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September 29, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

Cronkite-Eight Poll

  |   Video
  • Find out what Arizonans think about President Obama, Governor Brewer, and health care reform in the latest Cronkite-Eight Poll. Poll Director Dr. Bruce Merrill and Associate Director Dr. Tara Blanc discuss the results.
  • Dr. Bruce Merrill - Director, Cronkite-Eight Poll
  • Tara Blanc - Associate Director, Cronkite-Eight Poll
Category: Cronkite-Eight Poll

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Arizona congressman Trent Franks is clarifying controversial statements he made about President Obama. In a speech Saturday in St. Louis, Franks called the president an "enemy of humanity." Franks now says he meant to say an enemy of "unborn" humanity, referring to the president's views on abortion rights. Franks also said in his speech that the president had no place in any, quote, station of government because of his abortion policies. Again, Franks clarified, saying he meant to say that the president's abortion policies have no place in government. Most Arizonans like their insurance but still want insurance reform. Governor Brewer gets mixed results on her job performance. And the president's approval rating is dropping. Those are the latest results of the Cronkite Eight Poll, conducted by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU and Eight TV. The poll sampled 724 registered voters statewide and has a margin of error of 3.6%. It was conducted September 24th through the 27th. Here to talk about the poll is its director, Dr. Bruce Merrill, and associate director, Dr. Tara Blanc. Thank you both for being here. Good to see you again.

Bruce Merrill and Tara Blanc: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: We have all sorts of questions and answers and the first one talks about the job approval for Governor Brewer. And the question is, overall, do you approve or disapprove of the governor's performance, and some interesting numbers, Bruce.

Bruce Merrill: Well, yes, what we're finding right now is that the governor has about a third of the people, registered voters in Arizona, approve of the job she's doing. About a third disapprove and about a third really don't know anything about her, they say. So there's a couple of important things there. Pretty low rating for a sitting governor. And I'm amazed at how few people really know very much about her.

Ted Simons: Tara, that no opinion number jumps at you. 26% that high into the term.

Tara Blanc: It's a high number and we were surprised to see that. Again, people just don't seem to know about her. The one thing they do associate her with is the vote for the sales tax increase. When we did the poll last April, about 60% of the voters supported the sales tax increase and now that's 51% and also her approval rating has dropped so we think there's some correspondence with people associating her with the tax increase, but overall, that number of undecided or no opinion is very, very high for a sitting governor. Very surprising.

Ted Simons: Indeed. Here are the questions regarding the one cent sales tax increase. 51%, Bruce, but 41% say no. That's still 51% saying they want to go along with something that the legislature says they want no part of.

Bruce Merrill: That's true and it's a part of her career, she's stood up to her own party in terms of supporting the tax. I think the recent support for the tax itself has dropped, even though for a lot of people still hurting, there does not seem to be the crisis that there was in April regarding the need for an immediate bringing in of money to offset these losses and I think that's part of it.

Ted Simons: We've got a lot of people with no opinion regarding the governor. You've got a little bit less support for her signature idea, which is a temporary one-cent sales tax. What does this say for the governor and her ideas, perhaps, about running for office next go-round? I mean, no opinion is not so good, but again, it's not necessarily bad.

Tara Blanc: Well, the one thing Jan Brewer will need to look at in terms of support is when you run for governor, you need money. And with that high percentage of people who don't know who she is, it's going to take money in order for her to get her message out. And these numbers are going to impact your decision where to run and how to run. The second thing to consider, because Jan Brewer has stood up to her own party, she would be probably a more viable candidate in the general election that's going to make it tougher for her to get out the primary because the primary election, the turnout tends to be low. The people who go to the polls in the primary tend to be the more conservative people or, democratic side, liberal. And Governor Brewer may not be as popular among those candidates as others likely to be in the primary. So the numbers have implications about decisions on whether she'll run and how she'll do it.

Ted Simons: She has only herself to blame. She hasn't been out there.

Bruce Merrill: I think that's right. Whether she was elected or appointed or inherited to that position, having access to the governorship gives you immediate access to the media. And I think that it is a fair criticism, she really hasn't taken advantage of that. As Tara point out correctly, about the only thing she has a strong identification with is willingness to raise the sales tax by 1%. And as Tara said, that may be a good thing. Making her a rugged individualistic in the Arizona tradition. But her dilemma will be whether she can get the nomination of the right wing of the Republican party.

Ted Simons: Let's go on to President Obama and his job approval ratings as far as Arizonans are concerned. Slipping but not all that much.

Tara Blanc: His approval rates are consistent with what we're finding in the national polls. 49% approval rating. Among people with an opinion, it's 53% which is consistent with the national polls.

Ted Simons: For those numbers that have dropped a little bit, are we seeing mostly from independents, do you think?

Bruce Merrill: Well, the electorate in Arizona is polarized. The 15% of the Republicans support anything to do with Barack Obama. On the other hand, Democrats, it's about 80-85%. Interestingly, in Arizona, which is a growing proportion of the population, about 50/50. Pretty much split. But their support is down 4%, 5%, six percentage points since April. And largely over healthcare.

Ted Simons: Let's go to the economy and see what people think about the way the president is handling the economy and again, it looks reasonable. More disapprove than approve, but it's not crazy numbers.

Tara Blanc: It's evenly split. People have the economy on their minds and things are picking up but people are still having a tough time and that's going to impact how people view the way the president is handling the economy.

Ted Simons: And Bruce, you mentioned healthcare and the fact that his -- this is such a huge issue, not only for the president, but for all Americans, and the way the president is handling healthcare was asked in the poll, and the numbers show?

Bruce Merrill: 38% support, by far the lowest specific issue that we looked at, and that's kind of interesting to me. Because he ran such a magnificent election campaign in terms of understanding communication and talking to people. I don't think he's done a very good job convincing the American people about the need for reform of the healthcare system. Now, maybe he'll get better, but so far, I think the right wing has taken the initiative away from the president.

Ted Simons: And I was going to ask that. Tara, does it sound like a GOP strategy against healthcare reforms is working?

Tara Blanc: It's impacted people's view of Barack Obama, but I think Bruce has a point that's really important. It's interesting, I even hear this from my students who feel that Obama hasn't been out there enough. Hasn't talked enough about his ideas and they see his leadership slipping because he's not out there talking to people. Which is anecdotal, not scientific, but an interesting commentary particularly among young people who saw him as a leader and want to hear from him. And Bruce's point that he didn't take a lead has impacted the view on how he's handling the issue.

Ted Simons: Regarding the governor, you've got to get out there and make noise.

Bruce Merrill: Remember, we live in a society where there's no reality except that created by the media. The only thing people can know about healthcare or anything else is what they see in the American media. You've got to take advantage of that.

Ted Simons: It's interesting you bring that up. The next question regards Iraq and the president's handling. We've not -- it's not like it was a few years ago where every day a new headline regarding atrocities in Iraq. We haven't heard much and 48% approve of the way the president is dealing with Iraq.

Bruce Merrill: Yeah, well, I think in fairness for the president, I don't think there's been a president that -- maybe Roosevelt -- that has inherited so many difficult issues. And I think a lot of people, it's really raised this question again, why would anyone want this crazy job this guy has taken on? We really have big issues out there and again, in a state like Arizona, a Republican state, one could make the case that he's done pretty well in a place like Arizona.

Ted Simons: Doing pretty well apparently as far as troops in Afghanistan as well. Another question asked and again, the president over 50% this time, showing support from Arizonans regarding adding troops to Afghanistan. What are you seeing here?

Tara Blanc: I think this is pretty -- I think it's pretty typical. In Arizona we tend to be a little bit more of the conservative mind set and you would find support among those people in particular for support for the military, for military options and for, you know, supporting the troops and so on. And I don't think that result is surprising at all.

Ted Simons: Same thing with Iraq, Bruce? More support than otherwise?

Bruce Merrill: Otherwise, but again, the polarization is amazing. I mean, the support comes primarily from the social conservatives, the Republicans, and older people. The people that oppose sending additional troops are the social liberals, the young people, higher educated people. On all of these issues I'm taken because I'm concerned about how we reconcile this, how polarized the American electorate is becoming.

Ted Simons: It seems like a lot of confusion when it comes to healthcare as well and your question regarding which one of these descriptions describes your current healthcare system. It sounds as though most people want to see -- and 50% want to make major changes. Were you surprised at all by this?

Tara Blanc: Not really. It's consistent with what we see in national polls. The interesting part, even though people are happy with their health and happy with their health insurance, they're seeing the bigger picture in healthcare and I think the consensus is general at this point that the system needs changes and the voters are reflecting that. The question isn't so much whether we need the change, but it's over what we need do in order to fix the system.

Ted Simons: And one of those changes is a public option, which apparently is pretty much a memory considering -- we'll see how far it goes, but as far as Arizonans are concerned, 57%, people don't understand what a public option is?

Bruce Merrill: It's the way we -- whether or not they understood the issue and that 57% is people that said they didn't have enough information to be informed about it, or that they were really undecided. And it's a very complex issue. I'm not sure I understand all of the implications of that issue. So what we basically found is that only about 43% of the people in Arizona said they knew enough to have an opinion, we asked those people, did they want some kind of public option included in a healthcare reform? And a majority, about 54-55% said they did.

Ted Simons: And quickly, as far as satisfaction with the health insurance you have, that question posed as well. And most folks say they're very satisfied and yet previously we saw they want major changes made.

Tara Blanc: Again, I think it goes back to the idea that people -- it's like when you asked people about congress versus their congressman. They're happy with the individual congressman but not with congress. I think the same applies here. People know their health insurance and more likely to be happy or satisfied with their own situation but they're seeing the broader picture in healthcare and seeing things that need to be made.

Ted Simons: Is there anything that separates us from the rest of the country?

Bruce Merrill: Not very much but that's because our polls tend to follow the national polls pretty darned closely. But to finish what Tara said, because I think she made such an important point, is that there's a difference, I think, almost everybody thinks we need changes in the healthcare delivery system but people can still be pretty basic happy with their own health insurance. So I think that's really what's going on here. I think most people do want to see some changes.

Ted Simons: Last question: Surprised? Anything jump out at you in the poll?

Tara Blanc: I think the biggest surprise was the number of people that didn't have an opinion about the governor.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Tara Blanc: I think that's a -- a development that -- that we need to follow and understand what's going on.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Fascinating stuff. Thanks, both of you, for joining us on "Horizon."

Bruce Merrill and Tara Blanc: Thank you.

Walter Cronkite and ASU

  |   Video
  • Chris Callahan, Dean of ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, shares his memories of the School’s namesake, Walter Cronkite. Learn more about Cronkite’s connection to journalism at ASU.
  • Chris Callahan - Dean, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University
Category: Culture

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A series of events honoring the late Walter Cronkite will be held over the next month at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Tomorrow, students get to record their thoughts about Cronkite's legacy, just part of a full afternoon and evening of events. Earlier I spoke with Christopher Callahan, the Dean of the Cronkite School about his memories of Walter Cronkite and Cronkite's legacy at ASU. Chris, it's good to see you. Thanks for joining us. Not a surprise, but still a shock.

Chris Callahan: It's one of those things, Ted, that obviously, Walter had been in failing health. He was 92 years old but you're never prepared to lose somebody who is as important to the country and then to have a particular importance to the region and certainly to ASU as Walter.

Ted Simons: Your personal relationship with Walter Cronkite, talk to us about that.

Chris Callahan: Very special to me. I feel like extremely blessed. In four years, we got to be very good friends and when I would go to New York, we would have dinner and he would come out and we would talk about our two passions -- the news and the Cronkite School.

Ted Simons: You had a point where you got to go through some of his memorabilia.

Chris Callahan: I called him and we had the Jack and Marjorie Clifford gallery which has news memorabilia and I asked him if he could have some of his artifacts and he said, come to my office and take what you want.

Ted Simons: We're seeing some of those artifacts right there. We all think we know Walter Cronkite. He was in our living rooms for generations. But what kind of guy was he?

Chris Callahan: He was a genuine down to earth guy. This I didn't expect because he's Walter Cronkite, an iconic figure. When I first met him, he's one of the most humble and regular people I've had the pleasure to know.

Ted Simons: Was he -- was it all -- did he feel like -- did you feel like you knew him instantly or was there a getting acquainted period?

Chris Callahan: It was actually very hard, because of who he is. He was incredibly generous. The first time I heard from him, he had left a voicemail on my phone when I first took the job the first day and my wife said there's a phone message from Walter Cronkite. It was from him and he was generous in his comments and how excited he was about me coming to his school. And the relationship grew from there. But I never quite got past -- you would have these deep conversations with him about the news and about the future and every once in a while I would drift back to being a 10-year-old boy sitting in my parents' living room watching Walter Cronkite.

Ted Simons: We have a little bit of a story as to why Walter Cronkite put his name to the mass communications department at ASU at the time. But why do you think, A, he did it, he could have done it, he had a lot of friends and a lot of favors, I'm sure. Why here? And talk to us about that relationship, how it grew over the years.

Chris Callahan: Sure, and Walter would say they were the first to ask. And in typical reporting fashion, being first matters a lot. And that was part of it but he had a close relationship with the late Tom Chauncey. And Tom Chauncey, the second, who is still a supporter of the Cronkite school. And it was through that relationship that Walter did us the honor of giving his name for the school.

Ted Simons: And he came out for the groundbreaking. Never had a chance to see the building completed, though.

Chris Callahan: He never did, although during his last visit, at the Jane Pauley luncheon in 2007, he was -- luncheon. After the luncheon, he said, let's go and see the building. Right now? Right now. It's your building, let's go. We jumped in the car and went to downtown Phoenix and we did a visual tour, if you will, of the building and he was so genuinely excited about everything that was happening.

Ted Simons: And obviously the excitement was there, he was interested. What did he expect from ASU from the journalism department, from the school with his name on it? Did he give expectations?

Chris Callahan: Very much so. Although broadly. At the beginning, his one rule was the word journalism had to be in the school. And you would think of course. But that's not the case in many places. Many schools are much more mass communication oriented and Walter wanted a hands-on, practical liberal arts education for his students.

Ted Simons: And how much interaction did he have with the school? After the name got there, did he keep in contact?

Chris Callahan: In a lot of cases, the school is named after somebody and that's it. In fact, that relationship grew over time and the school was put on the national map in '84 when it was named after Walter, but through Walter's work with the faculty and students and leadership, it grew to a premiere school in the country.

Ted Simons: And he was involved in curriculum. To that end, a journalist steeped in old journalism traditions and never around for the Twittering and Facebook and these things. Was he open to new ways of journalism?

Chris Callahan: Very much so. He was a futurist, loved technology. Always looking to the future and the things that technology brought to the media, he was very excited about. He was not excited about some of the things that have happened in this new 24/7 news cycle culture.

Ted Simons: Like what?

Chris Callahan: The commentator, the loud talking heads on television. Celebrity-based journalism. He found that very distasteful. He was a great advocate of great journalism, of accuracy and objectivity and thoroughness and that's what we try to do at the Cronkite School.

Ted Simons: And With that in mind, what can students learn from a Walter Cronkite? There's so many things you can learn at the journalism school. Walter Cronkite becomes today's subject lesson.

Chris Callahan: He's the subject lesson every day because we built our curriculum around his values of accuracy and objectivity and fairness at the highest levels and so he lives in that building in every classroom and every student and professor every day.

Ted Simons: The program, I know you haven't been there for the 25 years, but can you tell us how it's changed over the years, from the time that Walter said, all right. I'll put my name on that school out there, and it wasn't -- it was mass communications department at the time. To where it is now, which is a top-notch facility.

Chris Callahan: Yeah, certainly, in '84, that simple, making that change by having Walter's name on it made a dramatic difference and took what it was at the time a solid regional program and gave it national prominence because of the name. And through a lot of people's work and through Walter's it grew where today we have a lot of wonderfully innovative digital programs focusing on the future of journalism and that hands-on approach that Walter thought was so important.

Ted Simons: He would be the first to say that journalism is hurting in a variety of ways. How are you and the school addressing that? Journalism goes on and right now, it's going on a bumpy road.

Chris Callahan: Absolutely, we're trying to do a two-prong approach. Holding the great values of traditional journalism that Walter exemplified for so long and trying to translate that into the future. How do you get out information in a digital age on multiple platforms and keeping students flexible. In the old days, you were a broadcast journalist, newspaper journalist. It was very segmented. What we're trying to do is teach our students how to communicate across all platforms.

Ted Simons: Indeed, and I think he would appreciate that very much because the stereotypical news anchor who can't write -- can't do that anymore?

Chris Callahan: That's right. Walter would describe himself as an old wires service guy.

Ted Simons: Journalism, is it healthier now than it was when Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America and used to get ratings and shares that management only dreams of now? Is it healthier now with all of those options?

Chris Callahan: Certainly, the business is not healthier now. The business model is under attack and that's what we really need to focus on. Changing the business model. What's worked well for decades does not now. That's something we need to change. I think it has the potential of being better than it ever was because there's all of these different voices and different ways to communicate. We need to harness and figure out ways for news companies to survive economically.