundtable aired last weekend, the State House reporters on the show, with the exception of Gannett’s Bob Jordan, concluded that Menendez had survived the scandal, referring to Murray’s poll and the fact that he won’t face the voters again until 2018.
Menendez may well survived his scandals. U.S. Senate Democrats are unlikely to allow Governor Christie to appoint a Republican replacement by ousting Menendez for his unethical and perhaps criminal conduct.
But the New Jersey media should take this opportunity to read “independent” polls more critically and not in a vacuum.
Murray should take the opportunity to manage his own biases in spinning the results of his polls. Patrick a good pollster but a poor spinner.