The news media was full of a very scary Louis Harris poll yesterday, a poll, by the way, that wasn’t supposed to be officially announced until today. Some examples of stories about the survey: “Poll: Most Republicans think Obama is a Muslim” and “‘Scary’ Harris poll: 24% of Republicans think Obama ‘may be the Antichrist’“
First let’s consider the survey itself, which evidently demonstrates that a stubborn streak of ignorance has corrupted the Republican Party. According to the poll of 2,230 people taken during the height of the “health care debate,” Republicans hold some very mistaken ideas about President Obama:
- Two-thirds of all Republicans think the President is a socialist.
- 57 percent think he’s a Muslim.
- 24 percent say “he may be the Antichrist.”
Whether or not President Obama is the Antichrist is a matter of opinion (and a very weird question for Louis Harris to include in a poll), but it is factually inaccurate to label our President as either a socialist or a Muslim. His handling of the financial bailout, his choice of big bankers as his primary policy gurus, his deference towards industry groups and his foreign policy decisions all speak to a reformist capitalist, that is, a capitalist who believes in government regulation of industry to create a fair set of rules and government investment to guide and grow the economy. In short, a centrist Democrat in matters of economics.
By the way, the large number of Republicans who believe that Obama is Muslim reflects not just distrust of the President but an irrational hate of the Muslim religion.
All in all, a very disheartening survey because it’s never any good when large portions of the electorate hold false notions that will affect how they vote and what positions they will take on key issues. Now I’m not that upset that these people hate Obama, but it’s frightening that they believe so much nonsense about the President which both forms and feeds their hatred.
As scary as the poll was, the way it has been disseminated is fascinating. It symbolizes a new pattern of information and idea distribution. Instead of the good old days in which the announcement of a Louis Harris poll first appeared in a news release that immediately became Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg wire stories, the news of the survey broke in a an article by John Avlon in an online tabloid called “The Daily Beast,” which is a U.S. news reporting and opinion website published by Tina Brown former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
Avlon recently published a book called “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America,” and he uses his column about the Louis Harris survey in yesterday’s “Beast” overtly to publicize his new book. Avlon even goes so far as to say that the poll was “inspired in part” (his words) by his book, which investigates the beliefs of today’s fringe right.
Although I appreciated having the information in the survey a day early, I found that the overall direction of the article was a little bit too self-serving. (FYI, I like Avlon, I just think he hit the wrong note in this particular article.)
My question is how did Avlon get the survey a day early? It wasn’t on the Louis Harris interactive website yesterday. Could it be that the Harris honchos decided that they could get the most publicity for the survey and firm by leaking the story to Avlon and letting him break it early in The Daily Beast. What does that say about the old-fashioned practice of giving an exclusive to The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post or a national TV news operation? And did Louis Harris know that Avlon would make self-serving use of the information? Didn’t this crass and explicit commercialization bother them?