What Pollsters Ask vs. What Respondents Hear

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Do people really care about all the nano-controversies that constantly bubble up out of the politico-quantum vacuum and then disappear just as quickly? Dave Weigel points to the following poll question as evidence about the number of people who have an opinion about Obama’s “hot mic” incident:

That’s impressive! Apparently 96% of America has an opinion about this. The problem is that although the question above is the one that was presented to people, here’s what I think they mostly heard:

blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah President Obama blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Troubling or Not?

So if you’re not an Obamanaut, you find his conduct troubling — whatever it is. But if you’re a fan, it’s no big deal. I suspect this dynamic accounts for the routinely implausible number of people in polls who claim to have heard of, or care about, some particular incident that we all know perfectly well most people know nothing about. Ditto for obscure policy issues. Everyone wants to have an opinion, even if they have no idea what they’re supposed to have an opinion about.

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