Rich Noyes writes: It’s no secret that television news has long been addicted to public opinion polls; decades ago, all three broadcast networks decided to partner with an influential newspaper (ABC News with the Washington Post; CBS News with the New York Times; and NBC News with the Wall Street Journal) to sponsor their own regular surveys for use in their political coverage.
That’s why it’s so extraordinary that polling news has practically vanished from the Big Three evening newscasts in 2014 as President Obama’s approval ratings have tumbled and the public opposes defining administration policies like ObamaCare. Just last Thursday, for example, Gallup found Obama’s approval rating at a record low of 38 percent, yet none of the three broadcast networks bothered to mention this on their evening or morning newscasts.
Such coverage is in stunning contrast to how those same newscasts relentlessly emphasized polls showing bad news for George W. Bush during the same phase of his presidency. Media Research Center analysts reviewed every reference on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts to public opinion polls from January 1 through August 31, 2014, and from the same time period in 2006. Eight years ago, the networks aired 124 evening news reports which cited public opinion polls about either President Bush’s overall approval rating or his handling of specific policies. In 2014, those same broadcasts produced only nine reports which mentioned public opinion surveys related to President Obama.
In Bush’s case, the networks routinely highlighted his falling approval ratings to illustrate his political weakness, and regularly cited polling data showing public disapproval of policies such as the Iraq war. This year, even as President Obama has suffered his own political meltdown, the networks have spared him from such coverage.
So far this year, there have been only two citations on an evening newscast of President Obama’s national job approval rating. “Obama has the lowest average approval rating of any President after five years in office,” correspondent Jon Karl announced on the January 28 edition of ABC’s World News. Seven months later on the August 31 edition of the CBS Evening News — a Sunday evening on a holiday weekend — political director John Dickerson opined that Democrats are facing a tough midterm election because the President’s “approval rating is just above 40%.”
(While not discussions of Obama’s approval rating, on the January 26 edition of ABC’s World News, anchor David Muir noted a poll showing “just 37% believe the President has the ability to make the right decisions for the country.” A month later, CBS’s Scott Pelley told viewers that his network’s latest poll found “59% say they’re disappointed” with Obama’s presidency.”)