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Friday, September 12, 2014

Obama’s Approval Edge Among Women Holds Generally Constant

Karen Tumulty’s interesting story on The Washington Post’s website Thursday highlighted the fact that President Barack Obama is losing the confidence of key parts of the coalition that elected him. The story reports the changes in Obama’s job approval within subgroups in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, fleshed out by details from follow-up interviews with participants in those polls, and also results from a series of focus groups with women in Little Rock and Des Moines conducted by a GOP and a Democratic pollster.

The thrust of the quantitative part of the article was straightforward. Obama has lost support among women compared with previous points in time, and also among young people and Hispanics. The article highlights, “the degree to which the president’s approval has slipped among key parts of the Obama coalition -- the women, youth, and Latino voters most responsible for putting him into office.”

As far as women are concerned, the article notes that Obama’s approval/disapproval ratio among women is nearing an all-time low in the poll. 

The article provides a good opportunity to look at a key issue in the analysis of a president’s support (or other similar measures) -- the value of relative comparisons. If a president’s overall approval rating has been rising or dropping significantly among the entire population, then we would hold out the expectation that his approval rating would also rise or drop concomitantly among each subgroup of the population. The question becomes one of -- in addition to looking at the absolute rise or drop in approval among a subgroup -- analyzing the relative change in approval among a subgroup compared with the overall change in approval.

By way of example, given the free fall in automobile sales in 2008 as the recession hit, we would expect that Ford Motor Co.’s auto sales would fall dramatically as well. The fact that Ford’s sales fell in 2008 in isolation wouldn’t be as interesting as the degree to which Ford’s sales fell relative to the drop among the industry as a whole. President George W. Bush’s job approval rating soared among women in September and October of 2001. That could seem remarkable, except that his approval rating also soared among every other subgroup in the population as a result of the rally effect following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Along these lines, The Washington Post article does provide a basis for making these types of comparisons. The story notes that Obama’s approval rating among women has fallen from 60% in January 2013 to 44% in the most recent poll. Although not mentioned explicitly in the article, Obama’s overall approval rating between these two polls is readily available, and the trends show that his overall approval rating over that period fell from 55% to 42%. Thus, and this is the important finding, his approval rating fell by 16 percentage points among women from January 2013 to September 2014 in the Post/ABC News poll, and fell by 13 points overall during that same time period. This allows one to make a very cautious conclusion that the president may be suffering slightly more among women (a drop of 16 points) than he is overall ( a drop of 13 points), but given the margin of error on the 500 or so women in each of the two polls, this conclusion must be treated with some caution.   

Our Gallup Daily tracking data allows us to use very large sample sizes to look at these comparative trends in more depth. On a long-term basis, this comparison -- similar to the Post polls -- doesn’t show a lot of change over time in Obama’s relative standing among women. 

Here is a graph of our Gallup data, based on 30,000 interviews a month in 2009 through 2012, and 15,000 interviews a month in 2013 and 2014. The graph shows Obama’s job approval rating overall and among women. 

And this graph below distills the gender gap into one line -- the net difference in approval, on a monthly basis, between women and the overall average during the entire Obama administration. 

Both of these graphs reflect the same data, in slightly different ways. Obama has, so far in his term (through August), averaged an approval rating among women that is 2.9 points higher than his approval rating overall, calculated on a month-by-month basis. So far this year, this gender gap has been 2.6 points, only marginally down from his term average. Women gave him a two point higher approval rating in May, four points higher in June, three points higher in July, and two points higher in August. So far in September, after 11 days of interviewing, his approval rating is two points higher among women than his overall rating.

So, the conclusion is that if Obama is losing support among women on a relative basis, it is very marginal -- to the tune of a drop in the gap between women’s approval and approval overall of less than one percentage point. 

We will want to continue to monitor the difference in the weeks and months ahead. If the gender gap falls for example to one point, or no points going forward, then the conclusion will certainly be that the president is losing the relative edge among women that has been a key part of his coalition to date. But it will take time to monitor the degree to which that is happening. At the moment, it’s safer to say that women are still more supportive of Obama than the average American, even though women’s absolute support has eroded over time along with everyone else’s. 

We will be reporting the results of similar analyses among other population subgroups at in the days ahead. I can say there is some evidence that Obama has, from late last year to the present, been losing his edge among Hispanics both on an absolute basis and relative to the general population, in part reflecting a drop from the very wide levels of support he attracted among that group during and after the 2012 election.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Americans’ Views of Terrorism as a Problem Facing the Nation

Terrorism is one of those issues that Americans hold as a “bubbling under” issue and concern. When probed about terrorism specifically, Americans rate it as an important issue and one that they are concerned about. However, without prompting, relatively few Americans mention terrorism as the top problem facing the country, much less than at many other points in time since the 9/11 attacks.

Here is a chart from earlier this year that helps explicate these findings. This chart shows both Americans’ rating of the importance of and their current level of satisfaction with a series of issues. 

Terrorism is clearly important; it ranks well above average for all of the issues tested. At the same time, it is one of the two issues about which Americans are the least dissatisfied -- along with the military. In short, although terrorism was a critical issue, at the point at which these data were collected, it was something that Americans thought was under control.   

These data were from January, so it’s possible things could have changed since then. But our most recent update on Americans’ views of the most important problem facing the country comes from the quite recent Sept. 4-7 interviewing, and shows only a small uptick in the percentage spontaneously mentioning terrorism in their responses -- from about 1% or less in recent months, to 4% now. As explained in the story, this doesn’t mean that terrorism isn’t seen as an important problem, but does underscore that Americans -- even at this point, with the increasing attention paid to ISIS and other situations -- are highly unlikely to perceive it as the nation’s top problem. (We did see 3% who mentioned the situation in Iraq specifically, the same as in August, up from 1% in July. But still, quite low.)

The trend over time on mentions of terrorism as the nation’s top problem has been down since the very big jump up just after 9/11. There have been occasional spikes since, but in recent years the trend has settled down to the point where very few mention it year after year.

There are several other recent polls that asked about terrorism directly. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Sept. 3-7 showed a spike in the percentage of Americans saying that, as a country, we are less safe than we were before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That poll showed 47% saying “less safe,” the highest in their history of asking the question since 2002. 

A Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 91% of Americans say ISIS is a very or somewhat serious threat to the vital interests of the United States. Similarly, CNN’s report on a new poll it conducted says, “Seven in 10 Americans believe ISIS has the resources to launch an attack against the United States.”

These data underscore the basic finding that, when prompted, Americans do appear worried about ISIS and related threats. Clearly we don’t see the same spike in the percent mentioning terrorism as the most important question. Our best conclusion is that terrorism -- like adequate healthcare or a good education -- is an issue that Americans generally always consider to be important when they are asked about it. As of this past weekend, however, these concerns haven’t broken through to the point where they are crowding out worries about the economy, jobs, and dysfunctional government.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Role of Government in Race Relations Today

What should the role of government be in the arena of race and race relations in the U.S. today? This question has moved into the national conversation again after the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. Representing the U.S. government, Attorney General Eric Holder flew to Ferguson recently to look into what the federal government could or should be doing to ameliorate the types of situations that occurred in that city when a young black man was shot and killed by a white police officer. A recent Politico story, for example, focused on the possibility that the situation in Ferguson could result in changes in police procedures and other aspects of race relations that might help prevent such a situation in the future.  

Historically the federal government has been at the forefront of bringing about change in race relations in this country, extending back not just to the President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, but more recently to President Harry Truman’s integrating the armed forces, presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy sending in federal troops to control situations with high racial tension, and the historic Civil Rights Act passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson. But with many overt or legal race barriers now removed by law, and with a wide ranging federal apparatus for adjudicating cases of race discrimination, the issue remains as to what additional actions or steps the federal government or other levels of government could or should take relating to race. Some proposals that have developed out of the Ferguson situation so far have focused on the Defense Department’s program of providing excess military equipment to local police departments and the possibility of a federal effort to require police officers to wear vest cameras while on patrol.

A review of our data from last summer’s major Minority Rights and Relations poll helps shed light on Americans’ views on the general question of how much government should be doing in the realm of race relations. The poll included updates on many Gallup trends relating to race and involved samples of 1,010 blacks and 2,149 non-Hispanic whites.

The results show that blacks are significantly more likely than whites to argue that government intervention is needed in the realm of race relations and civil rights, but that there is by no means a consensus within blacks that more such actions are needed. 

This conclusion is based first on this key question: “How much of a role, if any, do you think the government should have in trying to improve the social and economic position of blacks and other minority groups in this country -- a major role, a minor role, or no role at all?” 

The responses showed that 22% of whites agreed that the government should have a major role, contrasted with 54% of blacks. This question allowed three responses, and while one in three whites say “no role” for the government, almost half say a “minor” role. Thus, one way of looking at this is to say that the significant majority of both whites and blacks agree that the government should have some role to play in improving the social and economic position of blacks and other minority groups in this country. The difference comes in the degree of involvement, with whites tilting to a “minor” role and blacks tilting to a “major” role. 

Note also that the view that government should play a major role in improving race relations has been decreasing over the four times that we’ve asked this question since 2004 -- among blacks a drop of 14 percentage points  and among whites 10 points. (Whites’ “major role” percentage did tick up over the last two years, however, while blacks’ continued to drop.) Our latest data point on this trend came from last summer, way before the Ferguson situation, but clearly as of that point the perception of a need for government to play major role in race relations had been dropping. This could, in part, reflect the fact that the country has its first black president in history and as a result an increase in perceptions that the country has become more racially tolerant.

Gallup has asked Americans four times since 1993 about the need for new civil rights laws. Overall, as of last summer's survey, 27% say that such new laws are needed, while more than seven in 10 say they are not. 

Again, blacks are more than three times as likely to say “yes” than whites. When Gallup first asked the question in 1993, after several years of focus on trials associated with the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King, the percent of both whites and blacks who said “yes” was higher. But since 2003, the trend has been generally stable, with a little more than half of blacks saying yes, compared with between 15% and 20% of whites.

So there is no question that the nation has a racial divide in terms of the perception of the appropriate role of government in race relations. Blacks are much more likely than whites to want the government to play a major role in improving the social and economic position of blacks and other minorities, and more likely to believe that new civil rights laws are needed. Still, there is no universal consensus on this even within the black segment of the population, with a significant minority of blacks saying that the government should play only a minor or no role in improving the positions of minorities, and saying that new civil rights laws are not needed.

Neither question specified exactly what the government would do if it had a more major role in race relations, nor what the new civil rights laws would be. But the responses to the questions do reflect different views of government’s role in this arena, and reflect the broad fundamental question of our times: What is the appropriate role of the government today in attempting to right wrongs; fix perceived problems; and change societal structures, systems, and culture in ways that are perceived to be in the interests of the greater good?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Missouri Residents Are 49th Out of 50 States When Asked to Rate Climate for Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Gallup’s major 50-state poll conducted in 2013 included a question asking residents of each state to rate the city or area where they live as “a good place to live for racial or ethnic minorities.” My colleague Lydia Saad analyzed the resulting data in some detail a few months ago, pointing out that residents of all states in the union were, in general, positive about the climate in their area for racial minorities, but highlighting the significant differences across states. Hawaii’s residents were the most positive, with 95% of residents of Hawaii rating their area as a good place for race and ethnic minorities, followed by 92% of residents of Texas and 91% of residents of Alaska. The 50-state average on this measure is 83%. (The list, along with the minority population of each state, is available below.)

At the bottom of the list was West Virginia, where 74% of residents rated their city or area as a good place for racial and ethnic minorities to live. That’s still positive on an absolute basis, of course, but on a relative basis a full 21 percentage points lower than the rating given by residents in Hawaii.

Importantly, residents of Missouri were 49th out of 50 states on this racial climate measure. Overall, 76% of Missouri residents said that their area was a good place for racial and ethnic minorities, while 22% said it was not. As noted, the only state lower on this measure was West Virginia.

Obviously, all of this is relative. Even at the bottom of the list, about three-quarters of residents of West Virginia and Missouri were positive about the climate for minorities in their area. Still, Missouri residents were next-to-last on the list.

The question is how germane this is to the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri, the town in which 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown was shot to death by a white policeman. There have been protests and riots and violence in Ferguson in the days and weeks following the shooting.

Ferguson has a population of about 21,000 people, a fraction of Missouri’s overall population of 6 million -- giving Ferguson about one-third of one percent of the state’s population. But Ferguson is part of the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is by far the biggest region of the state, comprising just under half of the state’s population. So when a relatively low percentage of residents across the entire state interviewed in our poll say that the area or city where they live is a good place to live for racial minorities, a lot of those residents are talking about the St. Louis area. 

As noted, we can’t break out data on Ferguson per se. So we don’t know how residents of that town would answer the questions about their area being a good place to live for racial minorities. But the fact that, across the state, residents of Missouri are so low on that measure (on a relative basis) gives us pause.  It raises the possibility that the strong and sometimes violent reaction to the shooting in Ferguson may, to some degree, be symptomatic of a race situation in the region that has more negative components to it that the situation across the country.  

Lydia Saad’s analysis showed that the relationship between the racial composition of a state and its residents’ ratings of the racial climate is by no means straightforward. The relationship does appear to be quite clear in Hawaii, which has only 23% white residents -- with Asians being by far the highest race segment. But having high percentages of black residents doesn’t in and of itself lead to either negative or positive views of the place being good for minorities. Delaware has 21% black residents, well above the national average, and is in the top 10 states in terms of their residents saying it is a good place for minorities to live. Maryland, Virginia, and Alabama also have black populations that are way above the national average (on a percentage basis), and are in the top 12 states in terms of residents saying their area is good place for minorities to live. On the other hand, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana also have above average black percentages (Mississippi has the highest percentage black population in the nation), yet their state ratings on having a good climate for racial and ethnic minorities are near the bottom. 

As a state, Missouri has 11% black residents, roughly at the national average. Ferguson, of course, is a distinct and tiny part of Missouri. It's population consists of about two-thirds black residents. But extrapolating from the 50-state data, Ferguson's having a large black population doesn’t in and of itself suggest a necessarily negative environment for minorities.

So, what we know is that Ferguson is part of a state whose residents are quite negative when asked if their cities and areas are good places for minorities to live. The extent to which this relatively negative climate is a factor in the reaction to the Ferguson situation is not quantifiable. Ferguson has a distinct and idiosyncratic history, with a rapid turnover from a predominantly white to predominantly black suburb in recent decades, and a police force whose racial composition does not mirror that of the city's population. Still, the fact that Ferguson is in a state whose residents perceive a relatively less positive climate for minorities is certainly of note.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Congress Correctly Addresses the Public's Priorities With Veterans' Bill

Congress this week did something which is fairly unusual these days -- it passed legislation that is directly in line with the public's assessment of priorities. The House and the Senate passed a bill that will direct more than $16 billion into the Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare system, and sent the bill over to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. 

This fits squarely with data from a June Gallup poll showing that 87% of Americans rated "improving the way healthcare services are provided to U.S. military veterans" as extremely or very important for the president and Congress to deal with, significantly higher than any of the other issues tested.

Now, new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation also shows that improvements in veterans' healthcare is the single most important issue they tested. These results come from Kaiser's monthly tracking poll for July, whose main focus is to keep tabs on Americans' attitudes toward health-related issues, including the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the July survey shows that unfavorable attitudes toward the ACA as measured by Kaiser are at the highest levels in their four-year history of tracking it (53%), while Americans' favorable attitudes (37%) have dropped, although not to their all-time low. The percentage of Americans who don’t have an opinion about the ACA, on the other hand, is at an all-time low.

But more importantly for my purposes here, Kaiser within the poll asked respondents to assess 11 different issues and to say whether “the president and Congress are paying too much attention, too little attention, or about the right amount of attention to each.” Here we find that Americans say “too little” to six issues, in this order: healthcare for veterans, the economy and jobs, the federal budget deficit, education, Social Security, and immigration. 

Thus, two separate assessments in recent months confirm the high priority Americans give to the way in which their government deals with veterans. Keep in mind that the military is the single institution with the highest confidence level of any national institution we test at Gallup, and this priority no doubt reflects the respect and admiration the people have in the men and women who don uniforms and go forth to help protect the nation from external threats.

One issue not tested by Kaiser on their list, nor on our June Gallup list, is dysfunctional government, something which comes up very high in other Gallup measures. In our July update on Americans' views of the most important problem facing the nation, for example, problems with the way government functions was essentially tied with immigration and economic issues at the top of the list. 

That's important because this reflects one of the most significant issues of our time -- the very low regard in which Americans hold their federal government and Congress. Our testing indicates that one of the primary reasons why Americans are so down on their elected representatives is that they bicker, pay attention only to narrow partisan concerns, argue, refuse to cooperate, and don't get anything done. The passage of the veterans' bill, on the other hand, represents a [rare] instance in which both sides agreed, and within a relatively short period of time came up with a bill that passed through both houses of Congress. (They also passed a transportation bill, not included on either Gallup's or Kaiser's lists in the measures I've reviewed here.) If Congress can do more of this, then there's a possibility that we may see their approval and confidence levels begin to rise out of the depths to which they have been consigned in recent years.

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