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Bump Watch

Topics: Gallup , Generic House Vote , Health Care Reform , Obama , Washington Post

A watched pot never boils, so the saying goes. But in Washington, it can seem like every watched pot boils. Casual remarks and minor poll movements are overanalyzed and overinterpreted. It can be easy to forget that voters are typically not as sensitive as DC pundits might have us believe. But the data typically show broader political attitudes unlikely to swerve with every debate.

And so it's been in the wake of Health Care Reform's passage (HCR). Many have jumped into the debate. Does it help or hurt Democrats? Has it given Democrats back their "mojo"? Has it done nothing whatsoever?

But if we look at pollster.com's tracking of key political measures, we don't see a whole lot of movement beyond those specific to health care (and even then, the movement is gradual).

Let's start with Obama's approval from March 1st till now (HCR passed on March 21st). This chart, to me, could not say "no movement" more clearly. (We see a bit more movement on Obama's ratings on health care, as his approval ratings have increased just slightly.)

Much has been made about Republicans overtaking Democrats in the generic Congressional ballot in this recent Gallup survey. But even in Gallup's own writeup, the change is within the margin of error. It's too soon to tell whether this represents a new pattern, or simply usual variance. The current pollster.com average shows Republicans leading by less than two points, as illustrated in this chart.

This is not to say that voters' views can't be volatile. The average of favor/oppose HCR does in fact move quite a bit, although not very dramatically in the weeks before and after passage. And, of course, views toward Obama and Democrats have softened considerably since the 2008 election. But these movements are generally slower, rather than the quick, dramatic lurches suggested by poll-watchers.

Finally, it's worth putting recent numbers in the context of long-time tracking. While attitudes indeed fluctuate, some things hold true over the long haul. The Washington Post tracks favorable and unfavorable impressions of the two parties (using not only their own polling but some older data from Gallup and CBS News/NYT). The chart below illustrates net favorable (favorable minus unfavorable) for each party. Two things jump out. First, the Democratic Party is always net favorable, while Republicans are sometimes not. Second, the gap in favorability is much larger now, in Democrats' favor, than in 1994. The oft-floated premise that HCR has damaged the Democratic party is just not borne out by the data.

demgopnetfav.PNG

 

Comments
Ptolemy:

To say that the Republicans are ahead by only two points on the generic ballot, really misses the point. Consider this release from October 31, 2002* "...despite the Republicans' strength on the paramount issue of terrorism, Gallup's latest generic ballot for Congress shows the Republicans trailing the Democrats among likely voters by 3 percentage points..." Five days later the Republicans gained two seats in the Senate and 8 seats in the House.

The net favorability data points don't appear to be correlated to winning or losing elections, and the "gap" even less so. For what it's worth, the Democrats are now at their all-time low net, and the Republicans are not.

* http://www.gallup.com/poll/7114/National-Issues-May-Play-BiggerThanUsual-Role-Congressional-Elections.aspx

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GARY WAGNER:

It must have taken a lot of work trying method after method to create that last chart to somehow make things look better for democrats than republicans. It is sad to see democrat apologists have to work so hard to put some kind of a positive spin lately.

If you take the useless yougov polls out of the generic ballot, you see a much different picture - even for the tiny period you chose. You also have to take out the Washington Post because they don't even pretend that their polls are fair. With those biased polls out, you see that the democrats rose a tiny bit until the bill passed and has gone down slightly since then whereas the republican have been going up in a straight line since March 1. The republicans now lead by 4% on the generic ballot which everyone agrees means they are actually ahead by 9 points or more.

When it comes to the Obama approval graph, again you include some outrageous results. Come on - a 55% approval from harris? A 53% approval from ApGfk? a 53% From Washington post? Those are nonsense. Without those it shows his approval dropping since the bill passed and his disapproval rising from the 47% range to 49%.

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Margie Omero:

Ptolemy, I agree with you, and should've mentioned here, that ultimately the generic ballot is a measure of the climate, rather than a simulation of the actual Congressional vote. Each district is unique. And of course the actual question wording doesn't include the names of specific candidates.

Gary, I only tried one method to create that chart: net fav minus net unfav. I'm not sure I agree that "the Washington Post doesn't even pretend their polls are fair." And the pollster.com trend charts include polls from a variety of public pollsters--the effect of any single outlier is smoothed out by including so many different points. But they're customizable, so you're welcome to tweak the charts with a different set of data points. For the purpose of this post, I included all available points, rather than make my own assumptions about which ones were true or not.

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