Maybe your poll would be better if people could understand the questions

Media Matters is criticizing CNN’s Wolf Blitzer for cherry-picking from his own network’s poll on public support for the Iran deal in order to make the case that the deal is unpopular. CNN ran a poll that asked respondents about their support for the nuclear deal in two ways: half the sample had the key points of the deal explained to them, and the other half didn’t. The half that had the deal explained to them supported it, 50% to 46% opposed and 4% “no opinion.” The half that didn’t have the deal explained to them opposed it, 56% to 41% opposed, with 2% “no opinion.” Wolf (for reasons that I guess will remain a mystery) ignored the half of the sample that had the deal explained to them and just focused on the result from the other half, the one opposed to the deal.

Wolf’s many issues aside, let’s talk about the fact that the poll question is horribly written:

As you may know, the U.S. Congress must approve the agreement the United States and five other countries reached with Iran that is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons before it can take effect. Do you think Congress should approve or reject the deal with Iran?

Now, I don’t want to tell CNN’s pollsters how to do their business, but I’d appreciate it if they’d let us know whether or not that first sentence actually makes sense in the original Gibberish. Because in English it, ah, doesn’t work too well. I’d like to think that I’m a reasonably smart guy, but I had to read that sentence four times before I understood for sure that “before it can take effect” is actually a continuation of the sentence “Congress must approve the agreement.” I could easily see someone hearing or reading that question and thinking that Congress needs to take action because Iran is right now trying to develop nuclear weapons before “the agreement” can take effect. A couple of commas would clear this right up, like so:

As you may know, the U.S. Congress must approve the agreement the United States and five other countries reached with Iran, which is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, before it can take effect. Do you think Congress should approve or reject the deal with Iran?

But as it’s written, not only does the question assume facts not in evidence (the notion that Iran really is “developing nuclear weapons”), but it could very easily give the reader the impression that Iran is already cheating by racing to develop nuclear weapons before the agreement can go into effect. If I thought that were the case, hell, I wouldn’t want Congress to approve the deal either.

Writing is hard, I get it. But writing questions that are easily understandable on one pass isn’t that hard, particularly considering how many people probably had to look at that question and approve it before the poll could be put into the field. Can’t we expect better From CNN than a misleading run-on poll question that could actually be misinforming and prejudicing the people taking the poll?

Wrong kind of wolf, but still a funny picture.
Actually, maybe we can’t
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