January 18, 2009 - January 24, 2009


Missing the Inaugural Crowds "Outliers"

Topics: Outliers Feature

Kathy Frankovic, Gary Langer, Jon Cohen and Gallup's Lymari Morales review public opinion on closing Guantanamo.

Jeff Jones reports the largest Democratic advantage in party identification since 1983.

Jennifer Agiesta reviews Michelle Obama's growing favorability rating.

Nate Silver reviews the role of urban voters in Obama's victory.

PPP sees George Voinovich's retirement as a blessing in disguise for the GOP; also set to release CO poll next week.

Alex Lundry presents results of a survey conducted to guide Republicans back to power.

Mark Mellman sees no end to racism in Obama's election.

David Hill ponders candidate recruitment.

Andrew Gelman, Brenden Nyhan and John Sides follow-up on my post on the data from Catalist, Analysis Institute, et. al.

Gelman, Phillips and Lax summarize public opinion on gay rights.

Marc Ambinder compares poll questions commissioned by both sides of the card check debate (with more here and here).

Chris Cilliizza discovers that Penn wins on a Penn poll (via Orr, Bodenner and reader Z).


Frank Luntz finds support for the stimulus plan (in a survey commissioned by Building America's Future, a group "formed to support infrastructure investment").  

And totally off-topic, but this is amazing (via @jdickerson).

More on the New Charts

Topics: 2009 , Charts , Pollster.com

As implied by the post earlier today on our New York charts, we are slowly working through the process of adding to our site all sorts of new poll charts and tables at the state level. In addition to New York, we also put up charts for two states -- New Jersey and Virginia -- with races for Governor in 2009 and one, Ohio, with a newly open Senate race in 2010. We will be adding many more, albeit gradually, in the coming weeks.

We are limited, of course, by the availability of public poll data. Some states are polled more often than others. In other states (like Virginia), pollsters have held off testing general election match-ups or will do so until contested primaries are resolved. Our aim is to post all available horse race results for all contests in 2009 and 2010 for Senate and Governor and, ultimately, for the U.S. House of Representatives as they become available.

One new feature we hope to keep consistent across states is to include tracking charts for the favorable and job ratings of each state's governor and two senators, as well as the statewide job approval rating of President Obama.

To help you find charts, Pollster.com features comprehensive index pages that list all charts and tables for all states. Each index page has a consistent URL that uses the state's two-letter postal abbreviation (e.g. www.pollster.com/polls/nj/). To make it easier to navigate to those state index pages, we will be adding two tools later today:

  • The pull-down menu for "The Polls" on our masthead will have a choice labeled "Find All Polls" that will take you to the page displaying an all grey map. Clicking on a state will take you to that state's index page.
  • We will also modify the text links in the sidebar box that appears at the top of our right column throughout the site to that it includes links to the index pages for all 50 states, DC and the national index page.

14-State Obama Job Approval (SurveyUSA-1/20-21)

1/20-21/09; 600 adults, 4% margin of error (for each state)
Mode: IVR

14-States Job Approvals

Alabama: 60%
California: 77%
Iowa: 68%
Kansas: 62%
Kentucky: 62%
Massachusetts: 78%
Minnesota: 64%
Missouri: 65%
New Mexico: 65%
New York: 78%
Oregon: 68%
Virginia: 62%
Washington: 69%
Wisconsin: 70%

Yes, We Have New York Charts

Topics: Approval Ratings , David Patterson , Kirsten Gillibrand , New York

As part of our ongoing effort to add new charts and tables, when polling data is available, for upcoming races in 2009 and 2010, we have set up a number of new tracking charts for the state of New York this morning. Those compilations include favorable and job ratings for Kirsten Gillibrand and Governor David Paterson (job, fav). For those who might have missed it, Peterson announced today that Gillibrand is his choice to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton.

As of this writing, only two organizations -- the Marist Institute and Public Policy Polling (PPP) -- have released statewide favorable rating results for Kirsten Gillibrand, and none that we can find have released general election match-ups pitting Gillibrand against Peter King or any other potential GOP opponent.

As those two recent results show, the vast majority of New York voters are unfamiliar with Gillibrand. Two-thirds (69%) of those interviewed by PPP and 83% of the Marist respondents did not know Gillibrand well enough to rate her in early December. PPP's Tom Jensen posted a quick analysis this morning of the regional patterns in Gillibrand's favorable rating. Not surprisingly, she is better known in the upstate media markets "where her campaigns ads have run and [where] there's been more coverage of her work in Washington."

These results are an example, however, of when the most recent polling "snapshot" will be obsolete by nightfall. Given the presumably heavy coverage coming of today's announcement, both nationally and by New York City's many print and broadcast media, one thing is certain: Whatever Kirsten Gillibrand's name recognition was yesterday, it will at least double and possibly triple over the next few days, a change that the next round of surveys should capture. The snapshot from last month provides us with an intriguing historical benchmark but little else.

One chart worth watching closely on the next round of statewide surveys in New York will be the job and favorable ratings for Governor David Paterson. Since September, most of the surveys gave the Governor a job approval rating somewhere in the upper 50 to lower 60 percent range. The most recent survey from Marist showed the Governor's rating "slip sliding away," as they put it, falling from 54% on their December survey to 44% on their mid-January poll.

Our standard trend line does not capture much of the sharp decline in the Marist poll, since it is designed to essentially ignore a single anomalous result. We will find out over the next few weeks whether that Marist result was an anomaly or the first indication of a sharp decline in Paterson's popularity.

Also, keep in mind that Marist and the Sienna Research Institute offer respondents the choice of "excellent, good, fair or poor" as answer categories rather than the "approve or disapprove" choice offered by other pollsters. My experience is that "fair" category sounds neutral to some respondents that might otherwise opt for "approve" (and especially "somewhat approve"), and as such, the "excellent, good" formulation typically produces lower job approval numbers. So we recommend using our chart feature that allows you to make "apples-to-apples" comparisons by clicking on individual data points to see the trend for individual polling organizations.

Why Pollsters Manipulate Public Opinion

Two recent polls, one by Gallup and the other by CNN, illustrate how easy it is for pollsters to manipulate public opinion into something different from what it really is.


The Gallup poll, Jan. 6-7, 2009, attempted to measure the public's reaction to a federal government stimulus package, with the question phrased as follows:


Do you favor or oppose Congress passing a new 775 billion dollar economic stimulus program as soon as possible after Barack Obama takes office?


In almost the same time period, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also attempted to measure public opinion about the stimulus package, with a question that provided for a "don't know" option:


Do you think that the recently proposed economic stimulus legislation is a good idea or a bad idea? If you do not have an opinion either way, please just say so.


The results are shown below:


0901_16 CNN Manipulating public opinion (Econ stim pack).pngThe major difference, of course, is in the percentage of people who don't have an opinion - Gallup says just 11 percent, while NBC/WSJ says almost three times that number.


The margin in favor of the stimulus package is virtually identical in the two polls, 16 and 17 percentage points, but instead of being able to report a majority of Americans in favor, NBC and the Journal had to report that a "plurality" of Americans were in favor, with a substantial portion of the public ambivalent or unengaged. Gallup, by contrast, could report (although erroneously) that a majority was in favor.


It's not always the case that the margin in favor of a proposition is always the same in both ways of measuring public opinion, as is illustrated in the following case. When CNN wanted to discover whether the public was copasetic with Democratic control of all three branches of government, it asked a forced choice question (Nov. 6-9, 2008):


As you may know, the Democrats will control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as the presidency. Do you think this will be good for the country or bad for the country?


Again, coincidentally, another polling organization, Associated Press/GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media asked a similar question at virtually the same time (Nov. 6-10, 2008), though this question allowed for a middle position:


As you may know, the Democrats will now control the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency. Do you think it good for the country, bad for the country, or does it not really make a difference that the Democrats now control the House, the Senate and the presidency?


The results of the two polls show two very different publics:


0901_16 CNN Manipulating public opinion (Dems control branches).pngWhile CNN reports a large majority of Americans in favor of Democratic control, by a 21-point margin, the Associated Press finds a small plurality in favor (just an 8-point margin) and about a quarter of the public either saying the situation doesn't matter or not expressing an opinion.


In this case, both polling organizations deliberately manipulated their respondents to come up with an opinion (even if, in the case of the AP/GfK poll, to say the issue didn't matter) by giving them information up front. Why did they need to tell respondents that the Democrats controlled all three branches? Why not find out how many people knew that, and then - among those who knew it - ask whether it was good or bad, didn't it make a difference, or didn't they have an opinion?


But the major media pollsters are generally not interested in realistic measures of public opinion. On the matters discussed here, Gallup and CNN clearly do not want to report how many people don't have an opinion or might want to take a valid middle position on the issue. Instead, these pollsters believe it's more interesting to create a "public opinion" that reflects a highly engaged and decisive public.


For CNN to say that 97 percent of Americans believe Democratic control of the government is either "good" or "bad," and for Gallup to claim that nine out of ten Americans have an opinion about the stimulus package, may fit their journalistic needs - but they know, and we know, it's simply not true.

Looking Forward

Topics: Approval Ratings , Barack Obama , George Bush

Both Nate Silver and Gallup's Jeff Jones have looked back at past presidential "honeymoon" job ratings from the past in order to speculate about what Gallup's first Obama job rating, due this coming weekend, might look like. As a general rule, I try to avoid predictions about what future poll results, but the Gallup analysis provides some helpful context. It includes a helpful compilation of first approval ratings for presidents going back to Eisenhower and approval ratings measured after the first one hundred days of each president.


Jones notes a consistent trend in past presidential "honeymoons:"

[A]s people become more familiar with the presidents and their work over the course of the first several months in office, the already-high percentage approving usually increases. In fact, all but Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter had higher approval ratings about 100 days after taking office. That is why the early months of new presidencies are commonly known as "the honeymoon period."

Our chart of results for approval of Obama's handling of the presidential transition shows that Obama has already seen an increase in his approval ratings and bodes well for his approval debut. Obama has gained significantly on the daily automated tracking polls conducted by Rasmussen Reports since early November, rising from 53% to 65% approval since just after the election. And even when we remove the Rasmussen surveys from our trend chart (as in the version that appears below), we still see a roughly five point increase in the approval trend line since mid-November.

However, a caution: Respondents may give a slightly different rating when the pollsters change the key words in the question from asking how Obama is handling his "presidential transition" to how he is handling his "job as president." Gallup has only two past measurements of both transition approval and first job approval. President Clinton showed a sharp drop, but he experienced a rocky first week that included the withdrawal an Attorney General nominee (Zoe Baird) and a Pentagon revolt over his promise to allow gays in the military. For George W. Bush, the first presidential job approval number from Gallup (57%) was slightly lower than his final transition approval number (61%), but the difference looks to be right on the edge of what would have been statistically significant.


Bush: A Tale of Two Presidencies

As political pundits put their spin on the Bush legacy and begin their analysis of the Obama Presidency, we wanted to take a quick moment to debunk two myths: first, that Bush's Presidency was largely viewed as an unfavorable one by the electorate and second, that Bush presided over an abnormally long period of voter dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. Neither is true and here is why.

Bush's Favorability

This is truly a tale of two Presidencies. Bush's first term is markedly different from his second. Of course, the Iraq war dominated public discourse during both terms and its duration--along with the perception that the war was both poorly conducted and possibly unnecessary--led to an erosion in Bush's favorability. While his rating dropped significantly from 9/11 onward, it was at or above 60% for two years and then hovered around 50% for the balance of his first term (his numbers dropped into the high 40's at the end of 2004 but rebounded after his re-election into the low to mid 50s). His average favorability rating for the first 4 and ½ years of his Presidency--from January of 2001 through August of 2005--was a remarkably high 60%.

Then came Katrina. As we have said before, Katrina was debilitating for Bush's image, his ability to persuade the electorate and, ultimately, his ability to govern. It cut the political legs right out from under him. The chart below tells the whole story.

gwb approval.png

Bush never recovered from Katrina. Of course the war and other factors contributed to his increasing unfavorable numbers but it was voter perceptions of his performance regarding Katrina that sealed his image in his second term. Up until that point, while voters may have disapproved of his policies and the execution of the war, a majority still thought he was a caring President trying to do the right thing. That leg of the stool collapsed after Katrina.

Of course the financial and economic crisis has put an exclamation point on the period since Katrina but it really did not increase Bush's unfavorable rating. In a sense, he had hit bottom long before that. Bush's favorability rating during the post-Katrina period (September of 2005 through January of 2009) was 35%. The difference between the two periods is -25, an astounding drop from one time frame to another. Bush's Presidency can be broken into two distinct periods: one in which he was largely viewed in a favorable light and one in which he was seen unfavorably.

The Direction of the Country and Voter Dissatisfaction

The last five years have been one of the most protracted periods of voter dissatisfaction since Watergate. That much is true. However, long periods of voter dissatisfaction are the norm. When we looked at results to the "right direction/wrong track" question since 1972 we see that those 36 years have been marked roughly by three extended periods of "wrong track" attitudes: 1972-1983, 1987-1997 and 2003-2008. During those periods there were times when right direction approached or reached 50% (1989 in particular) but the prevailing sentiment during these periods was that the country was off on the wrong track.


Note that in only eight of the last 36 years has the public believed that the country was going in the "right direction." These included the years from 1984-1986 which marked Reagan's landslide re-election through the start of his second term to the mid-term elections, and the heart of the recent economic boom from 1997 through 2002. Stunningly, the average of the annual average over the last 36 years is 36% right direction and 52% wrong track.

Voter dissatisfaction with the direction of the country has become the norm. When "right direction" exceeds "wrong track" - it will be truly unusual.

Inaugural Crowds and Symbolism

I'm at my desk again after four days spent with my family taking in the events and emotion of the inauguration of President Obama and struggling to get my head back into the relatively mundane details of public opinion polling. So I hope you will forgive a momentary personal aside on that topic, because it does lead to an important point about the expression of public opinion in our representative democracy.

Most readers know that although I worked as a Democratic pollster/consultant for much of my career, I tried to cover campaign 2008 as a non-partisan. My spouse, however, is a physician with no background in campaign politics and who, like so many of you, was politicized and energized as never before by Obama candidacy. And we have two young children (a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year old boy) who, for much of the last year, had little choice but to absorb their parents' somewhat dissimilar obsessions with the 2008 campaign.

My spouse wanted to experience and celebrate the inauguration, and I happily tagged along. We also took our children to both a "day of service" activity at RFK stadium on Monday and (with the help of an old friend who shared tickets) as much of the inaugural parade as they could tolerate given the subfreezing temperature.

My head still buzzes with the images, emotion and symbolism of this past weekend, especially the opportunity to see so much of it through my children's eyes. We had two very fortunate experiences. First, we got to see the Obamas emerge from their limousine just a few yards away at the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (both kids immediately recognized the new president -- "Mommy! It's him!!" -- though my daughter was a little disappointed that Malia and Sasha stayed in the limousine).

Second, miraculously, we later managed to flag down a taxi a few blocks away. Sitting in the cab, my son let loose with the quote of the weekend: "WOW - it was a cool day! I got to see the president and he waved at me AND I got to ride in a taxi for the first time!"

All that aside, one of the most memorable and inspiring aspects of the weekend for me had nothing to do with the parties, the concert, the parade or the speeches. It was the powerful statement made by so many ordinary people who braved the cold simply to stand nearby and bear witness, and the intense emotional connection that so many felt to this new president and what his election represents. Looking at the photos of the million-plus that stood on the National Mall (including the incredible Geo-Eye satellite imagery), I can't help thinking of this anecdote reported by the Washington Post yesterday about a Cleveland family that drove overnight to D.C. and emerged from a downtown subway station at or before 4:00 a.m.:

Their plan: "Get in, get out, get home," Holdsworth said. They had no tickets and only a vague idea what to do once they arrived at Metro Center. They will return home tonight.

"We really weren't expecting to get very close," he said.

President Barack Obama Inauguration - Washington

Most standing on the mall could see little or nothing of the swearing-in with their naked eyes. My own experience at Sunday's concert, captured by my phone/camera, was that even the "jumbo-tron" screens were often not so jumbo depending on where you were standing. Yet most, like Holdsworth, had little expectation of getting close enough to see much. They just wanted to be there.


The crowd on the Mall was certainly no random sampling of public opinion. Most were very strong supporters of the Obama-Biden ticket who had the desire or means to experience the inauguration personally. Yet their presence reminds us that ordinary people were the most important players of the weekend. Their sheer numbers and their desire to bear witness evokes the central idea underlying the constitution that Obama swore an oath to protect and defend: The power of our government flows first and foremost from "the people."   

Here we obsess over polls that strive to objectively measure public opinion. The crowds this weekend remind us that public opinion matters because, ultimately, all power in our government flows from it.

FL: 2010 Sen, Gov (Quinnipiac-1/14-19)

Quinnipiac University
1,370 registered voters (442 Dems/533 Reps), 2.5% margin of error (4.7%)/4.3%)
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Gov Charlie Christ (R) Job Approval:
65% Approve, 24% Disapprove

Sen Bill Nelson (D) Job Approval:
53% Approve, 19% Disapprove

Sen Mel Martinez (R) Job Approval:
42% Approve, 30% Disapprove

If the 2010 Democratic primary for United States Senator were being held today and the candidates were - Alex Sink, Allen Boyd, Kendrick Meek, Ron Klein and Dan Gelber, for whom would you vote?

    15 Sink
    13 Meek
    9 Klein
    8 Boyd
    1 Gelber

If the 2010 Republican primary for United States Senator were being held today and the candidates were - Bill McCollum, Marco Rubio, Allan Bense, Vern Buchanan and Connie Mack IV, for whom would you vote?

    22 McCollum
    21 Mack
    10 Buchanan
    6 Rubio
    2 Bense

General Election: McCollum (R) 36, Sink (D) 35

If the 2010 election for Governor were being held today, do you think you would vote for Charlie Crist the Republican candidate or for the Democratic candidate?

    47% Crist
    27% Generic Democrat


Don't Use Polls to Project the Size of the Inaugural Crowd

Back in December, a SurveyUSA poll drew some attention and fueled the hype regarding the large crowds expected for Tuesday's inauguration ceremonies. In that poll, an incredible 12% of respondents reported that they were planning to "attend the inauguration of President Obama in Washington, DC." That would translate into over a half million Atlantans making the 500+ mile flight (600+ mile drive) to DC for the ceremony.

Of course, most of us probably know people who originally said that they were going to attend but later backed out for any number of reasons. But just during the past week, SurveyUSA asked adults in the New York and Los Angeles media markets whether they planned "to go to Washington for the inauguration." Remarkably, 9% of New Yorkers reported that they were planning such a trip while 6% of those in Los Angeles said the same. For some perspective, the adult population of the New York media market is nearly 16 million while the Los Angeles market has nearly over 12 million adults. Thus, if we took these polls at face value, DC would be expecting over 1.4 million visitors from New York and over 700,000 from Los Angeles. Are 2.1 million coming to the district from just these two markets? Not likely.

One problem with a question like this one may be that it lends itself to social desirability bias. As we know, citizens tend to over-report the extent to which they will (or did) vote in elections. In a similar way, some respondents may be proclaiming that they will attend the inauguration when they don't have any real intention of going. They may do so because they hear of so many others who are attending and they feel as though it is something they should be doing as well.

However, even if citizens gave honest answers to the question about whether they were going to attend the inauguration, surveys still wouldn't be a very useful instrument for generating crowd estimates. For instance, let's assume a national poll showed that 2% of American adults were attending the inauguration ceremonies. That would translate into approximately 4 million adults. However, even if you had a margin of error of just 2%, you would only be able to confidently say that the expected crowd may be anywhere between a few thousand (which would be the equivalent of a calm summer day in DC) to as many as 8 million (a number that would cripple the area's transportation infrastructure). Thus, polls such as these may provide a fun way of capturing excitement about the event, but they are not very useful for estimating how large the crowd will actually be.

US: National Survey (ABCPost-1/13-16)

ABC News / Washington Post
1/13-16/08; 1,079 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


State of Country
19% Right Direction, 78% Wrong Track

Bush Job Approval
33% Approve, 66% Disapprove

Barack Obama Transition Job Approval
80% Approve, 15% Disapprove

Favorable / Unfavorable
Bush: 37 / 62
Obama: 79 / 18

How much confidence do you have in Barack Obama to make the right decisions for the country's future - a great deal of confidence, a good amount, just some or none at all?

    61% Great deal / good amount
    37% Just some / none at all

Do you think Obama has a mandate to carry out the agenda he presented during the presidential campaign, or should he compromise on the things the Republicans strongly oppose?

    50% Has mandate
    46% Should comprimise

Would you support or oppose new federal spending of about 800 billion dollars on tax cuts, construction projects, energy, education, and health care to try to stimulate the economy?

    70% Support
    27% Oppose

(ABC story, results; Post story, results)