“The responses to the poll showed that people think the economy is getting better (in the absence of substantive evidence), and that Obama has a lot to do with it.”
BY GLEN FORD | Senior Editor, Black Agenda Report
Barack Obama massacred George Bush at the polls this week – the New York Times/CBS poll, that is. The high marks for the president are being interpreted as signs of an upbeat feeling about the economy – although Obama’s popularity and the economy’s performance are two different matters. One is largely based on subjective feelings (popularity), while the other (economy) is measured by objective facts. The business of polling is corrupted by corporate manipulation of the “news.”
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows President Barack Obama’s stock is soaring in popularity, while the Republican brand has sunk to its lowest level in modern polling history. The results no doubt reflect a certain aspect of reality: the GOP is, for the time being, a loser in the American political confidence game. Obama is the big winner, as is, secondarily, his party. The latest poll, conducted April 1 through 5 while the president was attracting adoring crowds in Europe and overwhelmingly favorable U.S. news coverage, shows a dramatic uplift in the public mood since Obama was sworn in, eleven weeks earlier.
Much polling is, however, an incestuous, closed loop of rehashed feedback whereby the same corporate media that provide the daily narrative and selected “facts” to the public later pose carefully crafted questions to determine whether their untrustworthy presentations sank in. It is almost like a teacher who lectures students on the “right” answers on current events, and then quizzes them later. The students will hew to the teacher’s “line” on subjects covered by the lecture, differing from her only on those matters in which they have strong feelings or personal experience. Otherwise, it’s trash in, trash out.
Obama’s numbers are fantastic in all the general “mood” and “feeling” areas – those most malleable by media and least vulnerable to facts and circumstances not directly experienced. Two-thirds of respondents to the NYT/CBS poll approve of his overall performance. Three times as many people trust the president as trust congressional Republicans. Two-thirds got the impression that Obama gets respect from foreign leaders, compared to only 30 percent who felt that way about George Bush in the summer of 2006. With Bush having so drastically lowered the bar of presidential performance, Obama could not help but shine. That, plus Obama’s singular, world-class personal talents, guarantees a cornucopia of positive impressions emanating from what is currently the Greatest Political Show on a rapidly deteriorating Earth.
“Two-thirds got the impression that Obama gets respect from foreign leaders, compared to only 30 percent who felt that way about George Bush.”
The corporate media are not passive, disinterested chroniclers of this saga. The world is in financial crisis, brought about by corporate media’s brethren on Wall Street. Positive impressions are what corporate media need – and the only commodity they can provide – is attempting to game the system out of crisis through massive injections of confidence. Corporate media see their role in refloating the economy as analogous to what the Federal Reserve does with the banks. The Feds pump money into the system – corporate media programs “positivity” to the people, sees light at the end of economic tunnels, feels the bounce when the “market” hits bottom. Obama needs corporate media, and corporate media need him. In this crisis, they are in near-perfect symbiosis, as both seek, imagine or invent evidence that good times will return.
The corporate media serve “the market” – that is, the investor classes – far more loyally than they serve the public. They are owned by the investor class, and are obliged to assist in the smooth running of the markets, to create a “favorable climate for investment.” Inevitably, they act as hype-men for the system – which is why corporate media were constitutionally incapable of warning the public of the impending meltdown. Allowing disruptive facts to escape into the body politic violates a prime directive of corporate media: do no harm to Wall Street.
It was logical that corporate media would evolve a “news” methodology that treats politics like a “market” in which hype, hope, fear, bells, whistles, and sizzle – rather than facts and intrinsic value – sells.
That’s where the polls come in. Just as Americans have been taught for decades the fallacy that the stock market is the true measure of economic health, so are polls sold to us as reliable indicators of national well-being – realities notwithstanding. And just as stock market boosters – which includes the corporate media and their cabal of favored economists – value perceptions over facts and economic fundamentals, so do corporate pollsters scour the human landscape for intangible hopes and fears that can be sculpted into an easily manipulable national snapshot.
Barack Obama’s relationship with corporate media has always been mutually rewarding, (just as was his early alliance with the investment banking class). He sells hype, and so do they. He sells “change” that cannot be weighed or measured or even defined – which is what the “markets” and their media minions so desperately require when the tunnel remains dark and frightening. The New York Times headline shouted the message: “Outlook on Economy Is Brightening, New Poll Finds.” The poll found nothing of the kind, in any objective sense. Rather, the responses to the poll showed that people think the economy is getting better (in the absence of substantive evidence), and that Obama has a lot to do with it.
The key question, a fuzzy one favored by U.S. corporate pollsters for its infinite interpretability, was: “Do you feel things in this country are generally going in the right direction or do you feel things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?” As The Times reported, respondents who think the country is on the right track “jumped from 15 percent in mid-January, just before Mr. Obama took office, to 39 percent today, while the number who said it was headed in the wrong direction dropped to 53 percent from 79 percent.” Political reporter Adam Nagourney continued, “That is the highest percentage of Americans who said the country was headed in the right direction since 42 percent said so in February 2005, the second month of President George W. Bush’s second term.”
The baseball-like stats aren’t important, but the positive impressions that flow from the answer are priceless, providing the warm, comforting yet thin rationale for the misleading headline, “Outlook on Economy Is Brightening, New Poll Finds.” Polls can’t find such things, but they surely can boost confidence. It is questionable whether confidence in a falsehood is a good thing – unless one’s goal is to resuscitate the Wall Street banksters through pure hype, a common objective of the Obama administration and the corporate media.
“Allowing disruptive facts to escape into the body politic violates a prime directive of corporate media: do no harm to Wall Street.”
Inevitably, poll results that have something to do with respondents’ actual experiences or known facts conflict with responses that flow from media suggestion. For example, pollsters asked, “How concerned are you that in the next 12 months you or someone in your household might be out of work and looking for a job – very concerned, somewhat concerned, or not concerned at all?” The same question was posed at the beginning of April and in mid-March, by CBS. The April results showed respondents were 10 percent more worried about job loss than respondents in March – and no wonder. Data released during the polling period showed job losses of 660,000, and about the same for each of the three months before that. The increase in worry was justified by facts. But something else was at work in the response to a more general question: “Do you think the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?” In mid-March, 91 percent of respondents thought the economy was either getting worse (51%) or remained the same (40%). But by the first week in April, only a total 77 percent of respondents felt that way.
What happened? Very little or possibly nothing good – just some minor stirrings on the stock market of no known consequence. And the unemployment news was dreadful. But the corporate media flooded the environment with rumors and speculation about “bottoms” that might or might not have been hit. More importantly, Obama was in Europe, winning no converts to his regulation-lite finance policies at the G-20 summit but, according to the shallow analyses of the corporate media, getting plenty of respect (and drawing big crowds). With heavy hype from the corporate press, the impression was created that Obama did well at an economic summit, which perhaps morphed into a general feeling that things were looking up, economically.
Such are the fumes that Wall Street’s rescuers must inhale, in the absence of other sustenance or signs of life. The best stock they’ve got is Obama, who’s blowing up his own bubble on the American Illusory Exchange – AmIllEx.
Obama’s presidential presence is both potent and therapeutic – for bankers. The president has performed so confidently while shoveling trillions of the national treasure at the banks, Americans are beginning to enjoy it. Based on no facts whatsoever, 47 percent of the people now believe the bailout will benefit everybody, rather than only the bankers. Only 29 percent of the people thought that way, just two months ago. Of course, 58 percent of the public still oppose the bailout but, as the corporate pollsters will tell you, that’s just an isolated majority.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.