March 15, 2009 - March 21, 2009


Another Batch of "Outliers"

Topics: Outliers Feature

Ruy Teixeira responds to Jay Cost the New Progressive America, Cost replies.

Ross Douthat weighs in on Teixeira vs. Cost (via Cost).

The Pew Research Center compares health care reform attitudes in 1993 and 2009.

Glen Bolger reviews what his NPR/Greenberg/POS survey says about Obama's economic policies (update: also adds cautions for GOP).

Charlie Cook ponders apparent Republican gains among independents in the NPR survey.

DemfromCT sees good signs for Democrats in the NPR survey.

Markos Moulitsas challenges a congressman's assertions about public opinion and immigration.

Stephen Kinney considers the declining relevance of print media.

Nielsen reports (pdf) on the new global footprint of social networking (via Raine).

Chris Weigant ponders apparent differences among likely voters in our Obama approval chart.

Tom Jensen knocks down a strange accusation (and teases PPP's releases next week).  

DavidNYC reminds us that Swing State Project has completed its database of presidential vote results by congressional district.

Survey Sampling releases (pdf) a summary of their test of grid questions (Via ResearchRants).

AAPOR relays a federal court ruling upholding respondent confidentiality.

DCAAPOR hosts a Meet the Author talk by David Moore in Washington on March 26.

Nate Silver breaks out the red boldface over Obama's NCAA bracket picks.

How Many Would Unionize?

Topics: EFCA , Employee Free Choice Act , Guy Molyneux , Peter Hart Associates , Rasmussen , Unions

A few days back, Mickey Kaus asked a good question about two conflicting results relevant to the debate about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA):

Rasmussen reports that only 9% of non-union workers would like to belong to a union. Labor backers often cite a 2005 Peter Hart survey showing that 53% of "non-managerial workers ... definitely or probably would vote in favor of union representation in their workplace." Hard to reconcile those two numbers, no? The Hart poll was paid for by the AFL-CIO, but that doesn't make it wrong. It would be useful to see the exact Hart questions (and the questions on the same poll that preceded them)

I contacted both Scott Rasmussen and Guy Molyneux of Peter Hart Associates for more details. According to Molyneaux, their most recent results from December 2006 were essentially the same: 53% of "non-managerial/non union workers" would vote to form a union. Except as noted, the Hart data that follow are from the 2006 survey.

As you will see, the apparently wide gap between these surveys is less than meets the eye. Once we calculate the key percentages using a comparable base, factor in the offsetting inconsistency in self-identified union members and consider some important differences in the question text and format, most of the discrepancy disappears. Other more debatable issues include timing and the context set by earlier questions.

1) Different denominators. Much of the gap stems from the different bases used to compute the percentages. Rasmussen tells us that 17% of his sample of adults self-identified as union members, so 83% of adults answered the would-you-like-to-join question. According to Molyneaux, 62% of their adult sample self-identified as "employed for pay" and they classified slightly more than half of those -- or 35% of all adults -- as non-managerial workers.

If we compute both of these statistics among adults, the apparent discrepancy between the two surveys narrows considerably. Seven percent (7%) of adults on the Rasmussen survey say they want to belong to a union (9% x 83%), compared to 19% of adults on the Hart survey who say they would vote to form a union (53% x 35%).

How did the Hart survey define "non-managerial workers?" They used three different questions to identify those who said they are (1) employed for pay and are not either (2) self employed or (3) or a supervisor whose "daily job responsibilities are different" rather than "basically the same as the people you supervise" (see Hart's #F5b after the jump). The reason for that last requirement, according to Molyneux, is the presumption that "a 'supervisor' who does the same job as those under him/her -- like a supervising nurse on hospital floor -- is probably eligible for a bargaining unit."

2) Different estimates of union members. My inquires revealed that the two surveys also produced different estimates of the size of the unionized work force, but in this case the Rasmussen percentages are bigger. Rasmussen reports that 17% of his adult sample were union members. On the Hart survey, 10% answer "yes" when asked, "are you a union member?"

So when we add up union members and those ready to unionize, the gap narrows further: Rasmussen finds 24% that are either union members or would like to join a union. Hart finds 29% that are either union members or would vote in favor of union representation.

We should keep in mind, of course, that Rasmussen's survey offered a bigger of its adult sample the opportunity to say it would like to belong to a union. Had the Hart poll asked its question of 83% of adults (as Rasmussen did) rather than 35%, they would have obtained a bigger percentage. How much bigger? Unless Rasmussen can produce cross-tab results by a similarly defined subgroup of managerial workers, we can only guess.

An aside: Hart also asked union members to answer their would-you-vote-to-unionize question. Among the 41% of all non-managerial workers in the 2006 survey (including union members), 58% said they would vote to unionize their workplace (or 24% of adults). Molyneaux reports that roughly 90% of union members typically say they will vote to unionize. This wrinkle sheds no light on the apparent discrepancy between the two surveys, since the percentages noted above were filtered for non-union, non-managerial workers only.

3) Different questions. Rasmussen asked, "would you like to belong to a labor union where you work?" Hart asked, "If an election were held tomorrow to decide whether your workplace would have a union or not, do you think you would definitely vote for forming a union, probably vote for forming a union, probably vote against forming a union, or definitely vote against forming a union?"

Two big differences here: The first and most obvious is that Hart asks about voting to form a union, Rasmussen asks about belonging to a union. Here is Molyneux's take:

Workers don't "join" a union individually, like joining the Sierra Club or LWV. So I don't know how they interpret Rasmussen's question: could be they think it just means paying dues with no obvious benefit (since you can't get representation and a contract as an individual). Who knows?

Second, and probably more important, the Hart question offers four categories with the two middle choices softened by the the adverb "probably." The full results in December 2006 were 25% of non-union/non-managerial workers definitely for, 28% probably for, 18% probably against, 24% definitely against and 5% not sure. The gentle push into "probably" most likely made their unsure smaller and their total "yes" and "no" percentages bigger.

4) Different timing? Again, the most recent Hart results are from December 2006. Rasmussen's survey was conducted earlier this month. He points out that their update this week shows an eight percent drop since August (from 55% to 47%) in the favorable rating for labor unions. I cannot find any more recent favorable rating measures of unions to confirm the Rasmussen Result.

5) Context? Kaus wondered, appropriately, about the questions that preceded the would-you-unionize items, so I asked. The complete list of questions appears after the jump (Hart provided full text, Rasmussen provided descriptions). Neither lead-in looks like anything I would have expected to influence or bias the results, but the context set in the lead in questions is different and possibly an influence.

The Hart vote-for-unionization question appears after probes of the the family's economic situation and four essentially neutral questions about unions (though some might quibble about whether it's neutral to offer "large business corporations" as the foil to "labor unions" in the favorable ratings. The answer categories on their economic questions also suggest potential answers about Americans "falling behind," "working hard to get ahead" or "having just enough to get by" and so forth.

Rasmussen asked the two union questions as part of a nightly economic tracking survey following five standard items about the condition of the economy and the respondents personal finances. The question that comes just before the two union items asks whether the respondent owns "at least $5,000 in stocks bonds or mutual funds."

The Rasmussen question may suggest, subliminally, that stronger unions would negatively affect the value of stocks and mutual funds -- one of the arguments made by anti-EFCA interests. One could also argue that the context of the Hart questions inadvertently framed unions as means to reduce economic insecurity. Keep in mind that the message that Hart and Molyneux tested, the one that moved Americans to support EFCA, kicks off with a reminder that "supporters say that the system is broken and working people are struggling to make ends meet today, and the middle class is being squeezed" and the explicit argument that unions provide "a way to help average people get their fair share."

I posed this possibility to Molyneux, who responded as follows:

Agreed the context is a bit different. But consider also that we've asked the question SEVEN times over a ten year period, and every time the yes vote was over 40%. The prior questions were different every time (but never included any pro-union message questions or anything like that). So that's at most a minor factor.

I do agree that the context or framing of the lead-in questions is likely a minor piece of this puzzle, although without doing a split sample test it is hard to know for sure. The bottom line is that most of the apparently huge discrepancy between these questions disappears once we do an apples-to-apples comparison of the percentages among all adults, add-in the self-identified union members and consider the differences in the question wording.

Full text of the questions preceding the unions questions follows after the jump.

Continue reading "How Many Would Unionize? "

US: Obama Job Approval (ARG-3/16-19)

American Research Group
3/16-19/09; 1,100 adults, 3% margin of error
MOde: Live Telephone Interviews


Obama Job Approval

56% Approve, 37% Disapprove (chart)

Dems: 86 Approve, 12 Disapprove (chart)
Inds: 47 Approve, 46 Disapprove (chart)
Reps: 24 Approve, 64 Disapprove (chart)

Economy: 49% Approve, 44% Disapprove (chart)


US: Obama's Iraq Plan (CNN-3/12-15)

3/12-15/09; 1,019 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Barack Obama has announced that he will remove most U.S. troops from Iraq by August of next year but keep 35,000 to 50,000 troops in that country longer than that. Do you favor or oppose this plan?

    70% Favor
    29% Oppose


EFCA: Molyneux Responds

Topics: EFCA , Employee Free Choice Act , Guy Molyneux , Rasmussen

After reading Tuesday's post on the new polling data on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), I received the following comment from Guy Molyneux, the partner at the Democratic firm Hart Research Associates that directs their polling on behalf of the AFL-CIO:

I have to quibble with your excessively balanced statement on the EFCA polls: "While I am sure that both pollsters consider their questions 'fair and balanced,' partisans on both sides will see evidence of bias or leading language." Our question was a good faith effort to describe both sides' positions in the strongest language possible. Of course, that doesn't guarantee a perfect, or even the best possible question, but that's what we were trying to do. And given the low level of awareness you correctly describe, I do believe this kind of question is the best way to anticipate how the public will react to the debate, if/when they do tune in. Rasmussen's questions, on the other hand, look like they were commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce for public release.

To clarify: I did not mean to imply that the questions I reproduced from Hart/Molyneux and Rasmussen were intentionally biased or that either pollster was intentionally cooking the numbers. My point was that no matter how hard pollsters try to craft what they consider balanced questions, partisans resistant to their results will inevitably see bias in the language. This phenomenon is as true for journalism as for polling: The meaning of "balance" in characterizing two sides of a political debate is often in the eyes of the beholder.

That said, Molyneux raises a good point about the value of questions that present balanced summaries of the rhetoric on both sides of an issue. When we know for certain that the debate over an issue will ultimately attain a very high profile, those questions can do a better anticipating where public opinion is headed than more straightforward measures of current opinion. We can anticipate, for example, that lesser known but well funded candidates in highly competitive elections will inevitably become well known. So campaign pollsters find they get a better read on where the race is headed if they offer balanced descriptions of the candidates to see how preferences change.

The problem with most public policy issues debated in Congress is that they rarely get anywhere near the attention and awareness as a high profile election campaign. The immigration debate of 2007 was such an example. Even though it generated a lot of cable news coverage, only 18% of Americans told Gallup they were closely following the debate just a few days before it came to a vote in the Senate.

EFCA is likely to attain a higher profile than the 2007 immigration bill, mostly because two of the wealthiest and most powerful lobbies, organized labor and business, consider it a huge priority and are presumably poised to spend tens, perhaps hundreds of millions on paid advertising and outreach. But how much attention will Americans ultimately give this issue? For that answer, we will have to wait and see.

US: Economy vs Environment (Gallup-3/5-8)

Gallup Poll
3/5-8/09; 1,012 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


"For the first time in Gallup's 25-year history of asking Americans about the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth, a majority of Americans say economic growth should be given the priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent."

With which one of these statements about the environment and the economy do you most agree -- [ROTATED: protection of the environment should be given a priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth (or) economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent]?

    51% Economic growth should be given priority
    42% Environment should be given priority
    5% Equal priority


NC: 2010 Senate (PPP-3/12-15)

Public Policy Polling (D)
3/12-15/09; 1,000 registered voters, 3.1% margin of error
Mode: IVR

North Carolina

Sen. Burr Job Approval
35% Approve, 32% Disapprove

'10 Senate - General Election (complete list of match-ups)
Sen. Richard Burr (R) 43%, Elaine Marshall (D) 35%
Sen. Burr 42%, Generic Democrat 38%


Obama Overextended...Or Not

Topics: Barack Obama , Cognitive Pretesting , Measurement

The polling head-scratcher of the day: In a survey conducted March 12-15 (among 1,019 adults, margin of sampling error +/-3%), CNN/ORC obtained these results, producing the headline "Obama's Taken on Too Much":

Since he became president, do you think Barack Obama has tried to handle more issues than he should have, or hasn't he done that?

55% - More issues than he should have
43% - Has not done that
2% - No opinion

But just yesterday, the Pew Research Center released a survey conducted March 9-12 (among 1,308 adults, margin of error +/- 3%) with this question, which supported the sub-heading "Obama Not Seen as Overextended" within their report:

So far, do you think Barack Obama is [read and randomize response options, with option 3 always last]

35% - Trying to address too many issues at once
4% - Focusing on too few issues [OR]
56% - Doing about right
5% - Don’t know/Refused


Let's stipulate that the following is speculation, but the usual culprit in these sorts of discrepancies is that pollsters are asking about something that a lot of respondents have not really considered before. Some call these "non-attitudes." As a general rule, it is hard to understate how often ordinary Americans are oblivious to the controversies that seem oh-so important inside the beltway, on cable news or the blogosphere. I would wager that the is-Obama-overextended meme is probably one of them (same goes for the word "meme").

One big clue is that although both questions ostensibly ask about the same idea, they use different wording. In particular, the Pew question is far more explicit about labeling one option as approving of Obama's performance ("Obama is...doing about right"), while the CNN equivalent is a little more vague ("Obama has tried to handle more issues than he should have"). Perhaps some respondents interpret the words "should have" differently, agreeing that Obama is having to handle more issues than he "should have" were these ordinary times. Or perhaps some are not hearing the words "than he should have" at all, and instead interpret the question as asking whether Obama is trying to handle many issues or few issues.

Notice also that the CNN question offers only two options, while the Pew question offers three. Most important, the "doing about right" response is the middle option on the Pew question, and survey methodologists know that when respondents are confused or uncertain, they often flock to the middle choice.

In the course work I did a dozen years ago through the University of Maryland's Joint Program in Survey Methodology (JPSM), one of the most valuable experiences was a class project that conducted "cognitive pre-testing" of survey questions . Each student had to find 10 subjects -- at least half without a college education -- willing to "think out loud" while they answered 20 minutes worth of survey questions. We did the interviews ourselves, and then compared notes on problems we discovered (for more info, see also Methods for Testing and Evaluating Survey Questionnaires).

Even though I had written survey questions for many years, the experience was an eye-opener. It was stunning to see how respondents failed to hear key portions of a question, ignoring introductory text altogether or hearing something or answering in a way completely different from what the authors had intended. Some stock questions formats I had used for years failed miserably. Unfortunately in-depth cognitive pre-testing is too costly and time consuming to be used on most political and media surveys. A true cognitive pretest of the CNN or Pew questionnaires would take weeks and might end up costing more than the surveys themselves.

But back to the questions about Obama doing too much. While I cannot prove that question wording and structure is the culprit here, it is worth restating a favorite rule of thumb: When small differences in question wording, structure or order produce wildly different results, the thing we are trying to measure is probably not a fully formed, pre-existing opinion for a significant number of respondents.   

PS: Thanks for the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin for suggesting this topic.

US: AIG Bonuses (Gallup-3/17)

Gallup Poll
3/17/09; 1,012 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Next, turning to reports that insurance company AIG , one of the companies that received bailout money from the federal government, is paying bonuses to its executives, how do you, personally, feel about these bonuses- outraged, bothered, or not particularly bothered?

    59% Outraged
    26% Bothered
    11% Not bothered

Which comes closer to your thinking about this matter-- [ROTATED: the government should not intervene because the AIG bonuses were part of existing contracts in place before the bailout money was given to AIG, (or) the government should take actions to try to block or recover any bonuses paid to AIG executives because the company was given government bailout money]?

    17% Government should not intervene
    76% Government should try to block/recover bonuses


US: Obama's Record (CNN-3/12-15)

3/12-15/09; 1,019 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling...

    Economy: 59% Approve, 40% Disapprove (chart)
    Foreign Affairs: 66% Approve, 28% Disapprove
    Situation in Iraq: 63% Approve, 35% Disapprove
    Situation in Afghanistan: 67% Approve, 29% Disapprove

Since he became president, do you think Barack Obama has tried to handle more issues than he should have, or hasn't he done that?

    55% More issues than he should have
    43% Has not done that

US: Iraq, Afghanistan (Gallup-3/14-15)

USA Today / Gallup
3/14-15/09; 2.021 adults
Iraq questions: 1,024 adults; Afghanistan questions: 997 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


"Forty-two percent of Americans now say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Afghanistan, up from 30% earlier this year and establishing a new high. Meanwhile, the 53% who say the Iraq war is a mistake is down slightly from 56% in January, and 60% last summer."

"Now, just 38% of Americans say things are going well for the United States in Afghanistan. That is down from 44% in January and is the lowest Gallup has found since it first asked this question in September 2006."

"That increasingly optimistic view about Iraq extends to Americans' perceptions of the United States' chances for ultimate success in that war. Sixty-four percent now believe the United States can win the war, and 42% believe it will do so. Both are the best assessments Gallup has measured since June 2006."


US: Obama, 2012 (PPP-3/13-15)

Public Policy Polling (D)
3/13-15/09; 691 registered voters, 3.7% margin of error
Mode: IVR


Obama Job Approval
55% Approve, 37% Disapprove (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Sarah Palin: 39 / 50

'12 President - General Election
Obama 55%, Palin 35%


OH: 2010 Senate (Quinnipiac-3/10-15)

Quinnipiac University
3/10-15/09; 1,299 registered voters, 2.7% margin of error
463 registered Republicans (4.6%), 506 registered Democrats (4.4%)
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama (D): 57 / 33
Gov. Strickland (D): 56 / 30 (chart)
Sen. Brown (D): 48 / 25 (chart)
Sen. Voinovich (D): 52 / 32 (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Jennifer Brunner(D): 31 / 14
Lee Fisher (D): 32 / 13
Rob Portman (R): 25 / 7
Tim Ryan (D): 13 / 4
Mary Taylor (R): 18 / 4
Tyrone Yates (D): 6 / 5

'10 Senator - Republican Primary
Portman 31%, Taylor 14%

'10 Senator - Democratic Primary
Fisher 18%, Brunner 14%, Ryan 12%, Yates 6%

'10 Senator - General Election
Fisher 41%, Portman 33%
Fisher 41%, Taylor 31%
Brunner 39%, Portman 34%
Brunner 38%, Taylor 31%


Enough "Outliers" for a Mid-Week Batch

Topics: Outliers Feature

SurveyUSA finds roughly 3 of 4 in Tampa and Fresno who want the government to take back the AIG bonus money.

Neil Newhouse sees Obama on the bubble and looks ahead.

Glen Bolger finds good news for Republicans among independents.

Mark Mellman shares lessons learned from the Stewart-Cramer basic cable battle.

David Hill considers symbolic politics and Michael Steele.

Frank Luntz remembers Ron Silver.

Michael Crowley finds the WTF of the day buried in the new Kos/Research 2000 poll.

Soren Dayton sees mounting evidence or eroding numbers for Democratic governors.

Jay Cost responds to Ruy Teixeira.

Markos Moulitsas notices very different ratings in the South for Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Stewart and Colbert.

DemFromCT reviews the many polls showing Republicans unhappy with their leaders,

Greg Sargent notices the same trend; Eric Kleefeld too.

Michael Lewis Beck and Peverill Squire consider Iowa a representative state that deserves to be first (via Lundry)

PPP has a national poll in the field.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project launches a new web site.

Richard Florida discovers greater happiness in states with the most gays, bohemians and immigrants (via Sullivan)

EFCA Polling: What Opinions Will Be Prudent to Heed?

Topics: Card Check , EFCA , Employee Free Choice Act , Message Testing

Today brings some important new polling data on the issue of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) now making its way through Congress. The release from Gallup is getting the most attention, but new findings from Rasmussen Reports and from the pollster for the AFL-CIO are also worth a review. Collectively, they show that the challenge of polling on this issue is in trying to predicting the substance and reach of the coming debate.

Gallup released results from two questions. Read their summary for the relevant details, but there are four key findings:

  1. Very few Americans are paying attention - Only 12% say they are "very closely following" news about "a bill in Congress that would change the rules governing how unions can organize workers," a level that is "exceptionally low relative to public attention to other news issues Gallup has measured over the last two decades."

  2. A majority (53%) favor and 39% oppose "a law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize workers."

  3. Democrats are much more supportive of such a law (70%) than Republicans (34%).

  4. Those paying very close attention oppose such a law by a wide margin (40% to 58%). "The bill enjoys its highest support -- 58% -- among those not following the bill at all."

Rasmussen Reports also released new results (article, toplines) including questions that attempt to measure current attitudes (they also tested questions that gauged reactions to specific provisions in the bill - more on that to follow);

  1. A majority of Americans (57%) say it is at least somewhat difficult "for workers to form a union" if they "do not have a labor union at their company" (only 19% say it is not very or not at all difficult).

  2. Contrary to the Gallup finding, 33% agree and 40% disagree that Congress should "change the law to make it easier for workers to join a labor union."

Gallup's headline finding about how "receptive" Americans are to union organizing is driving the discussion today, but findings #1 and #4 above are probably the most important. Here is why.

The biggest challenge in polling on an issue like EFCA is that so few Americans are aware of the actual bill or the ongoing conflicts between organized labor and management. Pollsters rarely ask the sorts of questions that measure knowledge (like those used in this report), but I would wager that the number of Americans genuinely familiar with EFCA is no greater than the 12% who say they are "closely following" the bill. That lack of awareness can create a lot of inconsistency in poll results.

Take the apparent contradiction between Gallup (54-39% favor/oppose) and Rasmussen (33-40%) on bills that would make it easier, respectively, for unions to organize or for workers to join a union. We could do an entire post on the potential reasons. It may be that Rasmussen's screening for likely voters, and perhaps their use of the automated methodology, reach a sample that is more informed and interested in the EFCA bill and thus, (given the Gallup finding) more prone to express opposition. The difference in the "don't know" category -- 8% on the Gallup question compared to 27% on Rasmussen's version -- is also important.

But consider that while two questions ask about the same bill, they may sound very different to Americans not following the debate. In other words, a law that makes it "easier for labor unions to organize workers" may sound like something different than a changing a law to "make it easier for workers to join a labor union."   

If subtle changes in wording can produce such different results, then we can assume that many respondents are forming opinions on the spot rather than sharing pre-existing views on the actual legislation. "Public opinion" in this sense isn't so much "fluid" (a favorite pollster cliche) as non-existent.

That conclusion raises an important but difficult to answer question: What will ultimately be more influential with members of Congress, the opinions of those currently familiar with EFCA or the opinions that may develop as Congress debates this bill? The answer is probably the latter, but only if the debate merits sufficient news media coverage to heighten interest and solidify or change opinion.   

The legendary political scientist V.O. Key had this sort of issue in mind when he defined public opinion as the "opinions held by private citizens which governments find it prudent to heed" (a passage I quoted last month). In Public Opinion and American Democracy, Key also wrote about the notion of "latent" opinions:

[I]n the practice of politics and government, latent opinion is really about the only type of opinion that generates much anxiety. What opinion will develop about this prospective candidate? What opinions will be stirred by this legislative proposal? What opinions. anxieties, and moods will be generated by this event or by that action?

Key also explored the problem of whose opinions might matter most:

[E]stimation of latent opinion is not simply estimation of the direction of majority sentiment. The problem extends to the estimation of what sectors of society, influential or non-influential, will have opinions. It involves the question of whether an issue will command the attention of a large public. On such estimates from time to time may turn decisions that could scarcely withstand the uproar that would be created if they came to universal attention.

And this brings us to the questions asked by Rasmussen and by Peter Hart Research for the AFL-CIO (as blogged today by my colleague Marc Ambinder) that explicitly inform respondents about various aspects of the legislation and test reactions (I have copied the text and results from each after the jump). Not surprisingly, the questions show very different results. While I am sure that both pollsters consider their questions "fair and balanced," partisans on both sides will see evidence of bias or leading language.

Whatever your judgement about the most accurate and truthful rendering of the arguments for and against EFCA, the huge challenge in testing these "latent" opinions is in predicting two hard-to-predict things: (1) the substance of the messages that will be communicated by the news media and paid advertising and (2) the degree to which any of this debate ultimately reaches ordinary Americans. Remember that any "message test" question ultimately assumes, unrealistically, that 100% of Americans (or likely voters) will hear and process the information tested.   

Consider the example of the 2007 immigration bill. In the spring of 2007, many surveys asked questions that tested reactions and found "broad support" for the provisions of the bill. Yet the day before the key Senate vote, Gallup released a survey showing that only 18% were closely following news about the "bill to deal with the issue of illegal immigration" (not much more than are following EFCA now). They also followed up with a question asking of respondents favored or opposed "this proposed bill," and found that the majority (58%) chose the third option, "or don't you know enough to say." Among those with an opinion, Gallup found nearly three-to-one opposition (30% to 11%). Which constituents were most likely to reach out to their representatives? Which opinions did members of Congress find it "most prudent to heed?"

So the most critical question regarding EFCA may not be which question best captures the "truth" of the substance of the bill. It may be about how much the substance of the debate ultimately reaches ordinary Americans. Supporters of EFCA must do more than win the message war. They must also reach and mobilize opinion among Americans that are ordinarily inattentive to politics.

Update: More on the new EFCA polls from Nate Silver and Eric Kleefeld.

The text of the "reaction" questions follows after the jump

Continue reading "EFCA Polling: What Opinions Will Be Prudent to Heed?"

US: National Survey (CBS-3/12-16)

CBS News
3/12-16/09; 1,142 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Obama Job Approval
Approve 62%, Disapprove 24% (chart)

State of Country
35% Right Direction, 57% Wrong Track (chart)
Economy: 19% Getting Better, 41% Worse, 37% Staying Same (chart)

Regardless of what you hope will happen, do you think Barack Obama's economic plans will help you and your family, hurt you and your family, or will Barack Obama's economic plans not have an impact on you and your family?

    49% Help
    24% Hurt
    24% No impact

How long do you think it will take the Obama Administration to make real progress on fixing the nation's economy -- one year, two years, three to four years, more than four years, or won't they be able to?

    19% One year
    31% Two years
    21% Three to four years
    10% More than four years
    16% Won't be able to

(story, results)

US: Economy (CNN-3/12-15)

3/12-15/09; 1,019 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


As you may know, Congress passed and President Obama has signed a bill that will attempt to stimulate the economy by increasing federal government spending and cutting taxes at a total cost to the government of about eight hundred billion dollars. Based on what you have read or heard about this, do you favor or oppose that bill?

    54% Favor
    44% Oppose

    (2/9: 60% Favor, 39% Oppose)

If that bill does not improve economic conditions, would you favor or oppose another bill that would increase government spending even further in an attempt to stimulate the economy?

    32% Favor
    66% Oppose

What should the federal government do about the nation's largest banks if they are in danger of going out of business? Do you think the government should take over those banks temporarily, provide those banks with more money but not take them over, or allow them to go out of business?

    39% Take over temporarily
    18% Prive with money but not take over
    41% Allow them to go out of business

US: EFCA, Unions (Gallup-3/14-15)

Gallup Poll
3/14-15/09; 1,024 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Generally speaking, would you favor or oppose a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize workers?
53% Favor, 39% Oppose

"Previous Gallup polling has shown that Americans are fundamentally sympathetic to labor unions, and these underlying attitudes are no doubt reflected in their general support for legislation characterized as making it easier for workers to unionize. For example, Gallup's annual polling on workplace issues, conducted each August, has found consistently high approval of labor unions in recent years, including a 59% approval rating last summer. The current level of support for a new law facilitating more union membership -- 53% in favor -- is only slightly less favorable to unions."

"The current findings could bode well for the pro-union side of the issue as it ramps up the public-information component of its lobbying efforts, particularly at a time when corporate America has serious image problems. Americans appear to be a sympathetic audience for a basic argument behind the law if it is described simply as making it easier for unions to organize."


MI: 2010 Governor (MRG-3/4-10)

Inside Michigan Politics / Market Research Group
3/4-10/09; 600 registered voters, 4.1% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interivews


'10 Michigan Governor - Republican Primary

    22% L. Brooks Patterson
    17% Pete Hoekstra
    15% Mike Cox
    12% Terry Lynn Land
    2% Tom George

'10 Michigan Governor - Democratic Primary

    26% John Cherry
    10% Daniel Granholm-Mulhern
    4% George Perles
    3% Andy Dillon

'10 Michigan Governor - General Election
Cox (R) 41, Cherry (D) 34
Patterson (R) 38, Cherry (D) 34
Land (R) 39, Cherry (D) 34

"Republicans haven't won many state-wide races in the past decade but Lt. Governor Cherry may have a tough time shaking the negative effects of serving as Lt. Governor during eight tough economic years," said Tom Shields, President of Marketing Resource Group. "While we are still 19 months away from the 2010 elections, the race for Governor is shaping up as a real battle."


OH: 2010 Gov (Quinnipiac-3/10-15)

Quinnipiac University
3/10-15/09; 1,299 registered voters, 2.7% margin of error
463 registered Republicans, 4.6% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Favorable / Unfavorable
Gov. Ted Strickland (D): 54 / 26
Mike DeWine (R): 40 / 25
John Kasich (R): 21 / 6
Kevin Coughlin (R): 4 / 2

Gov. Strickland Job Approval
56% Approve, 30% Disapprove (chart)

'10 Governor - Republican Primary
DeWine 32%, Kasich 27%, Coughlin 2%

'10 Governor - General Election
Gov. Strickland 51%, Kasich 31%
Gov. Strickland 50%, DeWine 34%


US: National Survey (NPR-3/10-14)

NPR National
Public Opinion Strategies (R) / Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (D)
3/10-14/09; 800 likely voters, 3.5% margin of error


State of Country
31% Right Direction, 63% Wrong Track (chart)
Economy: 3% Excellent/Good, 96% Poor/Not So Good (chart)

Obama Job Approval
59% Approve, 35% Disapprove (chart)
Economy: 56% Approve, 39% Disapprove (chart)

Congressional Job Approval
36% Approve, 58% Disapprove (chart)

'10 House Generic Ballot
42% Republican, 42% Democrat (chart)

[Half Sample] Do you think that the stimulus bill will... (ROTATE FIRST TWO) help the economy, hurt the economy, or have little impact on the economy?

    40% Help the economy
    21% Hurt the economy
    34% Have little impact on the economy

[Half Sample] Do you favor or oppose the economic stimulus bill recently signed into law by President Obama?

    55% Favor
    42% Oppose

(story, results, presentation)

US: Bailouts (CBS-3/12-15)

CBS News
3/12-15/09, 896 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Do you approve or disapprove of the federal government providing money to banks and other financial institutions to try to help fix the country's economic problems?

    37% Approve
    53% Disapprove

    (December 08: 46% Approve, 44% Disapprove)

Which best describes your feelings about Barack Obama's policies toward the nation's banks and financial institutions - mostly relieved that those institutions might start lending to home buyers and businesses again, or mostly resentful that the policies could benefit irresponsible managers and bankers?

    40% Mostly relieved
    48% Mostly resentful

(story, data)

AIG Bonuses: A Double Edged Sword

Topics: AIG Bonuses , Barack Obama , Nationalization , Regulation

In this morning's New York Times, Adam Nagourney writes about concerns within the Obama administration that the latest news about bonuses paid to AIG executives could spark "a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street" that might "end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama's agenda." How real is that threat since, for the moment at least, the Obama administration appears powerless to stop it?**

Since the Washington Post broke just this story yesterday, we do not have specific soundings yet from pollsters. However, we do know quite a bit about the existing attitudes that will shape those reactions, particularly two themes:

  • First, large majorities of Americans were already skeptical about the role of banks and large financial institutions in this crisis and opposed to their receiving more financial assistance.
  • Second, that distrust fuels widespread support for stricter federal regulation of banks and large financial institutions (with a caveat about "nationalization").

Those two sets of attitudes create both risk and opportunity for the Obama administration. Let's consider each in more detail.   

First, distrust of banks, financial institutions and "Wall Street" has never been higher. When the Harris Poll (telephone) updated its annual confidence ratings for sixteen American institutions last month, "Wall Street" ranked dead last. Only 4% now say they have "a great deal of confidence" in Wall Street, 33% have "only some" confidence and 57% have "hardly any confidence at all." The same survey also finds what Harris describes as the "worst results ever" for Wall Street on questions tracked since the mid 1990s. For example, 71% now agree that "most people on Wall Street would be willing to break the law if they believed they could make a lot of money and get away with it," up eight points since last year (from 63%; 27% now disagree).

Similarly, when the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked Americans to rate their confidence in 21 different institutions in January, "Wall Street" and "the financial industry" ranked last with majorities (59% and 60% respectively) saying they had "very little" confidence or "none at all" (only 13% and 10% respectively expressed a "great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence).

In the survey released just today by the Pew Research Center, nearly half (48%) of Americans say they are "angry" about the government "bailing out banks and financial institutions that made poor financial decisions" (39% say they are bothered but not angry, only 12% are not bothered). Not surprisingly, this anger translates into considerable skepticism about bailouts of banks and financial institutions:

62% say the federal government has spent too much on "large banks and other financial institutions in danger of failing," 8% say it is spending too little and 21% say the amount is about right (Newsweek [pdf]).

59% oppose "giving aid to U.S. banks and financial companies in danger of failing," while 39% favor it (USA Today/Gallup).

50% disapprove of "the federal government providing money to banks and other financial institutions to try to help fix the country's economic problems," 39% approve (CBS/New York Times [pdf]).

Note that the expression of disapproval is slightly lower on the last question, which justifies assistance as way "to help fix" the economy. Nonetheless, the opposition as measured over the last month is still considerable, even before the latest AIG bonus story. As Nagourney's piece points out, the same CBS/New York Times survey found 83% of Americans agreeing that the government "put a limit on the amount of money that senior executives can earn" at companies "receiving financial assistance from the government."

On the other hand, the visceral anger also translates into support for greater regulation of banks and financial institutions. For example, last month's ABC News/Washington Post survey found three quarters of Americans willing to support "stricter federal regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business," and 49% said these regulations should be "much stricter" (22% were opposed).

The caveat is that while Americans voice support for stricter regulation, they blanche at the word "nationalization" depending on the context. Consider the split-form experiment conducted last month by the USAToday/Gallup poll. They split their interviews into two random samples and asked each a slightly different question (emphasis added):

Do you favor or oppose the federal government temporarily taking over major U.S. banks in danger of failing in an attempt to stabilize them?
-- 54% favor, 44% oppose, 3% no opinion  

Do you favor or oppose federal government temporarily nationalizing major U.S. banks in danger of failing in an attempt to stabilize
-- 37% favor, 57% oppose, 6% no opinion

So when pollsters label the same underlying idea as "nationalization," it receives percentage 17 points less support than when described as a "take over." The word "nationalization" is obviously loaded with more meaning in this context, but might not be a barrier. Consider what happened when Newsweek asked a similar question and combined the verbiage:

Temporary nationalization is another way for the federal government to deal with large banks in danger of failing. This is where the government takes over a failing bank, cleans its balance sheets, and then quickly sells it off. In general, which do YOU think is the better way to deal with failing banks... (READ)
-- 29% Government financial aid WITHOUT any government control of the bank, OR
-- 56% Nationalization, where the government takes temporary control?
-- 15% Neither/Other/don't know

So if the AIG story devolves somehow into a debate about bank "nationalization" per se, public opinion may move in unexpected directions. The bigger and more overriding point here is that the AIG bonus story, which will inevitably fuel even greater unease associated with bailouts of banks and financial institutions, may make Americans even more eager for new regulation of those same institutions than they might have been before, and that may present Obama and his allies with as much opportunity as potential backlash.   

Yes, the anger over AIG creates the potential for a populist backlash, but it also creates the potential for support for greater regulation of banking and financial institutions across the political spectrum that would have been unimaginable a year ago.

**Hat tip to NPR's Liz Halloran, who emailed with this question early this morning. Her story is now posted on NPR.org.

Update: The Washington Post's Jon Cohen notes that anger about bank bailouts as measured by the new Pew Research Center poll extends across the political spectrum but is greatest among "Republicans (55 percent angry), independents and those with family incomes of $75,000 and up (both 53 percent)."

Update 2: A new poll released tonight by CBS News (story, data) reinforces American's skepticism toward bailouts of banks and financial institutions.  Opposition to using government money to assist banks "to help fix the country's economic problems" nudged upward since February (from 50% to 53%).  A plurality (48%) says it is is "mostly resentful" that Obama's policies "could benefit irresponsible managers and bankers" rather than "mostly relieved that those institutions might start lending to home buyers and businesses again" (40%).

US: National Survey (CNN-3/12-15)

3/12-15/09; 1,019 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Obama Job Approval
64% Approve, 34% Disapprove (chart)
Economy: 59% Approve, 40% Disapprove (chart)

If the economy does not improve over the next 12 months, whose policies would you blame for that -- the policies of George W. Bush and the Republicans, or the policies of Barack Obama and the Democrats?

    54% Bush and the Republicans
    32% Obama and the Democrats


Rivlin & Rivlin: Public Opinion on Health Care Reform 1993 and 2009. Is this a New Day or just Groundhog Day?

Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin are the Co-Editors of CenteredPolitics.com. Allan Rivlin is a Partner at Hart Research Associates. In 1993 Allan Rivlin was a Special Assistant in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Remember 1993? Snoop Dogg was on the radio. Grunge ruled the world of fashion, and one of the top movies was "Groundhog Day" where Bill Murray had to relive the same day over again until he figured out just what he had to offer the world and finally got it right.

A charismatic young Democrat had just been elected President promising, among other things, to reform a broken health care system. Public opinion seemed to be behind him but the effort ultimately failed and a more careful reading of public opinion in those early months of the Clinton Administration reveal some of the fault lines that eventually sank the effort. Not only did reform fail to make it out of either house of Congress, but in the 1994 election voters ratified the decision and punished Democrats who supported reform rather than the Republicans who had defeated the plan.

rivlinSlide1.JPGNow a new Democrat has taken office promising healthcare reform. The question becomes; has enough changed in public opinion to offer hope that the outcome will be different this time around? A thorough review of the available polling then and now is less than encouraging for supporters of comprehensive health care reform (a category that includes the authors who should be understood to be supporters of comprehensive reform albeit sobering ones.)

Where common questions can be found in polls leading up to health reform 1993 and 2009, the public is currently less attuned to the issue, expresses less dissatisfaction with the status quo, and offers lower levels of support for the general prospect of reform. But an even greater challenge for reformers is the fact that the basic contours of public opinion that undercut the previous effort continue to be true today - perhaps even more so.

Just as in 1993, it would be easy to read current polls as highly encouraging. Many of these measures appear quite strong, it is just that they are not as strong as comparable numbers in surveys taken before the start of the 1993 effort when many pollsters, including those advising the White House were fooled into believing they had a clear mandate for major change.

Now: A 2008 Harris Interactive survey finds 29% saying so much is wrong with the current health care system that it needs to be completely rebuilt, and an additional 53% says that while there are some good aspects the system needs fundamental changes. That adds up to 82% calling for fundamental change. Just 13% say the system works pretty well and only needs minor changes.

Then: The problem is, these results were typical, though a little stronger in the period before the failed effort. As early as 1991, the same pollsters (then Lou Harris and Associates, the word "Interactive" as we know it today had not yet been coined) using the same question recorded 42% saying so much is wrong with the current health care system that it needs to be completely rebuilt, and an additional 50% said that while there are some good aspects the system needs fundamental changes - for a total of 92% calling for fundamental change and just 6% said the system worked well and only needed minor changes.

Now: A 2008 Harvard School of Public Health survey found a 55% majority in support of "national health insurance" with 35% opposed. While this is unlikely to be a phrase that this round of reformers will find useful or descriptive of their proposals, the term that was in common use in 1993 does allow for an apples to apples comparison.

Then: The same researchers using the same phrase in 1993 found 63% supporting "national health insurance" and just 26% were opposed.

rivlinSlide2.JPGThen as now the real problems facing health care reformers were structural and clearly visible in the polls. As the nation reached near consensus that there was a problem, there was never any such agreement on the specific solution. While many people agreed then as they do now that it is wrong that so many Americans are either uninsured or underinsured, the priority then, as now, for most people was on finding ways to lower their own health insurance cost. Then as now most people had health insurance that they judged to be pretty good.

Then: In 1993 a 77% majority told Martilla and Kiley that they were at least somewhat satisfied with their own health care coverage.

Now: For comparison, 82% expressed a similar level of satisfaction with their own insurance in a 2007 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Poll.

Then: A 1993 Gallup Poll asked people about their priorities for reform and 38% said they wanted health insurance that included all Americans. The bare majority, 51% wanted to control costs, and 10% volunteered that they want reform that did both.

Now: The comparison here is a little less direct, but in 2008 the Harvard School of Public and the Kaiser Family Foundation found similar results with 45% saying they want to make health care insurance more affordable and 22% saying their goal for reform would be to expand insurance to the uninsured.

Then: An NBC News Wall Street Journal Poll in March 1993 found 66% agreeing with the statement "I would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone can have health insurance." Just 30% were opposed. A Martilla and Kiley poll found a similar result but in a clear sign of the problems that would emerge, among their 65% willing to pay higher taxes, just 25% said in a follow up question that they would be willing to pay as much as $50 more a month, 40% said they would pay $30, and the majority 62% were only willing got go as high as $10 per month more in order to give coverage to everyone.

Now: In the most recent NBC News Wall Street Journal Poll conducted February 26 to March 1, 2009 the public is now split with just 49% agreeing with the statement "I would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone can have health insurance" and nearly as many 45% do not agree.

rivlinSlide3.JPGDoes all of this mean that the Obama plan is doomed before it has even begun? Of course not, but putting the apparently positive number from many of today's poll questions in the context of even more positive numbers from polls taken before the previous failed effort should serve to underscore the difficulty of the challenge ahead.

It is clear that the new team will benefit from lessons learned in the earlier health care reform effort. Reflecting a hard won understanding that most Americans are fairly satisfied with their current coverage, the first words out of any Administration spokesperson, including President Obama, on the subject of health care reform is that if you like what you have now you will be able to keep it. Also reflecting the priorities expressed in public opinion polls today (and back then), far greater emphasis is now being placed on cost containment than on extending coverage.

The real question will of course come in the details of the proposal. If Obama can come up with a plan that extends coverage to more Americans without a major increase in the burdens it places on the individuals and businesses who pay for it, then it will be difficult for those who want to see this effort fail to generate much public opposition. Naturally this is a tall order, but we would not want to be among the legions of commentators who have had to swallow their doubts that Barack Obama can achieve the difficult.

The only thing we will predict is that there will be a lot of articles written looking at statistics like some of the ones mentioned here (in fact they are likely to grow stronger as the heat is turned up on the issue) to make the case that this time around the public strongly supports reform. We hope this little bit of context will help keep these articles in perspective.

The authors wish to thank Julia Kurnik for Research Assistance and Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health for invaluable assistance. Would anyone try to write this article without first calling Bob Blendon?

US: National Survey (Pew-3/9-12)

Pew Research Center
3/9-12/09; 1,308 adults, 3% margin of error
359 Republicans (6%), 444 Democrats (5.5%), 432 independents (5.5%)
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


"President Barack Obama's approval rating has slipped, as a growing number of Americans see him listening more to his party's liberals than to its moderates, and many voice opposition to some of his key economic proposals. Obama's job approval rating has slipped from 64% in February to 59% currently, while disapproval has jumped from 17% to 26% over this period. Disapproval of Obama has increased markedly among Republicans (by 15 points) as well as among independents (13 points)."

Obama Job Approval
59% Approve, 26% Disapprove (chart)
Dems: 88% Approve, 5% Disapprove (chart)
ind: 57% Approve, 27% Disapprove (chart)
Reps: 27, Approve, 56% Disapprove (chart)

State of Economy
6% Excellent/Good, 25% Only Fair, 68% Poor (chart)

Is it now a good idea or a bad idea for the government to exert more control over the economy than it has in recent years?

    54% Good idea
    37% Bad idea

Generally, do you think people are better off in a free market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time, or don't you think so?

    70% Yes, think so
    20% No, don't think so

From what you've read and heard, do you think Barack Obama's roughly 800 billion dollar economic stimulus plan passed by Congress last month is a good idea or a bad idea?

    56% Good idea
    35% Bad idea