The beginning of this Bloomberg story is completely false:
Most Americans oppose President Barack Obama’s ban on deepwater oil drilling in response to BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill, even as they hold the company primarily responsible for the incident.
Almost three-fourths, or 73 percent, say a ban is unnecessary, calling the worst oil spill in U.S. history a “freak accident,” according to a Bloomberg National Poll.
Without looking at the poll’s toplines (PDF), you might not realize what is wrong with these two paragraphs. As it turns out, Bloomberg’s poll did not ask about President Obama’s temporary ban on deepwater drilling. Here is the question they actually asked:
As you can see, they asked whether all offshore drilling should be banned in U.S. waters, without specifying a timeframe. President Obama’s moratorium, on the other hand, applies only to deepwater drilling (deeper than 1,000 feet) and only for six months.
I’ve emailed the Bloomberg reporter who made this mistake, Kim Chipman, and will be updating here if a correction is made.
The Daily Beast and Atlantic Monthly have also picked up Bloomberg’s erroneous reporting on this. I’ve requested corrections from both of these publications as well. (See update below with Atlantic’s prompt correction.)
ABC released polling yesterday with a similar question (PDF): “Do you support or oppose the current six-month ban on new offshore oil drilling while authorities investigate the cause of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?” Although ABC also failed to make the distinction between between deepwater drilling and all offshore drilling, they did ask specifically about President Obama’s six month moratorium. Surprise, surprise, this wording produced a significantly different result:
In the ABC poll, just 39% opposed the moratorium. Loading their poll questions with framing that is likely to produce business-friendly results is bad enough. Completely misreporting the findings of their polls is going too far. Bloomberg should correct their piece immediately and offer an apology to their readers for misleading them.
Update — Kevin Drum had similar thoughts:
This is stunningly bad journalism. Pending a safety review, Obama has put in place a five-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the outer continental shelf. But the Bloomberg question doesn’t ask about this: it asks if offshore drilling should be flatly “banned in U.S. waters.” These aren’t even remotely the same things, and in no way can you conclude from this question that “most Americans oppose” the moratorium. They might, but an ABC poll that actually asks the question properly tells us that only 39% oppose Obama’s moratorium.
The Bloomberg results make for an exciting headline, but that’s about it. Correlation with reality is pretty close to zero.
Update 2 — At WaPo’s Behind the Numbers blog, Jon Cohen writes:
On Wednesday, one headline screamed “Americans in 73% Majority Oppose Deepwater Drilling Ban.” Another poll showed 56 percent support for the moratorium.
The answer is pretty straightforward: the two national polls asked about completely separate things. You decide.
In the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, respondents were asked this: “Do you support or oppose the current six-month ban on new offshore oil drilling while authorities investigate the cause of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?” Some 56 percent of those polled said they’re in favor of the temporary suspension. (In the most affected Gulf counties, the results were flipped, with 60 percent opposition.)
The Bloomberg questionnaire phrases it thusly: “Do you think the spill proves off-shore drilling is just too dangerous and should be banned in U.S. waters, or was just a freak accident and offshore drilling can be made safer and should not be banned?” This is the one showing 73 percent on the negative side.
Obviously, I see the first question as a clear read on a current policy choice, and the second as about something else entirely. The latter question is useful to understanding public attitudes, but it’s not necessarily focused on the ban that’s in place. That question potentially confounds views on the short-term ban, drilling more broadly and the cause of the spill.
Update 3 — Kudos to Atlantic Monthly’s Nicole Allan, who has corrected her piece. She notes that Bloomberg’s story about the poll is incorrect:
*This post formerly read that 73 percent of Bloomberg respondents thought the deepwater drilling moratorium was “unnecessary.” This assertion directly reflected Bloomberg’s article about the poll, but has been revised to reflect the polling language.
Update 4 — Eric Boehlert of Media Matters weighs in:
See the problem? The Bloomberg poll asked a very generic question about banning “off-shore drilling,” but then the article makes reference to “Barack Obama’s ban on deepwater oil drilling.” That’s not what the poll question asked, though. Meaning, Obama has in place a specific six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling of 1,000 feet or more in the outer continental shelf. That in no way is reflected in a question that asks whether all “off-shore drilling” should be permanently banned.
Bloomberg’s polling question was about X, and then Bloomberg News announced it was about Y, and attached Obama’s name to it.
There’s an apples-and-oranges problem here that Bloomberg News ought to acknowledge and correct.
Update 5 — Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism adds:
I could tell from the mere headline that the poll question was inept and/or unduly suggestive.
Update 6 — A BusinessWeek (part of Bloomberg) story is now repeating the same false information:
Most Americans oppose President Barack Obama’s ban on deepwater oil drilling in response to the spill, holding the company responsible for the “freak accident,” according to a Bloomberg national poll conducted July 9-12.
Update 8 — The Oil Drum has now taken note of this.
Update 9 — I’ve received responses from Al Hunt, Executive Editor of Bloomberg Washington and J. Ann Selzer, President of Selzer and Company (the firm responsible for the poll). I’ll be publishing both in a follow-up piece on Monday morning.
Update 10 — AutoBlog has now piled on:
That’s all pretty straightforward, but there’s reason to call attention to Bloomberg’s potentially flawed polling methods on the headline question: “Do you think the spill proves off-shore drilling is just too dangerous and should be banned in U.S. waters, or was this a freak accident and offshore drilling can be made safer and should not be banned?” Twenty-three percent of respondents said that offshore drilling was too dangerous, 73 percent chalked-up the disaster to a freak accident, and four percent weren’t sure. While Bloomberg interpreted this result as saying 73 percent of people don’t approve of Obama’s six-month ban, Grist points out that this isn’t really what the question was about.
Update 11 — I’ve published an extensive follow-up piece here.
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