Bill Moyers hosted Kathleen Hall Jamieson on a recent Bill Moyers Journal. Regardless of your point of view on healthcare, she illustrates how uninformed public opinion polls shape and reinforce media coverage:
Unless you start by asking the public in a poll what they know, what the baseline level of knowledge is, it doesn’t matter what the public thinks ultimately about a piece of legislation or not because you can be reflecting uninformed public opinion. But the nature of public opinion it’s expressed in “USA Today” … now that’s reflecting the results of a poll that asked about people’s response not to the health care bill but to the protests about the health care bill. But the headline leads you to think it’s about the health care bill itself. And it suggests that public opinion is now shifting dramatically … And potentially the press then picks that up, polls, finds that sympathy, creates a structure that suggests that health care reform initiatives are losing support. Now polls have driven press coverage … when, in fact, the dynamic under that has been created by a news structure that decided to cover this in a certain way, to do polling in a certain way. And those two things played into the process to make it more difficult for the discussion to actually happen about the substance of what’s going on.