My headline above is intentionally tendentious, to match the coverage by the liberal mainstream media of this poll. Here are some headlines:
San Antonio Express-News: "Poll: 1 in 5 Donald Trump supporters opposed freeing the slaves"
These headlines, and dozens like them, are misinterpretations of an incomplete story stemming from a misleading poll. It's a great lesson in how polls can muddle the truth about public opinion more than reveal — and about how sloppy and biased journalists can drive a beloved narrative without being caught as long as their bias is working against people like Donald Trump.
Trump, to be sure, deals in racism. Many of his followers are racists. But that doesn't excuse bad journalism against him.
Here are some facts about the poll you'd never know from the coverage.
1. Bernie Sanders voters were nearly twice as likely as Rubio voters to give the supposedly pro-slavery answer
The slavery headlines come from a story in the New York Times by polling expert Lynn Vavreck. That story is fine as far as it goes — looking at Trump's followers. But because it dealt only with Trump, it never mentioned some other numbers in the poll. Vavreck, two days later published the numbers, and they told some interesting facts: 9.8 percent of Bernie Sanders backers, and 6.2 percent of Hillary Clinton voters also "disapprove of Lincoln freeing the slaves," (to use Vox's wording, which was not the wording of the poll) compared to 5.1 percent of Marco Rubio voters.
2. Nearly a quarter of Hillary supporters like internment camps for Japanese-Americans
Vavreck's numbers showed that 23.4 percent of Hillary supporters and 17.2 percent of Bernie backers supported the executive order through which FDR rounded up American citizens of Japanese descent and locked them in internment camps. Rubio's supporters "backed internment" at a 10.4 percent rate.
3. Five percent of black people opposed the Emancipation Proclamation?
My question, coming out of reading this poll is: Why are black people so opposed to freeing the slaves? The poll's crosstabs find that 5 percent of black voters "say freeing the slaves was a bad idea," to use Yahoo's wording. I don't pretend to be an expert in African American opinion, but that strikes me as unlikely. Also, it's worth noting that Hispanics (at 15 percent) and "other" (at 16 percent) were both more likely than white voters to "oppose freeing the slaves" as the San Antonio Express would put it.
What's going on here?
4. These questions don't really tell us people's opinions on slavery
What's going on here is that none of these numbers show what the headlines say they show. What's going on here is polling questions that don't tell us what reporters say they tell us.
First, questions plant ideas in people's heads, and people will give dumb answers if they're asked dumb questions. Here's 20 percent of Floridians saying Ted Cruz murdered people before he was born in a poll by PPP, a pollster that thrives on asking dumb questions like that and getting good press when reporters can use the responses to make conservatives look dumb.
Second, YouGov's questions seemed to be deliberately opaque. The question about the Emancipation Proclamation didn't include the words "Emancipation Proclamation," "Civil War," "Lincoln" or "1860s." It instead asked "Do you approve or disapprove of the executive order that freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government." The internment question was very wordy and hard to follow: "Do you approve or disapprove of the executive order that created military exclusion zones during World War II and allowed for the forcible relocation of Americans of Japanese descent to internment camp?"
Excluding forcible relocation? Sounds good to me.
I suspect a high portion of those "against" the Emancipation Proclamation and "for" internment had no idea they were answering that way — and many thought they were giving the opposite answer.
Finally, the poll wasn't about whether we should have slavery. It was about presidents issuing executive orders, as opposed to acting through Congress. Some people may have felt Congress ought to have passed a law freeing slaves.
We don't know what these respondents believe. We only know how they answered opaque questions — and how irresponsible media reported it.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.