Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight explains how the mad polling scientists at Fox News manage to produce results that look so bad for the Democrats. Before asking about health care reform, for example, Fox pollsters ask dozens of questions that “run the gamut [from] slightly leading to full-frontal Republican talking points.”

The Fox abuse is particularly egregious (see some of Silver’s highlights below), but the media in general also are to blame for going so poll crazy and for questionable procedures. There’s a tendency to report numbers in the abstract as absolute facts. That can be very dangerous.

Take health care as an illustration. If someone asks, as Fox does, “Based on what you know about the health care reform legislation being considered right now, do you favor or oppose the plan?” Which plan? There are five being debated in Congress, along with countless variations. Does Fox mean the Baucus bill, which would force people to buy insurance? The House public option? The Kucinich amendment, which would allow states to set up single-payer systems? — PS

Nate Silver / FiveThirtyEight:

The answer may have to do with the questions Fox asks before the question on health care. This weekend, for example, Fox News put out a separate release with their health care questions — but the health care questions weren’t asked separately. Instead, they were questions #27-35 of their larger, national poll, which you can find here. And what were some of those questions? Here are a few:

3. Do you think Barack Obama’s travel and speaking schedule makes him look more like he is a candidate on the campaign trail or more like he is the president of the United States?

4. Do you think President Obama apologizes too much to the rest of the world for past U.S. policies?

5. Do you think the Obama administration is proposing more government spending than American taxpayers can afford, or not?
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