Quinnipiac University has gained quite a reputation for their polls. On a seemingly unending basis, the small, private institution spends anywhere from a week to ten days on average cold calling random folks around the nation and asking for their input on the burning questions of the day. Most of the time, Quinnipiac polls have a ridiculously small sample size and feature the kinds of questions that you just know were answered by unemployed people who grumpily climbed off their couch to inform whoever just called them that The Price is Right was on. While it might seem that Quinnipiac is in the business of using soft statistics to make headlines on hot button issues, the company has been recognized time and again for its reliable, scientifically sound polling.
In other words, when Quinnipiac University’s March 9 poll claims that Fox News is currently the most trusted television news outlet in the nation, liberals can believe the results are legit. Sorry, guys. Even though the sample size for the study was based on phone responses from an underwhelming 1,286 registered voters over a brief 5-day period, the results still speak for themselves. When asked which network and cable news outlets they trusted the most, a whopping 29 percent named Fox News at the head of the class. Twenty-two percent sided with CNN, NBC and CBS News tied for third with a paltry 10 percent, and ABC News rounded out the top five with a mere 8 percent of votes. For the curious, more often than not, Fox News fans were either old or male.
In spite of Fox News’ big, bad reputation, those folks who actually watch news on a regular basis shouldn’t be terribly surprised by the results. After all, unlike CBS, NBC and ABC, Fox News puts out new information around the clock. Those other three are limited to the paltry insight they can provide in a mere 30 minutes once a day. And when you compare the overall coverage provided by Fox News compared to the blundering imbecility that CNN has devolved into, then it’s not difficult to understand why Fox is the most trusted, whether you like their point of view or not.
Another aspect of the survey involved pollsters asking respondents specifically, “Do you trust the journalistic coverage provided by [blank]?” Where [blank] is a specific national news outlet. In response to this question 11 percent said they trusted the coverage of most news outlets “a great deal” and about 40 percent said they trusted the coverage of most news outlets “somewhat.” Local news was actually the out and out winner here, with 19 percent of people saying they trusted their local news “a great deal.”
On the specific “Do you trust these guys?” question, 20 percent of voters said they trusted Fox News, “a great deal,” while only 35 percent of voters said they trusted the network “somewhat.” That represented the highest “a great deal” crowd, but interestingly enough it represented the lowest “somewhat” crowd. That indicates that Fox News’ core fanbase tends to be larger (and more loyal) than other news outlets; meanwhile those people not identifying as Fox News fans tend to trust Fox News less than other news outlets.
Quick aside: The study also took the time to evaluate people’s favorites to replace Jon Stewart on his popular fake news program, The Daily Show, but their list of candidates (Dennis Miller? Really?) proved they have no concept of what The Daily Show is really about or who it’s for. So, those results you can promptly dismiss. But I digress.
How much can we really rely on these numbers, though, especially in a world where personal landlines are steadily losing ground to cell phone-only households? According to numbers from the Pew Research Center, the successful rate of contact when conducting polls fell from 90 percent in 1997 to just 62 percent in 2012. “Of those successfully contacted, the cooperation rate—the percentage of contacts with an adult that yielded an interview—was only 14 percent, down from 43 percent 15 years earlier.” Keeping in mind that most of the people who have been quickest to adopt a mobile-only are also young people, then it’s easy to see how a lot of polls might report results that basically omit the opinions of an entire section of the population.
Quinnipiac sidesteps the landline issue by incorporating cell phones into its calling cold calls. Unfortunately, you don’t need a scientifically researched study to know that cell phone polls are also fairly unreliable. After all, are you going to take the time to take a poll in the middle of the grocery store? Or standing on line at the bank? No, you want to keep an eye on how many people have Liked your most recent Facebook post. Even more to the point, how many people under the age of 35 are going to answer their cell phone when the caller isn’t readily identified? What is this, 1996?
Perhaps the most disheartening (and believable) results coming out of Quinnipiac’s latest poll is the answer to the question: “Is the News more or less trustworthy than it was?” Unsurprisingly, most Americans (about 48 percent) think that news today is less trustworthy than in Cronkite’s days. “Bring back Uncle Walter, as Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly get lukewarm support for their journalistic indiscretions. American news watchers long for an era where the person in the big chair could be truly trusted,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “And that’s the way it is.”