March 16, 2008 - March 22, 2008
A common pattern in polling is to see greater tolerance for issues in one's personal sphere than outside it. Voters like their own Member of Congress more than they like "Congress." Voters are more open to public spending helping their own community than to help others'. Call it, perhaps, a reverse NIMBY phenomenon. Interestingly, we see the same pattern when it comes to infidelity and sex scandals; Americans seem more tolerant personally than they are of elected officials.
At some level I'm hesitant to discuss this topic. Does it feed into our baser instincts? Are sex scandals even relevant? However you answer those questions, though, the fact remains that sex scandals are very relevant in the campaigns in which they occur, and show no sign of abating. We might as well try to understand voters' views.
Initially, Americans attitudes toward infidelity are quite dramatic. According to Gallup, nearly all Americans (91%) feel "married men and women having an affair" is morally wrong. This makes it less acceptable than cloning humans (86% morally wrong), and as unacceptable as polygamy (90%).
But ultimately, Americans turn out to be more forgiving. For one, according to ABC News, more report their own infidelity (16%) than I'm assuming would admit to human cloning or polygamy. Further, according to USA Today/Gallup reports of "knowing anyone" who has been unfaithful are much higher (54%).
Perceived pervasiveness could lead to potential forgiveness. Over a third (33%) say they would "probably" or "definitely" forgive their spouse's infidelity. A similar number (36%) suspect that if they were married to a philandering political spouse, they would "stand beside" the spouse during a press conference announcing the infidelity. In fact, far from a consistent pattern, only 55% of married adults say they would leave their spouse if they found out about an affair.
Politicians implicated in recent sex scandals, however, are generally not let off the hook so easily:
- A Marist Poll pre-resignation (so, admittedly, an overnight poll) showed 70% of New York voters wanted to see Eliot Spitzer resign.
- In September 2007, a CNN/Opinion Research poll also showed majority of Americans (52%) felt Dennis Hastert should have resigned because of his handling of the Mark Foley incident.
- In a NBC News/Zogby poll, More than eight in ten (84%) were dissatisfied with Gary Condit's explanations about his relationship with Chandra Levy, and 81% said they wouldn't re-elect him if he was their Congressman.
Only former Governor Jim McGreevey fared a bit better than his ignominious peers. Just half (48%) of New Jersey voters said it was necessary for him to resign, compared to 42% who wanted him to stay.
Admittedly, most of these scandals, to varying degrees, involved a bit more than adultery. And the hypocrisy of private behavior differing from public stances also affects voters' attitudes. But we still seem to see reverse NIMBY writ large; people tend to be more judgmental of others than of themselves. Politicians should beware what might be one of the oldest political biases.
"Most voters following the events regarding Senator Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright think Obama's speech was a success. Most agree with his thoughts on race, and think he did a good job explaining his relationship with Rev. Wright. However, the percentage who thinks he would unite the country has dropped since late February."
70% of say these events have made no difference in whether or not they would vote for Obama; 14% said it makes them more likely to vote for Obama, 14% say less likely.
"For this poll, CBS News re-interviewed voters who were first surveyed between March 15th and 18th, 2008, in the midst of the Wright controversy and mostly before Obama's speech on race, to gauge their reactions to Tuesday’s speech and the continuing controversy over Wright's comments."
Yesterday, Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn released a polling memo highlighting "some pretty big changes" in polling numbers that suggest "a strong swing in momentum in the race to Hillary." Later in the afternoon, ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper posted some analysis by Peyton Craighill of the ABC News Polling Unit:
Mark Penn’s note is full of overblown claims based on current polling. He’s cherry picking numbers from recent polls. Much of his claim of a Clinton swing is based on the latest tracking data from Gallup in which Clinton is now ahead by 7 points. If you go back two more days Obama has a 7-point lead in a separate USA Today/Gallup poll. CBS has a new poll out today that shows a close 46-43 percent Obama-Clinton race. The CBS poll also has the match ups with McCain at 48-43 percent for Obama-McCain and 46-44 percent for Clinton-McCain. We see little indication of a shift to Clinton. Of the nine polls cited in his note, five of them are not airworthy.
Tapper adds: "'Airworthy' is a term our Polling Unit uses for polls so poorly done we are discouraged from mentioning them on air." I believe Tapper left out the word "not" in that sentence. Polls considered "not airworthy" are those ABC does not mention on air, and that category includes polls conducted using an automated methodology, such as those by SurveyUSA (ABC details its standards here).
Without reopening the long debate on automated polls (a topic we've written about often), we should note that the latest round of SurveyUSA polls do generally show Obama's support worsening in general election matchups against McCain. Of course, all of those surveys were fielded last weekend (March 14-16) while the Jeremiah Wright sound-bites played endlessly on the cable news network but before Obama's speech on Tuesday. Probably the wisest advice on how to interpret poll numbers this week comes from some commentary yesterday by NBC News political director Chuck Todd:
Don't use the polls this week to judge where Obama is and what kind of damage...is it long term or is it short term. I'd wait a week and look at the polls in a week and then we'll know how badly this [hurt Obama] because there has certainly been critical mass as far as attention has been concerned on the speech and how he is trying to pivot and move on. So if there is an uptick then we will know that what we are seeing is bottom, what we are seeing today is the worst, and if today is bottom, the Obama campaign probably thinksthey can recover.
Fox News/Opinion Dynamics
Clinton 46, McCain 43... McCain 44, Obama 43
The survey also tests reactions to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama.
Analysis from the Pew Research Center shows 36% of registered voters nationwide identify themselves as Democrats and 27% as Republicans -- "the lowest percentage of self-identified Republican voters in 16 years of polling by the Center."
"Of the 37% who claim no party identification, 15% lean Democratic, 10% lean Republican, and 12% have no leaning either way."
Pew also looked at party identification among registered voters in "blue" states, "red" states, and "swing" states.
Full analysis here.
Clinton 55, Obama 27
Much like the Dow is but one measure of the nation's economy, Presidential horserace numbers are just one measurement of how a race is evolving. And like the Dow's prominent appearance in newscasts and newspapers, horserace numbers are usually the only Presidential polling numbers to appear regularly in political coverage.
But this far out from Election Day, horserace numbers are, ultimately, close to meaningless, especially without an incumbent. We look at many other indicators of campaign health, frequently referred to in pollster parlance as "beneath the surface." Two recent public polls from USA Today/Gallup and from CNN/Opinion Research (before Obama's race speech) show that despite the coverage of Obama's slippage in the general election matchup, he remains stronger than McCain on most dimensions. In many ways, Obama is also stronger than Clinton.
The polls cited here are quite similar, their dates are identical, and both the structure of the survey instructions and the individual rating items are quite similar (full results for the CNN poll appear in National Journal's 3/18/08 Hotline, available by subscription). Respondents hear a series of descriptions three times-once for each candidate-and report whether they feel each item describes each candidate. I like this methodology because respondents are not forced to evaluate multiple candidates in a single question. (The last three columns show the differences between the candidates; "BO-JM" is Obama's advantage over McCain, for example. The tables are also ranked by Obama's advantage over McCain.)
On Most Dimensions, Obama is Stronger Than McCain
Obama is most likely to best McCain on measures of empathy, such as "cares about people like you," or understands problems Americans face in their daily lives." He also does very well on being "someone you would be proud to have as President." McCain's weakest dimension is "generally agrees with you on the issues" and both Obama and Clinton have a clear advantage over McCain here.
Obama does less well on items related to experience, such as "is a strong and decisive leader" and "has the right experience to be President." However, despite these disadvantages, more items from both surveys are seen as describing Obama than McCain.
Obama Is Also Stronger Than Clinton
In both surveys, Obama is described by more traits than is Clinton. Once again, his strengths are on empathy, but he also exceeds Clinton on "would work with both parties to get things done." Obama trails Clinton on experience and decisiveness, as he trailed McCain, but it's important to note that Clinton also trails McCain on these measures (although by not nearly as much).
McCain is strongest on "honest and trustworthy," and Obama is close to even with him on that measure. But it is Clinton's weakest dimension on the USA Today/Gallup poll (it wasn't asked in the CNN/OR poll). In fact, Gallup has tracking that shows Clinton to be the weakest she's ever been on this measure since 1994.
The Obama campaign has had a difficult few weeks (pre-speech); no doubt the fluctuation in the horserace reflects those events and missteps. But beneath the surface, a more complex picture of Obama's strength emerges. Just as economic indicators (like home foreclosures) can reveal more about the economy than the Dow, horserace numbers are necessary, but not sufficient, to understand the Presidential race.
Franklin & Marshall College/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Clinton 51, Obama 35
Obama 46, Clinton 43
Obama 48, McCain 43... Clinton 46, McCain 44
My NationalJournal.com column on the yardsticks used to measure reactions to Barack Obama's speech on race, is now online. I have a morning meeting, but later today I will update this post with a few additional data points from the Pew Research Center.
Poblano puts up a new site (538) that aggregates polls weighted with a "reliability rating."
Gregory Nini and Glenn Hurwitz produce a statistical model and conclude that "roughly two million more people would have voted in Florida and Michigan had they expected their delegates to be seated" (via Smith, Swampland).
Geoff Garin gets added to the Pollster roster of the Clinton campaign.
Mark Mellman is starting to worry about a divided Democratic Party.
Josh Goodman thinks Democrats should use a poll to allot delegates in Florida and, somewhat surprisingly...
David Hill floats a similar idea (though advises against calling it a "poll").
Carl Bialik sees problems with the Clinton big state electoral vote theory.
Gary Langer looks at the changes in attitudes on the war in Iraq over the last five years.
Jennifer Agiesta posts a similar retrospective.
Frank Newport shows that Americans disagree that going to war with Iraq was the "right decision"
Peter Feaver advises John McCain to defend that decision (via Ambinder, some background here).
Obama 47, Clinton 44
McCain 46, Obama 40... McCain 48, Clinton 40
"Thirty nine percent of registered voters said a woman running for president faces more obstacles while 33 percent said a black candidate does."
"More voters admit their unwillingness to vote for a woman. Nearly one in five voters says that all things being equal, they would rather vote for a man."
National 3/16 through 3/17
Among likely voters who have heard about Rev. Jeremiah Wright's statements, 65% say the statements have not affected their opinions about Sen. Barack Obama, 30% say the statements made them feel "less favorable" to Obama, and 2% say "more favorable."
Among Democrats, 76% say the statements have made no difference, 15% say less favorable, 2% say more favorable.
Among Independents, 61% say no difference, 36% say less favorable, 2% say more favorable.
"Overall, unfavorable views of Obama are up somewhat from February. His favorable ratings remain largely unchanged at 44 percent, but there has been some movement from undecided views to unfavorable views, from 23 percent in February to 30 percent now."
"Independent voters - a group Obama has successfully courted in many primaries and would try to draw in the general election - still view him favorably, about the same as last month. Unfavorable views have risen among Republicans."
Topic A today is obviously Barack Obama's speech on race and the Jeremiah Wright controversy and by extension, the larger issues of race and gender and how they affect perceptions and vote preferences in the presidential election. I have several reactions from a pollster's perspective (though I'm not sure I have sufficient time to blog them all this afternoon). Let's start with some fascinating data that CBS pollster Kathy Frankovic included in her online column yesterday.
The analysis helps answer a question posed yesterday by my colleague Amy Walter, editor of The Hotline, raised in her a Hotline TV segment yesterday: "Can we ever really capture voters perceptions about race or gender in polling?"
Frankovic begins with the same question: "Will Americans admit to bias?" She reviews this history of questions posed by national surveys since the 1930s by Gallup and other pollsters, as well as the potential measurement problems this topic poses. Then she shares some data from some recent exit polls that I have not yet seen tabbed by race or gender elsewhere:
Polls in recent Democratic primaries suggest that something might be going on under the radar. We conduct exit polls on paper, so there is no interaction between an interviewer and a respondent, and therefore less opportunity for socially desirable answers. And in fact, in Ohio, one in five white men -- and nearly as many white women -- said the race of the candidate mattered to them. Those voters voted nearly four-to-one for Hillary Clinton, a much higher ratio than white voters who did not say race mattered. But even more black voters -- about one in four -- said race mattered to them, and nearly all of them voted for Obama: even more than black voters who said race didn’t matter. Fewer voters admitted gender was a factor, but men who did were more likely to vote for Obama than those who did not; women who said gender mattered strongly supported Clinton.
But this experiment in asking about race and gender had a different impact in last week’s Mississippi primary. There was almost no gender gap in Mississippi, but the racial divide was enormous. Ninety two percent of African-American voters supported Obama, while just 26 percent of white voters did. Even though nearly four in ten black voters said that race mattered to them, it would have been almost impossible for them to be more pro-Obama than blacks as a whole. However, when whites admitted that race mattered to them (and 24 percent of them did) their votes were more anti-Obama than white voters overall. Only 10 percent of them voted for Obama.
Incidentally, Frankovic's CBS polling unit also just released results from survey questions on Obama and Reverend Wright completed on Sunday and Monday nights. The question numbers in the PDF release imply that the results are part of a much longer survey, one that will presumably continue over the next few evenings, capturing reactions to today's speech (the last several national CBS News surveys had a field period of 4 to 6 days).
Clinton 53, Obama 41
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Addendum - October 30, 2008
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Obama 52, Clinton 45
Here are three interesting poll-related reads I encountered over the weekend, all dealing with the Obama-Clinton race: .
First, my National Journal colleague Ron Brownstein looks closely at what recent surveys have to say about the potential general election coalitions for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and concludes that while "Obama offers greater potential rewards as a nominee," he "also presents greater risks:"
In a recent Pew Research Center survey, for instance, Obama carried independents against McCain by 6 percentage points, while McCain carried them against Clinton by the same amount; the difference mostly reflected Obama's stronger showing among independents earning at least $50,000 annually. Other surveys, such as a Quinnipiac University poll in the key battleground of Pennsylvania, have found that Obama also swipes more Republicans from McCain than Clinton does.
This all tracks Obama strengths familiar from the primaries. But primary-season trends more troubling for Obama are also persisting. In the national Pew survey, and in Quinnipiac polls of Ohio and Pennsylvania, Obama lost more Democrats to McCain than Clinton did. In the Pew survey, Obama struggled particularly among the same blue-collar white Democrats resisting him in the primaries: Fully 30 percent of white Democrats earning less than $30,000 a year preferred McCain over Obama. Clinton would lose only half as many of them to McCain, the polls indicate. In the Quinnipiac surveys, Clinton likewise outpolled Obama against McCain among white women without college degrees, a key general election swing group that has overwhelmingly preferred her in the primaries.
Second, Matt Bai devotes his New York Times Magazine column to an argument that has raged in the blogosphere for many weeks: "Obama wins in major urban areas but can’t seem to win in urbanized states, while Clinton wins in rural communities but consistently loses in rural states." To illustrate the point, the Times created this intriguing chart showing exit poll results in six states tabulated across urban, suburban and rural areas:
He reviews several relevant theories for the pattern, but seems most taken by this one:
What this suggests, perhaps, is that living in close proximity to other races — sharing industries and schools and sports arenas — actually makes Americans less sanguine about racial harmony rather than more so. The growing counties an hour’s drive from Cleveland and St. Louis are filled with white voters whose parents fled the industrial cities of their youth before a wave of African-Americans and for whom social friction and economic competition, especially in an age of declining opportunity, are as much a part of daily life as traffic and mortgage payments. As Erica Goode wrote in these pages last year, Robert Putnam and other sociologists have, in fact, found that people living in more diverse areas evince less trust for others — no matter what their race. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that while white Democrats in rural states are apparently willing to accept the notion of a racially transcendent candidate, those living in the shadow of postindustrial atrophy seem to have a harder time detaching from enduring stereotypes, and they may be less optimistic that the country as a whole would actually elect a black candidate.
Third, on the Monkey Cage, GWU political scientist Lee Sigelman blogs a compilation the various "opponent dissatisfaction" scores from the exit polls since South Carolina. In other words, what percentage of Clinton voters say they would be dissatisfied if Obama is the nominee, and vice versa.
Sigelman notes several patterns in these numbers, but this one addresses the question I have heard most often:
Since Super Tuesday (February 5), Obama’s supporters have expressed greater dissatisfaction about a potential Clinton nomination than they were doing before then — again, presumably as a result of Clinton’s attacks on their favored candidate. For Clinton’s supporters, there has been little movement over time in their dissatisfaction with Obama’s possible nomination.
Clinton 51, McCain 46
Obama 49, McCain 47
Note: This is a completely different sample than the Gallup Daily Tracking survey.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright
Favorable 8%, Unfavorable 58%
"Most voters, 56%, said Wright's comments made them less likely to vote for Obama. That figure includes 44% of Democrats."