Looking under the hood of the Brown U. surveyApril 11th, 2011 at 2:36 pm by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes
Last month’s Brown University poll made quite a splash, not least because it showed freshman congressman David Cicilline’s statewide approval rating at just 17%.
One minor question I had was why Brown gives voters the four terms it does to use in judging politicians – “excellent,” “good,” “fair” and “poor.” The total responses to the first two (“excellent” and “good”) are lumped together to create an approval rating, while the latter two (“fair” and “poor”) are combined for a disapproval rating.
Thing is, couldn’t “fair” be seen by a voter as a way of expressing tepid approval, rather than tepid disapproval? I’ve heard grumbles to that effect (and not just about the Brown poll) from politicians’ aides, though of course they have a reason to call the results into question. (Unless they’re Angel Taveras.)
I put the question to Marion Orr, who directs the Brown poll, and he pointed out to me that the exact wording of the poll question is “only fair,” not just “fair.”
That seemed to me – ahem – a fair point. Especially if you add “meh” before it – “meh, only fair.” That’s not approval!
On the other hand, how come Brown doesn’t just use “strongly approve,” “approve,” “disapprove,” and “strongly disapprove”? Then there’d be no doubt which side the voter was coming down on, but you’d still measure the strength of the feeling.
“That’s the way we’ve been doing it for decades, and for us it’s just good not to make a change unless there’s some reason to do,” Orr replied. Keeping the questions the same, he said, means “one could be comparing polls across time with the same language” – fairly.
What do you think? Is “only fair” a solid proxy for disapproval?