Each year a very large number of trade associations, consumer groups, unions, and citizen associations run campaigns in Washington either advocating or opposing legislation or regulation.
Each group has a different set of resources at their disposal. Some have a wealth of activist membes, but little money in the bank. Others have a relatively small membership, but ample financial resources. Some have a regional coalition with strong relations with Congress in a few key states, and others are nationally dispersed and lacking strong relations. The permutations are almost endless.
But, each year groups like this petition their government and run a public affairs campaign inside Washington in order to have their voices heard.
With this in mind, StrategyOne's Washington office conducted a groundbreaking survey of 1200 Washington elites using its Beltway Barometer. Interviews were conducted by phone in only the most affluent Washington zipcodes among people who work or have worked in "official Washington" (working or having worked in the White House, Congress, the judiciary, the Pentagon, a federal agency, a think tank, trade association, PAC, the national parties, state or local government, etc.)
There is no substitute for people power.
"Building strong grassroots outside the beltway" was chosen as the most important of the nine (9) public affairs ingredients tested. Having a strong lobbying team is surely important, but elites clearly feel that it is subordinate to having strong grassroots. In fact, our research found that even those in the lobbying community felt that grassroots was #1.
Beltway coalitions are a must. The second most important ingredient for success was having a large coalition of groups inside the beltway. These coalitions are a force multiplier and help a group expand it Congressional reach by multiplying its contact points.
Have a clear, cutting, message. The third ingredient chosen was "developing messaging, framing the issue to their advantage, and owning the vocabulary used to discuss the issue." There is no substitute for a message.
Why do these inside the beltway public affairs campaigns fail?
Again, we asked Washington elites and they identified two main failure points:
1. Poor message development
2. Limited grassroots support outside the beltway
What does this mean?
First, it means that groups contemplating a public affairs campaign in Washington need to have the processes and policy positions in place to activate their members in a way that allows them to clearly advocate for a specific policy. Grassroots strength is clearly critical (far more critical than having a great spokesperson or a wonderful media relations team).
Secondly, it means that groups running these campaigns need a message strategy and a message czar that keeps the group on track and on message. Having a well developed message with supporting proof points and logical rebuttals is essential. But, having the discipline to stay on message and not go down rabbit holes is critical.
Voters age 55 and older oppose "the health care reforms being debated in Congress" by 48 to 39 percent. Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed at 83 to 9 percent, as are a majority of Independents at 52 to 33 percent. Only Democratic voters in this survey support the reforms, 70 to 16 percent. Opposition among voters age 55 and older tracks the latest Pollster.com average where voters of all ages oppose the health care reform plan by 52 to 39 percent.
Voters age 55 and older overwhelmingly oppose the primary funding mechanisms for health care reform in the Senate plan: cutting Medicare spending, taxing Cadillac health plans, increasing Medicare payroll taxes, and cutting Medicare Advantage. Taxing elective cosmetic surgery is the only funding provision that receives majority support.
Ipsos / McClatchy
12/3-6/09; 1,120 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
You may have heard about the idea that the world's temperature may have been going up slowly over the past 100 years. What is your personal opinion on this? Do you think this has probably been happening, or do you think it probably has not been happening? (If Yes) Do you believe that the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, OR, mostly because of natural patterns in the earth's environment?
43% Has been happening mostly because of human activity
24% Has been happening mostly because of natural patterns
28% Hasn't been happening
There's a proposed system called 'cap and trade' that some say would lower the pollution levels that lead to global warming. With Cap and Trade, the government would issue permits limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out. Companies that did not use all their permits could sell them to other companies. The idea is that many companies would find ways to put out less greenhouse gases, because that would be cheaper than buying permits. Would you support or oppose this system?
52% Support, 41% Oppose
(remaining questions asked of half samples)
What if a cap and trade program significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly electrical bill by 10 dollars a month? In that case would you support or oppose it?
50% Support, 48% Oppose
What if a cap and trade program raised your monthly electrical bill by 10 dollars a month but also created a significant number of 'GREEN' jobs in the United States? In that case would you support or oppose it?
69% Support, 29% Oppose
What if a cap and trade program significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly electrical bill by 25 dollars a month? In that case would you support or oppose it?
43% Support, 55% Oppose
What if a cap and trade program raised your monthly electrical bill by 25 dollars a month but also created a significant number of 'GREEN' jobs in the United States? In that case would you support or oppose it?
60% Support, 36% Oppose
And if you think that clip is impressive, wait until a little after the 1:00 mark on this one from October (via Media Matters)
Update (12/11): Politico's Michael Calderone explains the error in the Fox graphic first flagged by Media Matters. The 59% labeled as "somewhat likely" was really the total of "very likely" and "somewhat likely." A correct labeling would have been either "total likely," "very + somewhat likely" or "at least somewhat likely."
Calderone includes this reaction from Fox News:
But Lauren Petterson, executive producer of Fox & Friends, told
POLITICO that she sees no error in the graphic. And for that reason,
there will be no reprimand of staff under the "zero tolerance" policy.
"We were just talking about three interesting pieces of information
from Rasmussen," Petterson said. "We didn't put on the screen that it
added up to 100 percent."
While Petterson maintains that Fox & Friends didn't err in
displaying the information from Rasmussen, she acknowledges that the
presentation wasn't perfect. "The mistake I do see is we could have
been a little clearer here," she said.
State of the Country
38% Right Direction, 49% Wrong Track (chart)
Overall, given what you know about them, do you support or oppose the proposed changes to the health care system being developed by Congress and the Obama Administration?
51% Support, 49% Oppose (chart)
About eight months ago, Congress passed President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus bill. Do you think the stimulus bill is working?
28% Yes, 51% No
As you probably know, we run a chart on Pollster.com that aggregates the various questions asked on national surveys about general support or opposition to (variously) "President Obama's health care plan," "the health care reform proposals being discussed," and so on. Although these questions show a lot of variation from pollster-to-pollster, the overall patterns and trends have been reasonably consistent: Most surveys have shown more opposition than support, and support has declined modestly over the last month.
Support has fallen in recent weeks from the 43% and 45% range where our trend estimate had been from Labor Day through early November to 39% as of this writing. Meanwhile, opposition has risen from a range of 47% to 49% over much of the fall to 53% today. That trend is reasonably robust across pollsters, showing up on Rasmussen surveys, other polls that sample registered or likely voters, and traditional live interviewer telephone polls that sample adults. Again, the current level of opposition is slightly lower (47%) in the all adult samples than the likely/registered voter samples (53%), but that gap is roughly consistent with what we see for presidential approval.
A few weeks ago, New Republic columnist Jonathan Chait wrote that despite the apparent opposition, "health care reform actually remains quite popular." The problem with the general favor-or-oppose question about health care reform, he argued, "is that it lumps together Obama's critics from the right with those from the left." Other questions he cited appear to show that "majorities of the public either support Obama's approach or wish it went further."
At about the same time, the pollsters at CNN and the Ipsos-McClatchy poll were testing follow-up questions that provided an effective test of Chait's theory. I wrote about the CNN results in my own column, Ipsos pollsters Cliff Young and Aaron Amic wrote up their results in a guest post, and Nate Silver chimed in as well. The gist of both results was that a big chunk of opposition appeared to come from the left: 10% of the total CNN sample who said they oppose the reform bill because it is "not liberal enough," and 12% of the Ipsos sample who say they oppose reform because it "does not go far enough."
This week, the Democratic leaning pollster PPP released results of an automated survey showing more overall opposition and asking a different follow-up question showing only 3% opposing reform because "it doesn't involve government enough." So at the very least we have some inconsistency: The CNN and Ipsos surveys imply that a majority of Americans "favor either the House-passed version of health care reform or something further to the left," as Alan Reifman puts it, while in the PPP survey the combination of those who support or something further left (42%) is still less than the number who oppose reform because "it gets government too involved in health care" (47%).
Why the inconsistency? As usual, there are many possibilities: three different though similarly structured questions, two different populations (registered voters and all adults), two different modes (automated and live interviewer), different timing and ordinary random sampling error. Choose your own theory, I'm not going to begin to speculate about which is best.
I can shed some light on one issue raised earlier today by my Atlantic colleague Megan McArdle. As she points out, "going too far," the follow-up phrase from the Ipsos survey, has many potential interpretations:
I could go down to [the] Cato [Institute] right now and poll 65% support for the proposition that the health care reform doesn't go far enough--in the direction of taking away the employer health care tax exemption, means testing Medicare, and other ideas that no one would call "left". Republicans who want liability caps and bigger HSAs might have similar complaints.
As it happens, I asked the folks at IPSOS for some tabulations this week that help shed a little light on that question. The results are what we might expect in some ways and surprising in others. On the one hand, the 136 respondents who said they oppose the current proposals because they "don't go far enough to reform health care" lean Republican (54% to 38%) -- not surprising, given that most of the opposition is Republican or independent. Like those who think reform goes too far, they overwhelmingly oppose "a single payer system in which the government controls the entire healthcare insurance system" (85% to 15%).
On the other hand, the same group, those who opposes reform because "it does not go far enough", supports the public option concept (59% to 35% - described as "creation of a public entity to directly compete with existing health insurance companies"). In contrast, those who oppose reform because it "goes too far" also oppose the public option by a nearly two-to-one margin (62% to 32%).
The picture you should get from all of this is a lot of fuzziness of opinion, and I think that's the most important point.
Yes, the gradual increase in opposition to health care reform over the last month should concern reform supporters, and yes, it's important to take into account that some of the expressed "opposition" on these questions is coming from the left rather than the right. But my main advice in interpreting these results echoes something that Young and Amic argued here last week: We mislead ourselves by treating the general favor-or-oppose-reform question as analogous to a measure of candidate preference before an election
[P]olling on healthcare reform is quite different than polling on presidential elections because our "true value" is not fixed. This makes the construction of singlequestions impossible and misleading. Such issues are, well, fuzzy and, therefore, only a multiple indicators approach will tell the entire story-some generic, some specific questions.
I'll have more to say on that question in my next column on Monday.
Pew Research Center
12/4-7/09; 1,003 adults, 4% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
What recent news story, if any, have you and your friends been talking about? (open ended)
30% Tiger Woods
29% President Obama's speech/decision about Afghanistan
26% Health Care reform
16% Economy/Jobs/Stock market
7% Salahis/Coples that went to State dinner without an invitation
5% Police officers killed in Washington State
In the past few weeks, have you come to have a MORE favorable opinion of Barack Obama, a LESS favorable opinion of Barack Obama, or hasn't your opinion of him changed lately?
12% More Favorable, 27% Less Favorable, 57% Opinion has not changed
Most Closely Followed Story (from list)
29% Debate over health care reform
20% President Obama's decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan
15% Reports about the condition of the U.S. economy
10% News about Tiger woods' car accident
7% Four police officers killed in Washington State
4% News about a couple who attended a state dinner at the White House without an invitation
Of all the stories I just mentioned, which of them, if any, received TOO MUCH coverage?
69% News about Tiger Woods' car accident
44% News about a couple who attended a state dinner at the White House without an invitation
9% Debate over health care reform
7% President Obama's decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan
4% Four police officers killed in Washington State
4% Reports about the condition of the U.S. economy
Did you watch President Obama's speech on Tuesday about Afghanistan, or did you just hear or see reports
about it on the news?
32% Watched on television
3% Watched on internet
1% Watched both (Vol.)
2% Listened on the radio (Vol.)
39% Just heard or saw reports about the speech
14% Did not watch, hear speech or news about Afghanistan decision (Vol.)
Are you hearing mostly good news about the economy these days, mostly bad news about the economy or a mix of both good and bad news?
7% Mostly good news, 33% Mostly bad news, 59% Mixed
Here's how I think of Gibb's dismissal of the Gallup numbers: you're driving a car and the gas tank is almost empty. Are you really addressing the issue if you assert that the gas gauge is unreliable, smash the glass and move the needle back to "full"?
There's a big difference between bad data and data that brings bad news. While daily tracking polls have limitations, Gallup's numbers have actually been some of the more favorable ones for Obama. Just take a look at the work by Charles Franklin that shows how each pollster's numbers line up against the averages; Gallup's daily tracking is almost always above the Pollster.com average. Gibbs may pretend he doesn't care about these numbers, but I guarantee folks in Obama's political shop do. It's one thing to criticize a poll's methodology, it's another to dismiss it just because you don't like what it says.
Gibbs' "EKG" analogy for President Obama's approval level is typical rhetoric of any administration in trouble with the public. First imply the polls are "all over the place" and then assert that the president doesn't govern based on polls. Dems and Reps alike reach a point in their approval ratings when they trot out these chestnuts.
Sadly, both assertions are false and administrations that truly ignore public opinion are in more trouble than they know.
Day to day variation in individual polls such as Gallup and Rasmussen are meaningless because daily change is virtually never outside the margin of error for the polls. Opinion almost never moves dramatically over a day or two (9/11 being a dramatic but rare exception). It is instead the long trend in approval that matters, and this is common across all polling on Obama. Some polls run hot and others cold on his approval (see this) , but all are trending down and that is the important and reliable opinion finding that the administration must pay attention too.
David Winston is President of the Winston Group, a strategic planning, communications, and survey research firm. He was formerly Director of Planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich and is presently an election analyst for CBS.
This week, President Obama finds himself facing his first public opinion crisis as several different national surveys showed his job approval below 50% over the past 10 days. The Marist and Quinnipiac surveys both put his job approval at 46%. CNN had it at 48% while Ipsos/McClatchy had it at 49%. But it was the Gallup daily tracking, which finally dipped below 50%, that pushed Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to an uncalled for denigration of the respected polling organization, comparing their results to a "six-year-old with a crayon."
Why is this important? Gibbs testy response isn't. But the president's downward spiral certainly has serious implications for both his ability to govern and to enact his policy agenda. Simply put, if a Presidential job approval is below 50%, a governing majority coalition does not exist and without a governing majority, controversial policies like health care and cap and trade are relegated to the uphill climb of minority status.
But presidential polling numbers can be worse than simply slipping below that 50% mark. When a President's job approval is under water, meaning more people disapprove than approve of the job he is doing, that's when every alarm bell in the West Wing ought to go off. President Obama is dangerously close to needing a life jacket.
In the CNN survey, 48% of those surveyed approved of his job performance, while 50% disapproved. Ipsos/McClatchy had it at 49-49, and both Marist and Quinnipiac had it at 46-44.
If Obama's numbers continue to slide, his policy agenda is at serious risk. Don't think for one moment that members of the House and Senate don't pay attention to these national polls. They do, especially those who find themselves in competitive races. Equally important, their own internal state or district polls will likely also have a presidential job approval question. Whether Obama is under 50% or under water back home could and, in many cases, will impact their voting behavior in D.C.
It's premature to suggest that it's time the Obama team break out the life boats, but contrary to Mr. Gibbs assertions, numbers do matter. They will determine, in part, whether his legislative agenda succeeds this year and survives the elections next year.
The past two years have shown us that predicting voter support for same-sex marriage ballot measures is no easy task. Pollster.com's aggregate trend estimates, reflecting pre-election polling, incorrectly projected that voters in California and Maine would vote against measures to ban same-sex marriage. Nate Silver, using a regression model that included a state's religiosity, year of the measure, and whether the measure included a ban on civil unions, also incorrectly predicted that Maine's amendment to ban same-sex marriage would fail.
In a post this past Friday, Silver offered a possible explanation: "It's not clear that the results in Maine are comparable to those in other states. Question 1 was the only gay marriage ballot initiative that did not seek to rewrite its state's constitution... there was no particularly good way to model the uncertainty."
While Question 1 was rare in that it did not amend the state constitution, it is not the only anti-same-sex marriage ballot measure to do so. In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22 (the California Defense of Marriage Act), an ordinary statute, by a margin of 61%-39%. I was interested to see if including California's 2000 vote and a variable signifying that it was not a constitutional amendment would have improved Silver's model. To do so, I simply added a dummy variable controlling for whether the measure in question amended the state's constitution or merely altered state law.
The result is a model that would have actually done worse in Maine with a predicted yes vote for Question 1 of only 33.4% (vs. 43.5% for Silver's initial model), when the actual yes vote was 52.9%. If one were to add a dummy variable for an off-year election to this model as Silver did "ad-hoc" to his, the yes vote would still only get 37.9%.
Still, I was inspired by Silver's 2008 presidential regression models that combined polling and states' demographic data to find out if combining polling data with other variables could create a more accurate prediction of same-sex marriage ballot measures.
I have built a linear regression model based on 25 state gay marriage referenda from 1998 to 2009. The model attempts to predict support for banning same-sex marriage using five variables: projected support for the measure from pre-election polls, a state's religiosity, year of the measure (where 1 is 1998, 2 is 1999, and so on), a dummy variable controlling for whether the measure in question amended the state's constitution or merely altered state law, and a dummy variable controlling for whether the election was off-year.
The results for this model are very encouraging for those of us hoping to add value to polling data and predict future results of same-sex marriage ballot measures. I found that 92.1% of the variation between the different same-sex marriage elections was explained by the model compared with 80.7% for Silver's unaltered model. The average difference between the model's predicted support for an amendment in an election and the actual support for the amendment was 2.69% (compared with Silver's 4.46%). Importantly, this difference was greater than 2.00% in only 4 instances (Michigan 2004, Montana 2004, North Dakota 2004, and South Dakota 2006) and greater than 4.00% in only two (Michigan 2004 and North Dakota 2004).
The polling data is the best predictor for support for same-sex marriage amendments. Indeed, a simple regression in which the poll variable alone predicts the final result explains 86.4% of the variation in support for same-sex referenda across elections.
Despite the polling variable's dominance, the year variable is statistically significant with 95% confidence in the model. That is, we can be 95% sure the effect this variable has on the model did not occur by simple chance. The year variable has a negative coefficient, suggesting that in more recent years polling is less likely to underestimate support for the propositions. This finding supports a study by NYU's Patrick Egan that concluded that any possible "gay Bradley Effect," the theory that some respondents were uncomfortable sharing their opposition to gay marriage with a stranger on the telephone, has subsided in recent years.
The reason for this abatement is unclear, but it may have to do with the fact that the issue of same-sex marriage is no longer heavily used as a wedge issue nationally. Senator McCain mentioned the issue fewer times in 2008 than President Bush did in 2004, and Congress has not voted upon the Federal Marriage Amendment since 2006. This explanation would be consistent with Georgetown's Daniel Hopkins finding that the Bradley Effect for black candidates began to disappear in the mid 90's once issues (such as welfare reform and crime) with a racial undertone began to recede from the national debate.
The off-year and religiosity variable are statistically significant with 90% confidence in the model. The coefficient for the off-year variable is positive implying that polling underestimates support for the "yes" vote in off-year elections. This is not surprising considering these elections tend to have lower turnout (and are thus more difficult to poll) and are dominated by older voters who are more likely to be opposed to same-sex marriage.
The coefficient for the religiosity variable is positive meaning that, when controlling for the other variables, polls tend to underestimate support for the measures in more religious states. Last year, Mark DiCamillo, director of The Field Poll in California, argued that polling errors for same-sex marriage referenda resulted from late shifts and a boost in turnout among Catholics and regular churchgoers. He speculated that these shifts resulted from "last minute appeals" from religious figures. If DiCamillo is correct, and if gay marriage opponents have used similar tactics elsewhere, we would expect this effect, and thus the polling error, to be larger in more religious states.
The variable controlling for whether the measure in question amended the state's constitution or merely altered state law is not statistically significant. That is, there is a relatively high probability that any effect this variable had on the predictive value of this model occurred only by chance. It is important to point out that the results from this variable should be viewed with caution because we only have two observations.
Of course, I was also interested in testing if my model can work proactively and not merely explain past results. I wanted to investigate if, unlike the Pollster.com aggregate, it would have accurately predicted the results for California and Maine. To estimate the result for California as I would have prior to the 2008 election, I eliminated all the observations from the 2008 and 2009 elections from my dataset: California 2008, Florida 2008, and Maine 2009. This altered model called for the "yes" side to win in California with 51.9% of the vote, an error of 0.3%. To estimate the result for Maine, I simply eliminated the Maine 2009 observation. This modified model called for the same-sex marriage ban to pass in Maine with 50.6% of the vote, an error of 2.3%.
All of these findings support the argument that we can add value to polling data on same-sex marriage amendments when we control for them with variables such as religiosity of a state and year of the measure. We should recognize that polling ballot measures is always very difficult due to their confusing language. Polling same-sex marriage measures is especially problematic because of added factors such as a possible same-sex marriage Bradley Effect. My model helps to eliminate some, but no means all, the possible errors that result from these problems.
CNN / Opinion Research Corporation
12/2-3/09; 1,041 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
Do you think the country would be better off if the Republicans controlled Congress, or if the Democrats controlled Congress?
40% Democrats, 39% Republicans
As you may know, the U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would make major changes in the country's health care system. Based on what you have read or heard about that bill, do you generally favor it or generally oppose it?
36% Favor, 61% Oppose (chart)
From what you know about the Senate health care bill, which of the following statements comes closes to your view?
22% Those proposals would help you and your family if they became law
46% Those proposals would help other families in this country, but would not help you and your family
29% Those proposals would not help anyone in the country
Who do you trust more to handle major changes in the country's health care system -- the Democrats in Congress or the Republicans in Congress?
43% Democrats, 40% Republicans
Now thinking specifically about the health insurance plans available to most Americans, would you
favor or oppose creating a public health insurance option administered by the federal government
that would compete with plans offered by private health insurance companies?
53% Favor, 46% Oppose
If a bill similar to the one that the Senate is considering becomes law, do you think the federal budget deficit would or would not increase?
79% Would happen, 19% Would not happen
If a bill similar to the one that the Senate is considering becomes law, do you think your taxes would or would not increase?
85% Would happen, 14% Would not happen
12/2-3, 12/7/09; 1,034 adults, 3% margin of error
858 registered voters, 3.5% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(Marist: 2010 Congress, Health care)
Obama Job Approval: Health Care
40% Approve, 53% Disapprove
Do you think a public option is a good thing or a bad thing to include in heath care reform?
58% Good thing, 27% Bad thing
If the 2010 election for congress were held today, would you support your current congress person who represents your district in Washington D.C. or would you vote for someone else?
51% Support current congressperson. 37% Vote for someone else
Please tell me if you favor or oppose each of the following ways the federal government could address the unemployment rate.
Give businesses a tax credit for each new person they hire:
68% Favor, 28% Oppose
Increase spending on alternative energy:
60% Favor, 37% Oppose
Send federal money to the states to prevent layoffs in state and local governments:
48% Favor, 49% Oppose
Spend more money on education for unemployed workers to improve their skills to qualify for better jobs:
70% Favor, 27% Oppose
Cut income taxes across the board to spur economic growth:
63% Favor, 33% Oppose
Spend money on public works such as roads and bridges:
66% Favor, 32% Oppose
Do you believe middle-class Americans will or will not have to make financial sacrifices to decrease the deficit?
88% Will have to make sacrifices
10% Will not have to make sacrifices
I'm going to mention some things the government could do to cut the budget deficit. For each, please tell me if you think this should or should not be a main part of any government approach to
66% Raise income taxes on the wealthy--individuals making $500,000 or more and households making $1 million or more
57% Cut discretionary federal programs and services by 5% across the board
26% Raise taxes on the middle-class as well as the wealthy
23% Cut the growth of spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security benefits
20% Create a new federal consumption tax, which would be like a federal sales tax that would be on top of any state and local sales tax.
Banks that received government aid during the financial crisis are now preparing to pay bonuses to top performers because banks are now profitable again. Do you approve or disapprove of banks
paying bonuses this year?
23% Approve, 75% Disapprove
State of the Country
37% Right Direction, 56% Wrong Track (chart)
Do you think the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?
29% Better, 23% Worse, 47% Same
Do you think the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now, or should the U.S. not be involved in Afghanistan now?
49% Right thing, 39% Not involved
How likely do you think it is that the U.S. will be able to stop terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven for their attacks against the U.S. and its allies?
11% Very, 37% Somewhat, 26% Not very, 16% Not at all
So far, do you think Barack Obama has clearly explained his plan for Afghanistan, or hasn't he clearly explained his plan?
42% Has explained, 47% Has not explained
As you may know, Barack Obama announced that an additional 30,000 U.S. troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the coming months. Do you approve or disapprove of sending additional troops to Afghanistan?
51% Approve, 43% Disapprove
As you may know, Barack Obama has announced that he will begin bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan starting in the middle of 2011. Do you think it is a good idea for Barack Obama to set a date to begin withdrawing troops, or is it not a good idea to set a date?
41% Good idea, 55% Not a good idea
From what you've heard or read, do you think the health care reforms under consideration in Congress will mostly help you personally, will mostly hurt you personally, or don't you think they will have much of an effect on you personally?
16% Help, 34% Hurt, 42% No effect
Would you favor or oppose the government offering some people who are uninsured the choice of a government administered health insurance plan -- also known as a "public option" -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?
59% Favor, 29% Oppose
36% Democrat, 27% Republican, 37% independent (chart)
With so much discussion about US policy in Afghanistan, its worth taking the time to understand what the Afghan people are thinking. One way to do this is to read the Asia Foundation's fifth public opinion poll in Afghanistan. Conducted in the summer of 2009 (June 17-July 6), this survey of 6406 Afghan citizens was released October 27th and is a treasure trove of polling data.
I have seen mountains of polling data in my career, but this survey is easily the most interesting that I have ever read.
Titled "Afghanistan in 2009: A survey of the Afghan People", you can read it all here.
The entire report is a thorough 225 pages, but the questionnaire and topline data can be found on page 167.
Although readers should absorb the report and come to their own conclusions, taken together the data seems to paint a picture of uneven progress despite many obstacles. But, two related data points struck me as informative to the current discussion in Washington. 69% of Afghans agree that "The Afghan National Army needs the support of foreign troops and cannot operate by itself." 70% agree that the "Afghan National Police needs the support of foreign troops and cannot operate by itself." This is not comforting.
One caveat here. Obviously, conducting a survey in a place like Afghanistan is not easy. Due to violence and insecurity, some areas were not surveyed. In some unsecured areas, only men were surveyed. This is because (a) interviewing is face to face and (b) this is a traditional society in which men interview men and women interview women. Read this passage from the report:
"Moreover, in 2009, there were greater restrictions on the movement of survey researchers than in previous years. A number of districts in the country could not be surveyed because of inaccessibility due to logistical problems, natural disasters and security. Overall 208 of the 882 sampling points had to be replaced. The replacements were made by selecting other sampling points in the same region. The instability and frequent fighting in some provinces caused 102 of the sampling points across the country (12%) to be adjusted or replaced to keep interviewers out of areas affected by active violence. This was a significant change from 2008 when only 17 sampling points (3%) had to be replaced for security reasons."
This suggests to me that this data may be slightly rosier than the truth on the ground.
First, some basics about Afghanistan from the survey:
1. 81% have a radio (radio is the main source of information)
2. 52% have a mobile phone
3. 41% have a TV set
4. 6% have a computer
5. 54% cannot read
6. 60% have never attended school
7. Agriculture is the dominant means of support
8. 79% live in villages as opposed to towns (5%), cities (5%) or Kabul (11%)
Now, for the key findings based on my reading.
Are you better off now? 54% say they are more prosperous now than under the Taliban. 24% say they are less prosperous now. Compared to the Soviet occupation, 50% say they are more prosperous than under the Soviet occupation. 32% say they are less prosperous now than they were under the Soviet occupation.
Expectations. One series of questions is especially heartening (see page 179). Pluralities of Afghans expect a range of things to improve dramatically, especially education, drinking water and the security situation.
Violence. The data is not pretty. 16% say they "often" fear for their life and 17% report being a victim of violence or crime in the past 12 months. No wonder insecurity (see page 175) is cited as the biggest problem, just ahead of unemployment and the economy.
Corruption. 53% say that corruption is a "major problem" in their daily life. As an example, 16% say that they had to pay a bribe in all or most cases when obtaining official government documents. It is true that this is normal in most of the world, but Afghans clearly feel it is a problem. Interestingly, I have heard this from several people firsthand on the long flight from Dulles to Dubai.
The economy. Although Afghans feel that they are more prosperous now, they clearly feel that the economic situation has deteriorated. 47% say unemployment has gotten worse compared to a year ago. Only 11% say it has gotten better.
Schools. There is some good news here. The data regarding schooling and school construction seems to be very positive. For example, 40% say the schools have gotten better over the past year and "schools for girls" is the third thing mentioned by the 42% who think Afghanistan is moving in the right direction.
Religious Authority. In a forced choice question, 67% say that religious leaders should be consulted by political leaders. Only 27% say politics and religion should not mix. This is not terribly surprising and "consultation" could take many forms.
Democracy. At 30,000 feet, there is support for democracy. 78% agree with the statement that Democracy may have its problems, but it is better than any other form of government. But, there are clear disconnects. 59% agree with the idea that individuals should vote the way their community votes, not based on their individual conscience. 57% disagree with the idea that all political parties, even the ones that they don't like, should still be able to meet in their community.
This poll should be required reading in Congress and the White House.
CNN / Opinion Research Corporation
12/2-3/09; 1,041 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
As you may know, the Norwegian Nobel Committee recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. Do you think Obama has accomplished enough so far to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, or don't you think so? (IF DO NOT THINK HE ACCOMPLISHED ENOUGH) Do you think it is likely or unlikely that Obama will eventually accomplish enough to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?
19% Accomplished enough
35% Not accomplished enough but likely will
43% Not accomplished enough and likely won't
And regardless of how you feel about the decision to give Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, do you think he should or should not go to the Nobel awards ceremony in Norway to accept the award?
70% Should go, 27% Should not go
The Environmental Protection Agency has formally concluded that greenhouse gases are endangering people's health and must be regulated. This ruling enables the agency to implement greenhouse gas regulations without Congressional action. Do you agree with the Environmental Protection Agency's assessment that greenhouse gases are a health threat?
41% Yes, 41% No
Should the EPA be able to implement greenhouse gas regulations without Congressional approval?
24% Yes, 53% No
Favorable / Unfavorable
Dems in Congress: 51 / 46
Reps in Congress: 44 / 54
Has the U.S. economy turned the corner on the current crisis, is the worst yet to come, or have things stabilized but not yet begun to improve?
8% Turned the corner
35% Worst yet to come
54% Stabilized but not yet begin to improve
31% Democrat, 21% Republican, 48% independent (chart)
For the first time in Gallup's annual Honesty and Ethics of Professions poll, a majority of Americans -- 55% -- say the honesty and ethical standards of "members of Congress" are low or very low -- slightly worse than "senators," whose ethics are rated low by 49%. By contrast, 83% of Americans say nurses have either very high or high ethical standards, positioning them at the top of Gallup's 2009 ranking of various professions.
A similar pattern occurred in the early 1990s, spanning a series of scandals starting with the "Keating Five" and the related savings and loan crisis, the House banking scandal, and the House post office scandal that resulted in the conviction of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski in 1996. However the percentage "low"/"very low" rating during that period topped out at 46% in 1995, lower than today's figure. For most of the past two decades, more Americans have typically said the ethical standards of members of Congress are low than have called them high. However, the spread between these two views is now the widest seen.
Job Approval / Disapproval
Dems in Congress: 33 / 56
Reps in Congress: 30 / 58
State of the Counrty
29% Satisfied, 71% Dissatisfied (chart)
Who do you trust to do a better job handling health care - President Obama or the Republicans in Congress?
44% Obama, 37% Reps in Congress
From what you've heard or read, do you mostly approve or mostly disapprove of the proposed changes to the health care system under consideration in Congress?
38% Approve, 52% Disapprove (chart)
Do you support or oppose giving people the option of being covered by a government health insurance plan that would compete with private plans?
56% Support, 38% Oppose
President Obama has pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our federal budget deficit over the next decade. Do you think that President Obama will be able to keep his promise or do you think any health care plan that Congress passes and President Obama signs will add to the federal budget deficit?
19% Keep promise, 74% Add to deficit
Do you think that extending health insurance to all Americans would increase your health care costs or not?
63% Yes, 30% No
Do you think that extending health insurance to all Americans is worth increasing your health care costs or not?
47% Yes, 46% No
Do you think that extending health insurance to all Americans would decrease your quality of health care or not?
48% Yes, 46% No
Do you think that extending health insurance to all Americans is worth decreasing your quality of health care or not?
21% Yes, 71% No
As Mark noted in his Outliers post, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs attacked the use of Gallup's daily tracking data today, quipping that "if I was a heart patient and Gallup was my EKG, I'd visit my doctor."
Gallup's Frank Newport responded head-on, defending the value of his own polling data by responding that "...the doctor might ask him what's going on in his life that would cause his EKG to be fluctuating so much," while suggesting that the White House was using Gallup as a convenient scapegoat for President Obama's falling poll ratings.
Newport has a point - our own job approval chart now shows Obama's approval rating less then 2% above his disapproval (although as always the "nose" of our trend line is somewhat unstable). To say that Obama's dropping poll data is "meaningless" is to avoid the substance of the question.
However, Newport's response glosses over the fact that daily tracking data, while not necessarily problematic on its own, can be somewhat erratic and susceptible to sensationalistic interpretation. Take the release Gibbs was asked to respond to as an example: it represented the second time in less than three weeks that Gallup marked drops in Obama's approval with special articles posted to Gallup.com (and sent via blast email to media outlets) separate from their typical daily update, while another special release by Gallup on November 24th featured Obama reaching a new low among whites.
All of this may hold some significance as a trend over time, which is just what daily tracking data allows us to observe. However, sampling error makes it difficult to know when a downturn in approval on any given day is random noise and when it marks a significant trend for the president to worry about. Releases to mark every low the tracker hits, while ignoring commensurate upticks (note that Obama's approval was back up to 50% in today's Gallup Daily poll) result in lopsided news coverage that can weaken the public image of polling itself and make it an easy scapegoat for those, like Gibbs, who may be unhappy with the general trend in the data.
Gibbs' attack on polling data may indeed have been a convenient excuse for Obama's dropping poll numbers, but Gallup sets itself up for criticism by overemphasizing daily noise and provides Gibbs with an opportunity to avoid dealing with the substance of the issue and assail sensationalistic media coverage instead.
Which of the following do you see as the most important issue facing the country right now?
48% The Economy
20% Health Care
16% The Federal Budget Deficit
10% The War in Afghanistan
3% Climate Change
Six months from now, do you expect the economy to be better, worse, or much the same?
31% Better, 19% Worse, 49% Same
Do you think the economic stimulus passed by Congress earlier this year is helping the economy, is keeping the economy from getting worse, is having no effect, or is hurting the economy?
19% Helping the economy
18% Keeping the economy from getting worse
32% Having no effect
28% Hurting the economy
Do you feel more or less financially secure than you did in January when President Obama took office?
26% More secure, 48% Less secure
President Obama has ordered that 30,000 additional troops be sent to fight the war in Afghanistan. He also proposed a timetable to begin withdrawal of those additional forces in July 2011. Do you approve or disapprove of:
The decision to send additional troops: 62% Approve, 34% Disapprove
The timetable for withdrawal: 45 / 49
President Obama said the troop surge he has ordered in Afghanistan will cost $30 billion. Which of the following four options do you think is the best course to cover this cost?
13% Increase taxes on all Americans
28% Increase taxes on individiuals earning more than $250,000 a year
46% Cut spending on government programs other than entitlements
5% Borrow and add to the deficit
Do you think Sarah Palin is or is not qualified to be president?
25% Is qualified, 67% Is not qualified
As you prepare for the upcoming holidays, do you anticipate you will spend more or spend less than
last year, or spend about the same?
8% Spend more, 47% Spend less, 44% Spend about the same
Generally, do you favor or oppose the proposals now in Congress to create a government-sponsored insurance program giving people an alternative to private health insurance, a so-called public
46% Favor, 45% Oppose
A federal panel recommended that some women get mammograms and pap smears less frequently because more frequent tests can lead to unnecessary procedures and drive up health care costs. Others say women should do everything they can to detect cancer early, even if some will receive procedures when they aren't in danger. Where do you stand?
15% Safe for tests to be done less frequently
80% Early prevention is worth any price
What do you think would be the best way to handle prisoners currently detained at Guantanamo--
21% Put them on trial in U.S. courts
57% Put them on trial before military tribunals
10% Detain them indefinitely
31% Democrat, 25% Republican, 40% independent (chart)
CNN / Opinion Research Corporation
12/2-3/09; 1,041 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(CNN: Warming, Economy)
Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of global warming?
45% Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by emissions from cars and industrial facilities such as power plants and factories
23% Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by natural changes that have nothing to do with emissions from cars and industrial facilities
31% Global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven
Which of these positions do you agree with most:
58% The United States should reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that may contribute to global warming even if it does so by itself
17% The United States should reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that may contribute to global warming only if other countries do so as well
24% The United States should not reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases regardless of what other countries do
How well are things going in the country today -- very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?
3% Very Well
31% Fairly Well
42% Fairly Badly
24% Very Badly
Do you think the economy is in a recession, or not? (IF YES:) Do you think we are in a mild recession, or a moderate recession, or a serious recession?
36% Yes, serious
35% Yes, moderate
13% Yes, mild
Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of economic conditions today?
15% The economy is starting to recover from the problems it faced in the past year or so
46% An economic recovery has not started but conditions have stabilized and are not getting any worse
39% The economy is still in a downturn and conditions are continuing to worsen
As you may know, the U.S. went through a depression in the 1930s in which roughly one out of four workers were unemployed, banks failed across the country, and millions of ordinary Americans were temporarily homeless or unable to feed their families. Do you think it is very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not likely at all that another depression like that will occur in the U.S. within the next 12 months?
39% Not very
19% Not at all
David C. Wilson is an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware, who previously served as a Senior Statistical Consultant for The Gallup Organization in Washington, D.C.
In this edition of "Toplines and Headlines," (previous notes can be found at the CPC blog) I examine headlines and data from a recent poll about the economy. The poll was sponsored by CNN, and conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC). The headline from the story on CNN's website read, "CNN Poll: Optimism on economy fading." The headline implies that positive beliefs about the economy are actually on the decline, and that readers should be concerned. Yet, after reading the Topline results provided by CNN, a sophisticated reader of polls might (and probably should) come to the exact opposite conclusion as CNN.
CNN's polling director, Keating Holland, supports the headline citing data that suggest "Americans don't see economic conditions getting better any time soon," and notes that 34% of respondents say that things are "going well in the country today," a 14% increase from a year ago, BUT a 3% point decrease since November. Holland also cites a 6% increase, from 33% to 39%, in the percentage of people who say the country is still in a downturn. These Toplines form the initial thrust of the support for the "negative" headline.
Yet, this narrative should be questioned just on a couple of simple survey methodological factors. The margin of error (MOE) for the poll is plus or minus 3%, which means the aforementioned percentage decline in things "going well in the country today" is within the margin of error; thus, since last year, while more people see things going well, statistically, those numbers have not changed since last month. This counters CNN's headline.
More questions about the negative headline are raised when one examines the entire trend (p. 7 of the Topline release) since November of 2008; at that time, the percent saying things in the country are going well was 16%. In every poll since that date, except last month, the trend increased. Thus, it's very possible, and quite likely, that the results from November were a random (larger than expected) bump in the trend. In reality, the percentage thinking things are going well is actually continuing to increase rather than decline; another counter to the headline.
Turning to another question ostensibly supporting the headline, the trend showing an increasing percentage of those who say "the country is still in a downturn" is important, but the results from that particular question do not necessarily describe the fading optimism cited in the headline (see p. 7 of the Topline release). In fact, since June, 60% or more of Americans believe the economy is either "recovering" or "stabilized and is not getting any worse." This trend may have gone DOWN 6% since October, but has gone virtually unchanged since June.
In the CNN story, Holland also notes that 43% say the "chances of the recession turning into another Great Depression" are either somewhat or very likely (see p. 7 of the release). Yet, strong majorities in 2009--58% in the Dec. poll, 58% in a July-Aug poll, and 54% in a March poll--believe this is less likely to happen. Moreover, it's true the trend is up 5% from a year ago, but if one examines the entire trend, the Dec. 2008 poll cited by Holland appears to be another blip in the trend (see the Topline data for yourself).
On another question, 84% say the economy is still in a recession, but since May of this year that trend has decreased by 6%, while those believing the country is "not" in a recession has increased 6%, from 10% to 16%, over the same period. Thus, while there's broad agreement the American economy is in a recession, that agreement is actually decreasing, rather than increasing.
Lastly, Holland connects his interpretation of the pessimism about the economy to President Obama. He says, "it's clear why Obama is again addressing the economy," noting that "most Americans (40%) continue to say that the economy is the most important issue for them. Yet, one need only examine the trend in this question (p. 2 of the Topline release) to become skeptical of the narrative.
Since March of this year, the percentage saying the economy is the "most important issue facing the country today" has DECREASED by a whopping 23%, while the percentage saying "the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan" has INCREASED by 10%. Even Health care has a significant increase since March (the 3% decline since Aug. is within the margin of error). Thus, while the economy is the most important problem, it's been losing steam since March of this year.
When reading the headline and the story in concert with the data, it becomes clear that there is a narrative that CNN, Holland, or both CNN and Holland are trying to promote. At some points the story ignores the overall trend, and at others it mentions only the snapshot point estimates, dismissing the trend completely. In other words, the "trends" (i.e., "fading") that the story and headline emphasize are selective, not comprehensive, and thus in many ways the story is an overly biased take on things.
The point to remember here is that the reader of polls, and "headline," that emphasize trends must be considerate of the starting date of the trend, as well as the other responses not mentioned in a story/narrative. Bottom line, while the CNN headline reads that hopes are fading, a sophisticated poll watcher might easily disagree.
As many others have noted, the President's job approval scores are stronger among the young (18-29) than they are among older voters.
For a quick visual synopsis of this, Gallup has a nice breakdown here.
Looking just at the Nov. 30-Dec. 6 time series, you can see that the President has a 13 point gap between approval from younger voters (59% among 18-29 year olds) and older voters (46% among 65+). This gap appears to have been even more pronounced in prior weeks.
Although the gap itself is interesting, the real issue is how this gap impacts the 2010 midterm elections.
Because midterm electorates tend to be older than Presidential year electorates. How much older? If exit polls from 2006 and 2008 are a guide, then the 2010 electorate will shift by about 10% toward the 45+ age group.
Here it is worth taking a look at the exit polls from 2006 and 2008.
As you can see, in 2008 (Presidential year) 53% of the electorate was 45 or older. But, in 2006 (Midterm) 63% was 45 and older. Call it the Midterm Maturity Shift.
The problem for Democratic congressional candidates is obvious. Given lower Presidential approval scores among older voters, this midterm maturity shift could shave a few points off their base voter support.
With this in mind, I would expect Democratic campaign managers to do several things.
First, they will pump up the GOTV efforts among voters under 30. This is an obvious strategy, but it has been notoriously difficult to turn out younger voters in non-Presidential elections. The old joke has been "What do you call a campaign that needs to turn out the youth voter? Answer: A loser."
The other strategy for Democrats is to work on the senior vote. Traditionally this has been done via mountains of early direct mail. Many an incumbent has been saved by senior mail. But the task may be more difficult this year given President Obama's sagging approval numbers among older voters. I suspect that the most effective strategy for Democrats among older voters will be to disqualify their Republican opponent on seniors issues by digging up past statements about social security, etc. The oppo research guys will be going full tilt.
For an entertaining and thought provoking read on this subject and the dataset I posted previously on metaphors that Americans use for their life, I recommend reading Oliver Burkeman's column in The Guardian here.
Public Policy Polling (D)
12/3-6/09; 570 likely voters, 4.1% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 46 / 49
Sen. Graham: 43 / 35
Sen. DeMint: 44 / 29
Do you support or oppose the health care bill passed in the House of Representatives a few weeks ago?
35% Support, 53% Oppose
Generally speaking, next year would you vote to reelect Republican Jim DeMint or vote for his Democratic opponent?
47% DeMint, 38% Democratic opponent
Do you think that _____ is too liberal, too conservative, or about right?
Lindsay Graham: 29% Too liberal, 23% Too conservatibe, 49% About right
Jim DeMint: 12% Too liberal, 32% Too conservative, 56% About right
Do you think that Jim DeMint is more focused on advocating for South Carolina in the US Senate or being a national leader in the conservative movement?
29% Advocating for South Carolina
41% National leader in the conservative movement
Do you think the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now, or should the U.S. not be involved in Afghanistan now??
57% Right thing, 35% Wrong thing
Do you think eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal for American troops to fight and possibly die for or not?
64% Yes, 30% No
Do you think the United States will be successful in eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan or not?
38% Yes, 52% No
Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan?
58% Yes, 37% No
Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama's decision to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011?
60% Approve, 32% Disapprove
Do you think President Obama will or will not begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011?
40% Will, 45% Will not
How much longer would you be willing to have large numbers of U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan - less than a year, one to two years, two to five years, five to ten years, or as long as it takes?
27% Less than 1 year
22% 1 to 2 years
14% 2 to 5 years
1% 5 to 10 years
Do you think the United States is heading for the same kind of involvement in Afghanistan as it had in the Vietnam War, or do you think the United States will avoid that kind of involvement this time?
32% Same as Vietnam, 57% Will avoid that
Do you think that President Obama deserved to win the Nobel Peace prize or not?
26% Yes, 66% No
Does the Nobel committee's awarding of the peace prize to President Obama make you think more of the peace prize, less of the peace prize or not affect your view of it?
6% Think more of, 36% Think less of, 55% No difference
Earlier today, PPP's Tom Jensen teased an odd result from a just completed South Carolina survey that will be released tomorrow. The survey asked the following question about South Carolina's very conservative Republican Senator:
Do you think that Jim DeMint is too liberal, too conservative, or about right? If too liberal, press 1. If too conservative, press 2. If about right, press 3.
Jensen says he was surprised at some partial results showing that 10% of voters saying DeMint is "too liberal." At first he assumed that most were Republicans whose ideology is even further right than DeMint's. But then he looked at the crosstabs:
Breaking down the final numbers this morning though, 51% of respondents who said he was too liberal were Democrats and only 34% were Republicans. I'm guessing those folks were either saying he was too liberal for their own amusement or answering the poll strategically, hoping to put some data point out there that might make DeMint go out even further on a limb and perhaps make himself too extreme even for South Carolina's very conservative electorate.
Jensen concludes that this result is "a good reminder that people can game polls if they want to." I'll wait to see the full results, but I'm dubious.
Pollsters, as David Hill wrote a few weeks ago, are often confronted by the "seemingly disorganized and apparently contradictory views" expressed by survey respondents. Hill cautions, however, that the apparent illogic often results from our own shortcomings as analysts. "Ask enough questions or poke around in [respondents'] heads long enough," he writes, and "there's sense in their ostensible nonsense."
With that advice in mind, let's ask ourselves a few questions about PPP's odd result:
How many South Carolina voters either don't know DeMint at all or recognize his name but know little else about him? Without an option would uncertain respondents offer when pressed about his ideology?
How many were not listening carefully and heard the question differently than intended?
How many were simply confused and unsure of how to answer?
Tom Jensen confirms via email that the DeMint ideology question offered no "unsure" option. All respondents were forced to choose from the responses listed above, even those who might not recognize DeMint or know him well enough to rate him.
The issue of respondent confusion highlights one of the potential shortcomings of automated surveys: With a live interviewer, the respondent always has the option to ask to hear the question again. If a respondent offers only silence or expresses confusion, a good interviewer knows to repeat some or all of the question in order to help prod the respondent to answer. Also, if the respondent is adament that they "don't know," most pollsters allow interviewers to accept that as an answer. In the absence of a pre-programmed "repeat-the-question" option, a PPP respondent unsure of how to answer the DeMint ideology question had only two choices: Enter a number between 1 and 3 -- perhaps even a random number -- or hang up.
Of course, even surveys conducted by live interviewers produce strange results, especially when they push respondents to answer difficult questions. The theory of "satisficing," described in the abstract of 1991 journal article, by Stanford Professor Jon Krosnick, helps to explain the odd responses that sometimes result:
[W]hen optimally answering a survey question would require substantial cognitive effort, some repondents simply provide a satisfactory answer instead. This behaviour, called satisficing, can take the form of either (1) incomplete or biased information retrieval and/or information integration, or (2) no information retrieval or integration at all. Satisficing may lead respondents to employ a variety of response strategies, including choosing the first response alternative that seems to constitute a reasonable answer, agreeing with an assertion made by a question, endorsing the status quo instead of endorsing social change, failing to differentiate among a set of diverse objects in ratings, saying don't know instead of reporting an opinion, and randomly choosing among the response alternatives offered.
Gaming the poll? Nah. More likely just confusion about the question.
Update (12/8): PPP has released the full results of their South Carolina survey. Although more than a quarter (27%) of the sampled voters are "not sure" about whether they approve or disapprove of Senator Jim DeMint's performance, all (100%) express an opinion about whether DeMint is too liberal (12%), too conservative (32%) or about right (56%). The first and most logical thing to check about those who think DeMint is too liberal: How many are Democrats or independents who cannot rate DeMint's job performance?
Las Vegas Review Journal / Mason Dixon
11/30-12/2/09; 625 likely voters, 4% margin of error
300 likely Republican primary voters, 6% margin of error
300 voters in the 3rd Congressional district, 6% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(LVRJ: Governor, Health Care, Congress)
Suppose the Tea Party Movement organized itself as a political party. When thinking about the next election for Congress, would you vote for the Republican candidate from your district, the Democratic candidate from your district, or the Tea Party candidate from your district?
36% Democrat, 23% Tea Party, 18% Republican
Do you have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party movement?
41% Favorable, 22% Unfavorable
Some people say that Republicans and Democrats are so much alike that an entirely new party is needed to represent the American people. Do you agree?
41% Yes, 45% No
39% Gresham Barrett (R), 33% Jim Rex (D)
36% Jim Rex (D), 35% Andre Bauer (R)
39% Henry McMaster (R), 32% Jim Rex (D)
45% Gresham Barrett (R), 23% Vincent Sheheen (D)
39% Andre Bauer (R), 29% Vincent Sheheen (D)
43% Henry McMaster (R), 26% Vincent Sheheen (D)
Generally speaking, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the health care reform plan proposed by President Obama and the congressional Democrats?
41% Strongly/Somewhat Favor, 51% Strongly/Somewhat Oppose (chart)
If the health care reform plan passes, will the quality of health care get better, worse, or stay about the same?
23% Better, 54% Worse, 16% Same
If the health care reform plan passes, will the cost of health care go up, go down, or stay about the same?
57% Up, 21% Down, 17% Same
I've been struck for some time by the similarity of circumstance between Presidents Reagan and Obama. Both replaced deeply unpopular predecessors. Both enjoyed significant gains for their party in both houses of Congress. Both faced "worst since the depression" economic circumstances. And each in his own very different ways attempted to reshape government in the early months in office.
With a bit more than 10 months of approval data on Obama, we can now make a more meaningful comparison than was possible at the first 100 days look.
The similarity of approval trajectories is striking for Reagan and Obama. Reagan started lower, but since the 3rd month of office the two have moved along quite similar paths.
Of the ten post-war presidents in the chart, Reagan and Obama currently stand as the two lowest at this point in their first term. (Clinton fell lower early, but was recovering at this point before another decline and rise.) Reagan finished as the second lowest just before his midterm in 1982, ahead of only Truman. It happens that the economy under Reagan also bottomed out in November 1982, the worst possible time for the president and his party.
(I exclude Johnson because of his entry into office after Kennedy's midterm and Ford because he took office just 3 months before the 1974 mid-term. I keep Truman because he assumed the presidency very early in Roosevelt's fourth term, effectively serving the full term.)
Whether Obama continues to look like Reagan seems to me more likely to be driven by the same force-- the economy. While health care reform and Afghanistan will surely play a role in the public's view of Obama, I think the economy remains the most crucial driver of opinion. In this the administration can hope that the upturn in GDP in the third quarter, and the small down-tick in unemployment in November, are signals that the early quarters of 2010 will see further improvements. If so, the Democrats may avoid the terrible conjunction of midterm and economic bottom that cost Republicans 26 seats in the 1982 House elections. And President Obama may not compete with Reagan to see which will be the second most unpopular president at midterm time. But there are no guarantees of this and the parallels remain quite striking.