Matt Towery

Most pollsters, including the long-honored Gallup Organization, try to be accurate regardless of personal opinion. It’s our reputation on the line.

For example, my firm just polled President Barack Obama’s approval rating following the rescue by Navy Seals of a ship’s captain held hostage by pirates. The InsiderAdvantage poll showed Obama’s approval ratings rose and most Americans gave him strong marks for his handling of the crisis. That’s an honest poll that some might not like, but it’s true, and put into a proper context.

So why can’t media around the nation put other polls into proper context? I gave many examples of the twisting of polling data in my book “Paranoid Nation.” But here’s the latest and greatest: In coverage of the hundreds of “tea parties” held April 15 to protest spending and taxation in America, many national reports not only grossly underestimated the real numbers of those present at such rallies, they also managed to include a Gallup Poll that defeated the very point they were trying to make.

Many reports referenced “hundreds of people,” when the turnout at a given protest might actually have been in the thousands. Additionally, many said the tea parties were sponsored or fueled by “right-wing activist groups” or “conservative talk show hosts and Fox News.” Wow! Did they ever identify the groups that supplied huge numbers for rallies for Obama during his campaign, or attribute special coverage to a more “left-of-center” TV news organization?

But as a pollster who must tell it like it is, I was particularly struck that many of the national stories I read included a Gallup Poll that suggested Americans are happier with the amount of taxes they pay now than at any time since 1956, when Gallup first started asking the question.

This, of course, was somehow to convince the reader that there is no unrest over taxation and that those protesting were just out of step with everyone else. How stupid! Consider the following logic:

The Gallup survey reported that 48 percent of respondents said the “amount of income tax they pay is about right.” That was indeed the strongest response since 1956. The problem for many who used the poll is that they missed the point. Yes, people are happier. That’s because the tax cuts begun under President Ronald Reagan, improved upon under Newt Gingrich’s Republican-led House of Representatives and cut again under President George W. Bush are still in effect.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a pollster, attorney, businessman and former elected official. He served as campaign strategist for Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns. His latest book is Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth. Follow him on Twitter @MattTowery