Frame game: the importance and composition of polling

Tmatt did a rather comprehensive look at how framing will play a big part in media coverage of the Obama Administration's mandating of what religious institutions should and should not offer in their employee benefits. I had to point out a rather dramatic example (even if it gets a bit meta) of the role framing played in a San Francisco Chronicle story by Joe Garofoli:

The battle is over how to frame this issue -- as an example of a government mandate trampling on "religious liberty," as conservatives believe, or as a health policy concern vital for women, as liberals contend.

Well if that isn't a scare quote example for the ages.

This is a news story. I made sure to check when I first came across this. I can't imagine a journalistic argument for scare quoting "religious liberty" and not scare quoting the hot mess on the other side of the equation. The fact is that no scare quotes are needed at all when describing how the two sides are framing a topic.

If I may note a silver lining here -- I'm having to focus on silver linings as the media coverage we're being subjected to is not exactly at a high point this month -- this issue is being fought on such drastically different fronts that even casual readers are figuring out that reporters are framing the topic in one way or another (unless they're playing it straight and presenting the competing arguments well).

I wanted to point out how framing can also be drawn out via the use of polls. I was first interested in this when I read about the wide play received by a Public Policy Polling poll that was commissioned by Planned Parenthood. Some news outlets, believe it or not, forgot to mention that the poll was commissioned by an interested party.

Another poll that received wide coverage was done by Public Religion Research Institute. This is a group with strong ties to political progressivism but most polling outfits are somewhat partisan (although there are, of course, exceptions). Different polling groups tend to come up with fairly different results. But I thought it might just be interesting to look at the questions that this (and another poll on the other side of things) asked and then at the results.

The PRRI poll on the HHS mandate had two sections. The first section had four thing that respondents were asked to "completely agree, mostly agree, mostly DISagree or completely disagree" with. Here they are:

a. American Muslims ultimately want to establish Shari'a [PROUNCIATION [sic]: Sha--REE--uh] or Islamic law as law of the land in the U.S. b. American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S. c. Methods of birth control should be generally available to teenagers age 14 or older without parental approval. d. All employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost. {New}

The second part has two questions to be asked after this statement is read:

There is currently a debate over what kinds of health care plans some religious organizations should be required to provide. Do you think [INSERT; RANDOMIZE] should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost, or not? What about [INSERT]?

The two options are:

a. Religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals b. Churches and other places of worship.

That poll, which was widely covered, was put out with the press release "Majority of Catholics Think Employers Should Be Required to Provide Health Care Plans that Cover Birth Control at No Cost." The Washington Post reporter who covered the Planned Parenthood campaign against Komen wrote a piece about how the Obama White House senses it's gambit here is going to work out really well. Here's a sample:

But while Catholic leadership has blasted the new regulation, polls show that a majority of Catholics are actually more supportive of the provision than the rest of the country. A poll out Tuesday from the Public Religion Research Institute finds 52 percent of Catholic voters agreed with the statement, “employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost.” That’s pretty much in line with overall support for the provision, which hovers at 55 percent -- likely because Catholics use contraceptives at rates similar to the rest of Americans.

Now, savvy readers of GetReligion, what do you find most interesting about the polling questions? I'll weigh in down in the comments.

Now, let's look at a Rasmussen Reports poll and its questions:

1* Should health insurance companies be required by law to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payments or other charges to the patient?

2* If health insurance companies are required to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without any charges to the patient, will that increase the cost of health insurance, decrease the cost of health insurance, or have no impact on the cost of health insurance?

3* The requirement to provide contraceptives for women violates deeply held beliefs of some churches and religious organizations. If providing such coverage violates the beliefs of a church or religious organization, should the government still require them to provide coverage for contraceptives?

4* Should individuals have the right to choose between different types of health insurance plans, including some that cost more and cover just about all medical procedures and some that cost less while covering only major medical procedures?

5* Should the government require every health insurance company and health insurance plan to cover the exact same set of medical procedures?

This was pushed out under the headline "50% Oppose Gov't Mandate for Religious Organizations to Provide Contraceptives." This poll didn't receive much coverage, outside of conservative media.

Isn't it interesting how PRRI and Rasmussen conducted their polling? Does anyone have any idea what PRRI was going for by asking those questions about sharia? Isn't it interesting how divergent the results were?

Does this make you suspicious of certain polls? And isn't it interesting that we even put questions of religious liberty up for polling? How does that affect news coverage? For instance, listening to NPR this morning, one got the idea that this issue should be decided based on how many Catholics use birth control. This makes no sense on any level.

On that note, a bleg. I was reading Lisa Miller's opinion piece in the Washington Post today where she argues with no citation that 99% of all women have used birth control during their lifetime. What in the world does that figure even mean? Assuming that abstinence is included (and how could it not be with a figure of 99%), shouldn't it be 100%? But where the heck is the citation? It's nowhere to be found. Later she asserts that 98% of Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes. How in the world are we defining contraception? I wanted to find out where that number linked to but the Washington Post citation for it led into an Ouroboros of citation -- it merely linked to another article by a Catholic who supports legalized abortion where the figure was cited. Only that time it didn't even bother an attempt to substantiate. Having seen this figure thrown about in the media repeatedly, could anyone help me find the original study? Not that I don't implicitly trust everything I read in the paper ...

Polling image via ThinkStock.

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