I have made the case that the Heritage Foundation and its sister institution Heritage Action have left intellectual integrity and political sanity behind in the rush for visibility and fundraising bucks. There is no better example of that than some terribly dishonest polling done to promote the fruitless effort to defund Obamacare by threatening to shut down the government.

Jim DeMint
Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Heritage Action polled this question: “If there was an effort in Congress to temporarily halt funding for the health care law, which of the following is the president most likely to do. . .?” Voters were given two options: President Obama would compromise or he’d insist on having it his way. More than 63 percent said he’d want to have it his way. Then the poll asked “in order to get President Obama to agree to at least have a ‘time out’ on implementing the health care law and its full effects would you approve or disapprove of a temporary slowdown in non-essential government operations, which still left all essential government services operating” Lo and behold with that wording about 59 percent agreed.

This is nonsense of course. Republicans would have to shut down the government and be willing to do it for as long as it took, hoping the president would cave. And of course no definition of “non-essential” is given. The question asked has nothing to do with reality, yet in its press release Heritage Action pronounced that their polls show “the idea of defunding Obamacare is broadly supported. Moreover, the potential of a partial government shutdown does little to dampen the desire to stop the implementation of Obamacare.” Um, not really. “Government shutdown” wasn’t part of the question.

The poll is a pure advocacy poll, intended to drive a certain result by monkeying around with the question and the pool of respondents. (Notice that Jim DeMint the head of Heritage Foundation was pushing publicly for a government shutdown; conveniently Heritage Action follows up in quick order with this less than objective poll.)

Moreover, the poll asserts that it measures “swing districts.” (“On August 7-8, 2013, Basswood Research conducted a nationwide survey of likely general election voters in ten different Congressional districts. Six of those House districts are presently held by Republicans, four are held by Democrats. They broadly represent a cross-section of Republican-leaning but not safe-Republican districts. The Republican held seats are FL-2, IL-18, NJ-7, NC-2, OH-12, and OR-2. The Democratic held seats are GA-12, NC-7, UT-4, and WV-3.”) This is grossly misleading.

Charlie Cook ranks congressional districts with its Partisan Voting Index (PVI), the higher the number the greater the lean toward that party. (“PVIs are calculated by comparing the district’s average Democratic (or Republican) Party’s share of the two-party presidential vote in the past two presidential elections to the nation’s average share of the same.”) A perfectly balanced district would be at zero. Every single one of these districts with a GOP congressman has a GOP PVI of at least +6. The average PVI of these districts is over +10 Republican. The districts currently with a Democratic representative are even more right-leaning, with PVI ratings between +9 and +16 GOP (an average of + 12.75 GOP). Overall, President Obama lost these seats by an average of 18 points. If anything it shows that if you ask a distorted question you can get evidence that ultra-safe districts won’t flip to the other party. Beyond that, the poll is frankly nonsense.

So, only by asking a misleading question, misrepresenting the results and going to select ultra-conservative districts could Heritage Action come up with a majority to support its suicide mission. Republicans on the Hill should pay heed to the lengths Heritage Action would go to convince them. And those covering the Heritage Action poll should be honest in explaining what it does and does not tell us.

Why do you think this much jury-rigging is needed to push its agenda? Maybe Heritage Action’s poll, like Heritage Foundation’s widely discredited study on the economic impact of immigration reform, actually tells us how out of touch with reality Heritage has become.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.