The New York Times (10/4/13) ran a curious piece on the front page October 4 that seemed to want to tell New York voters to reconsider their overwhelming preference for Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.
The piece, by David Chen and Megan Thee-Brenan–headlined “Poll Finds Support for de Blasio, if Not All His Ideas”–began with this:
New York City voters want to keep Raymond W. Kelly as police commissioner. They want more charter schools. And nearly half of them support the Police Department’s use of the stop-and-frisk tactic.
But the city’s voters, by an enormous margin, are planning to support Bill de Blasio for mayor next month, despite the fact that Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, opposes each of those positions, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released on Friday.
The Times notes that deBlasio holds “a commanding lead of 68 percent to 19 percent among likely voters” over Republican candidate Joseph Lhota. So a reader might wonder: Are New Yorkers totally ignorant of de Blasio’s views, ready to support by a substantial margin someone whose views on policy they don’t actually support?
A more plausible explanation is that the opposite of the Times‘ lead is true: The public sides with de Blasio on most of the key issues in the race, and by substantial margins. And you can find evidence for that by reading, well, the very same New York Times article. Well into the article, the Times essentially takes back the implication of the story’s headline and lead:
Voters shared several of Mr. de Blasio’s priorities–particularly his desire to address income inequality and the high cost of housing and to improve public education. And a majority of voters suggested that they want the next mayor to prioritize reducing the gap between rich and poor, a key plank for Mr. de Blasio, rather than to create a climate that would reduce taxes and regulation to sustain job growth, something emphasized by Mr. Lhota.
On most issues, the poll found, Mr. de Blasio enjoyed a strong advantage over Mr. Lhota. By almost four to one, voters thought that Mr. de Blasio would do a better job than Mr. Lhota in improving public education. By almost three to one, they supported Mr. de Blasio’s proposal to increase taxes on high-earners to finance an expansion of prekindergarten education. And by almost two to one, they believed that Mr. de Blasio, not Mr. Lhota, would keep the city safe from crime or a terrorist attack or during a natural disaster.
So a more accurate headline would have been “Poll Finds Support for de Blasio, Along With Most of His Ideas.”
But what about those issues where the public sides with Lhota? The Times would seem to be pushing that story further than the findings would allow. On stop-and-frisk, for instance, the public was split equally, 47 percent supporting it (Lhota’s position) to 48 percent opposed. Yet in a graphic accompanying the print edition, stop-and-frisk was included under the heading “Where Voters Agreed With Lhota.”
The Times led with the poll showing support for keeping Ray Kelly as police commissioner; 62 percent support the idea, while de Blasio proposes hiring a new commissioner. But as the Times also found:
Seven in 10 supported creating an independent inspector general to monitor the police–a measure passed by the City Council with Mr. de Blasio’s support and Mr. Lhota’s opposition.
It’s hard to tell if a piece like this was mangled in the editing process, or if it’s an attempt to inject some excitement into a race that has all the appearances of a blowout. In any case, the Times‘ curious treatment of its own poll has found an audience: Columnist Michael Goodwin for Murdoch’s New York Post (10/6/13) wrote that the Times poll “finds that most New Yorkers, including many de Blasio backers, oppose big parts of his agenda.”
It doesn’t find that at all–but one could have easily gotten that impression from the New York Times.