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March 22, 2005

ABC News Poll - Terri Schiavo and Federal Intervention

Many have heard by now of the latest ABC News Poll that shows public support for removing the tube at 63% to 28% and apposes federal intervention 60% to 25%.

DemFromCT and I had a friendly wager of sort on this poll. DemFromCT brought to my attention the week-old polling on the Schiavo case that showed similar results, which I claimed was not representative of current public opinion. My hypothesis was that once the American people learned the facts of the Schiavo case and saw the pleas and cries of Terri's parents and brother, the polling would shift. The current poll suggests I was wrong; but, then again, public opinion polls are never that easy now are they?

Actually they are. I don't believe this is a push poll. In my estimation, the questions were fairer and presented more accurate information regarding the case in the preamble than the previous poll released 3/13. More on that later.

But, I will add something here that is purely anecdotal. Today I was sitting in my office prepping final drafts of documents for clients (HUD Consolidated Plan deadlines are looming) and I heard a conversation between three of my co-workers whose cubicles are situated just outside my office. Two things struck me: 1) How adamantly opposed they were to the actions taken by Congress; and 2) How little they knew about the facts of the case or even what Congress decided.

My co-workers are convinced that Terri is a "vegetable" who has been on "life support" for years against her wishes. They also think that Congress voted to reinsert the tube, again, against her wishes.

The conversation was both interesting and sad at the same time. My co-workers are educated (each has at least a Bachelor's, but one has a Master's degree) and since they talk current events regularly, in my estimation they are fairly informed compared to the average American (not to condescend).

So what does this say for the poll? Well, since it's anecdotal, absolutely nothing solid. But I think it may suggest a few things about the findings: 1) The public may not really understand the issues; and 2) the poll's use of the word "life support" may be pushing some respondents into supporting the removal of Terri's feeding tube.

Look, the margins here are huge and cross-cut party, age, and religious belief characteristics folks. Although some think use of "life support" in the poll question is solid evidence of a push poll, I don't buy it. If the question (see here) were revised as follows, "Schaivo suffered brain damage and has been on life support fed through a feeding tube for 15 years" I don't think it would have made much difference at all. But that's just my opinion.

May I suggest though that there may be a problem with the level of knowledge of the case among respondents, despite the news coverage and the survey preamble? Although "just under 6 in 10 Americans are closely following the Schiavo case, including 16 percent who've been following it very closely," I have to wonder what "following the story "closely" means. I'd be curious to read the data crosstabs by level of attention paid to the story. Is there a significant difference in opinion amongst those paying "very close" attention compared to those paying "somewhat close" attention? We don't know. The data is not presented by that metric. I raise this question because in light of my experience with my co-workers today.

Perhaps I should poll my co-workers in the morning with the same question used in the ABC poll. I suspect that they would respond that in the "somewhat closely" group given their lack of understanding of the facts, but also given the length of their discussion and the passion with which they expressed their opinions.

At any rate, here's another anecdote for you to consider. I heard Congressman David Drier on Hugh Hewitt today talking about the case. He said that as of last week he was against federal intervention on federalism grounds. But then he started learning the facts of the case and became involved and supportive of legislation for federal judicial review. Congressman Drier described how he had run into numerous constituents who questioned federal involvement and that he realized they really didn't understand the facts of the case or why the Congress was acting in a hugely bi-partisanship fashion (Unanimous voice vote on the Senate for example). He said that once he had a chance to explain to his constituents how he came to his decision, they were persuaded.

Why would a Congressman risk so much political capital on this issue if even a majority of conservatives (says the poll) are opposed to federal intervention? Why would Democratic members of Congress do so? There has to be internal polling on this subject on both sides of the aisle.

The ABC News poll tells us clearly that the public is heavily against removing her feeding tube and heavily against federal intervention. We do not know how much of those currently opposed are like my co-workers or like Congressman Drier's constituents and are ignorant of the facts of Terri's situation. Moreover, we don't know whether education on the subject would change responses any, but we could have a better idea if we knew the responses to the poll by level of attention paid to the story.

Polling organizations like ABC News are not supposed to educate people regarding the issues they are polling. If a large portion of the public is not well informed on a subject matter related to an area in which they already have solidly formed opinions (I wouldn't want to be on "life support" or a "vegetable," therefore I think Terri's tube should be removed and Congress should stay out of it), in most cases, three sentences of preamble will not be sufficient to illicit a respondents true opinion. I'm sure there are those who viewed the questions asked by ABC News as pushing respondents into pro-Schiavo and pro-Congress answers. That's what makes the design of survey instruments so difficult.

Posted by Rick at March 22, 2005 01:25 AM

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Tracked on March 23, 2005 02:51 PM


The MSM are not putting out the facts. Period. They no longer champion justice for the innocent, because their allegience is to the Culture of Death...which is why Mumia is a celebrity on death row, where we are urged that any error must be on the side of life. But Terri can die.

Posted by: TheAnchoress at March 22, 2005 09:15 AM

Thanks for this, Rick (and it is a friendly difference of opinion with a great deal of respect between us).

One might as well ask if those Americans who think WMDs were found in Iraq (they weren't) or that Saddam had something to do with 9/11 (he didn't) should be educated by the pollsters or cable TV on the facts (they aren't). C'est la vie.

Rick is right that those on both sides of the question don't know all the facts. That's often the case. But there are facts that are known, and one major fact is that there has been due process and review/fact-finding by the FL courts over the last 7 years. It is this fact that led to the rejection of the request for reinsertion of the feeding tube this AM and will likely decide the issue ultimately in favor of the husband, who is the legal guardian and, in the court's opinion, represents Terri's wishes (until and unless they say otherwise). That part the public understands. Bush's Texas law that led to life support (true and real life support) removal in a 6 month old with no hope of recovery is rarely injected into the debate, but certainly should be. And that's another area the public should be educated about (but isn't).

The suggestion that Drier in particular and Republicans in general are not motivated by politics on the issue but by 'understanding the facts' is highly debatable. Democrats, too, are driven by politics but are taking a much lower profile on the case.

But regardless of their opinions on the issue, the majority of Americans are uneasy with Congress, rather than family, doctors and clergy determining the fate of family members and loved ones. That seems pretty clear from the poll numbers.

Posted by: DemFromCT at March 22, 2005 05:56 PM

It is very evident that after Terri spent two years in her “broken” state of consciousness that here husband was ready to “dispose” of her. He had grown tired of his vows of “for better or worse” and was plotting to engage the “till death do us part” clause of the contract.

Posted by: Freaki at March 22, 2005 06:05 PM

Actually, it seems to me, Michael is trying to honor his wife's wishes. That's what I'd want my wife to do.

Posted by: DemFromCT at March 23, 2005 09:37 AM