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Monday, June 28, 2010

Supreme Court Gun Decision Handed Down in an Increasingly Pro Gun Rights Environment

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday decision on gun control came down on the side of a wider extension of protected gun rights.  I think it will certainly be greeted more favorably by the average American than it might have been 5, 10, or 15 years ago -- when gun control attitudes were quite different. We are at a point now when record-low numbers of Americans favor stricter gun laws.

No question that the Supreme Court's decision today is being widely interpreted as a victory for advocates of more lenient gun control laws. USA Today’s headline, for example, is “Supreme Court strikes another blow to local gun bans,” while The Washington Post says “Supreme Court rules that all Americans have fundamental right to bear arms.”

Gun control laws are one of several values issues on which the American public has been shifting more conservative in recent years (others include abortion and global warming). Here’s the latest trend graph on Gallup’s core gun control trend question:

As can be seen in this graph, the percentage of Americans favoring stricter gun laws has been drifting ever lower in recent years. As my colleague Jeff Jones noted last October, the current 44% of Americans saying that gun laws should be more strict ". . . is down 5 points in the last year and 34 points from the high of 78% recorded the first time the question was asked, in 1990."

Friday, June 25, 2010

No Evidence Yet That Oil Spill Hurt Obama's Job Approval Rating

Various commentators and polling observers are still discussing the question of whether or not the BP oil spill has affected President Obama's overall job approval ratings. (See here and here, and for two seemingly contradictory reports here and here, and further back an informed look here).

One need not look much further than our Gallup Daily tracking to go a long way towards answering the question. Day after day, seven days a week (with the occasional holiday) we track the president's job approval rating. This allows us to analyze the correlation between any specific news event and changes in the day-by-day trend line of presidential approval.

On Monday of this week I reviewed these data and concluded: "No Sign That Obama's Overall Job Approval Rating Has Been Significantly Affected."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Americans Weigh in on Proposed Legislation

The White House and Congress are working on several new pieces of legislation. What direction would the American public give their elected representatives on each?  Here is a quick review.
A Jobs Bill

We know that the economy and jobs remain the top problems facing the country. More so than the oil spill. That’s from our latest Gallup poll. And from a new
New York Times/CBS News poll.

So it may not be surprising that our June 11-13
USA Today/Gallup poll found majority (60%) support for “additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy.”

At the same time, a Pew Research Center
poll found less than 40% of Americans thought that “additional spending on roads, bridges, and other public works projects” would help improve the job situation "a lot." Americans reacted similarly pessimistically (my interpretation) to four other ways to help the jobs situation Pew tested. These included cutting taxes on businesses, budget cuts to reduce federal spending, providing money to state and local governments to avoid layoffs, and cutting personal income taxes.

Still, if new economic legislation is framed in terms of "jobs" and "stimulating the economy," it looks like it would have majority support.

Friday, June 18, 2010

When Will the Improving Jobs Picture Benefit Democrats?

Just in case you missed, it, we’ve been highlighting two important trends here at Gallup:

  1. Republicans in general continue to be in a positive position in terms of the coming fall midterm elections. They are doing well on our generic ballot, which ends up being very predictive of the midterm election outcomes. My colleague Jeff Jones will post a story on Monday morning showing that the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats so far this year is of historic proportions. In other words, all indicators continue to suggest a very strong Republican year at the ballot box this coming Nov. 2.
  2. At the same time, important Gallup economic trends continue to move in a positive direction. I would pay particular attention to our job creation index (JCI). As my colleague Dennis Jacobe has noted, the JCI is now at a 20-month high point. Similarly, our underemployment index is trending in a positive direction. (And consumer spending in general is trending up.)
Is it possible that these two trends are on a collision course of sorts?

There is the operative hypothesis that the Democrats will do better to the degree that the economy is doing better. As a Bloomberg Businessweek news story Friday put it: "The economy will be a top issue in the November elections that will determine which party controls the House and Senate." Huffington Post blogger Robert Creamer says: "That's why the single most important thing Democrats in Congress can do to improve the political climate this fall is anything that creates or saves more jobs." And so on and so forth.

The news hook for the Bloomberg Businessweek news story, of course, was President Obama's Friday trip to Ohio, during which he highlighted the "summer of recovery" he claims lies before the nation. As Obama reminded his audience: "Since I was here last year, we’ve begun to see progress all across the country."

Now, some may argue that it's too late. That the impact of the recession and poor economy is already imprinted on voters' minds and that nothing is going to change that between now and Election Day. On the other hand lies the real possibility that if by next fall Americans were to move to the point where they acknowledged that the economy was taking off (i.e., more and more jobs and a rising stock market), the Democrats would be able to mitigate their worst case scenario and downsize seat losses.

Keep in mind that we do not yet see a marked improvement in our Gallup economic confidence index. Attitudes about the economy are trailing the harder evidence that the economy is doing better. This may be why we see no major pickup in our generic ballot tracking yet for Democrats.

But the economy is clearly a major variable we will be watching all summer. There is no question that our measures show a definite, demonstrable uptick in hiring at this point. The degree to which this continues, and in turn is translated into a relative Democratic advantage, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

As Obama Speaks to the Nation, Advice From the People

President Obama goes on national television Tuesday night. It will be his first address from the Oval Office. The topic will be the BP oil spill and, more generally, energy.

The oil spill has dominated the president’s agenda this week. This is clearly a response in part to commentary that the president needs to ratchet up the perceptions that he is involved, that he cares, and that he is doing something about it.

The weekend USA Today/Gallup Poll showed that a slight majority of Americans give the president poor ratings for his handling of the spill. We previously found that Obama’s job approval rating on handling the spill was 40%. And there is the issue of the fusillade of criticism Obama has received on this issue from certain quarters, underscoring the political fact of life that any weakness, issue, or problem is fair game for one’s opponents.

Public opinion data point to some cautionary notes before the president goes too far in making it seem that the oil spill is the only item on the administration’s agenda.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reflections on Jon Krosnick's Global Warming Op-Ed

Stanford professor  Jon Krosnick (a good friend of mine) has published an op-ed in The New York Times dealing with polling and global warming. In part he’s reporting on the results of a new study his Political Psychology Research Group conducted on the environment and energy.

Of interest to me is Jon’s discussion of recent polls -- including those by Gallup -- that show a declining concern about global warming on the part of the American public.

The way the piece ended being published in the New York Times did not make it crystal clear just what Jon was attempting to say about the trend polls.  I think it may have been the observation that --  despite the polls that show a declining conviction and concern about global warming -- a majority of Americans still are convinced and concerned about global warming.

But at several points Jon appears to criticize conclusions based on the trend questions showing the decline. He also criticizes a couple of the questions themselves. The naive reader might be excused for coming away from the piece thinking that it would be wrong to interpret these polls as showing that “fewer and fewer Americans believe that climate change is real, human caused, and threatening to people.”

This would be a mistake. After reading through the op-ed piece, I end up with no change in my conclusion that there is strong empirical evidence showing that fewer and fewer Americans believe that climate change is real, human caused, and threatening to people.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What Do Americans Want to Be Done About the BP Oil Spill?

Looking hard for evidence of what Americans say should be done relating to the BP Gulf Coast oil spill/leak.

No question that this is a news event which people are following closely. Little question that, by this point, Americans consider it a bad thing. How bad depends on the question asked. In our USA Today/Gallup poll, given a range of four choices, a less-than-majority 37% said that the spill was “the worst disaster in the U.S. in at least 100 years." But another 35% choose the proffered alternative that the oil spill was a “disaster, but not the worst environmental disaster in the U.S. in the last 100 years.” That totals 72% (for readers mathematically inclined).

Meanwhile, a new ABC News/The Washington Post poll out on Monday finds that an almost identical 73% say that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a major environmental disaster (as opposed to the other two proffered alternatives: being a “serious environmental problem but not a disaster,” or “not too serious an environmental problem”).

(People have asked me if the oil spill is not the worst environmental disaster in 100 years, what is? Good question. We did not ask this of Americans. But other candidates could include the dropping of atom bombs on Japan in August 1945, perhaps the Chernobyl disaster, Love Canal, destruction of rain forests, etc.)

Americans are none too positive about the performance of all concerned in terms of dealing with the disaster up to this point. Until the oil spill is stopped and the oil cleaned up, I would think that this will continue to be the case.

At any rate, here at Gallup we found this weekend that 40% of Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling the oil spill. A CBS News poll found that 38% approve of the way the “Obama administration” is handling the spill. The new ABC news/The Washington Post poll finds 28% saying the federal government is doing an excellent or good job handing the spill. Twenty-one percent approved of the way BP is handling the spill in the CBS News poll. That’s pretty close to the 24% who gave BP an excellent or good rating in our USA Today/Gallup poll. The new ABC News/The Washington Post poll finds 16% approving of the performance of “the oil company BP” in handling the spill. All in all, no entity gets good marks for their handling of the oil spill. Which, as I say, is not surprising.

OK. Now, back to where I started. Just what is it that the American public says should be done about the oil spill?

The new polls shed a little light on the answer to this question.

1. Should there be increased efforts to clean up the oil spill?

Well, yes, 70% of Americans say that BP should be doing more -- according to the CBS News poll. The only surprise here is that this is not 100%. Sixty-three percent of Americans say the Obama administration should be doing more. These are not shocking results.

2. Should the U.S. file criminal charges against BP?

Yes. According to the ABC News/The Washington Post poll, 64% of Americans say “the federal government should pursue criminal charges against BP and other companies involved in the oil spill.”

I wonder about this. I am not a lawyer. Neither are most Americans. I don’t know how many of us non-lawyers can make the distinction between a criminal charge and a standard, run of the mill civil suit seeking damages. A reasonable hypothesis is that many Americans believe that BP should pay for a lot if not all of the clean up. These current data suggest that the average American wants more than just damages. Criminal charges, of course, can result in executive perp walks and time behind bars spent discussing high finance with the likes of Bernie Madoff.

3. Should BP be left in charge of the situation?

Yes, that’s what our poll in late May showed. I haven’t seen a lot of additional research asking Americans exactly what the federal government’s role should be. But at the time we asked the question, Americans, by well over a two-to-one margin, said that BP and not the federal government should “be in charge of efforts to contain the spill and to clean up the oil already spilled.”

4. Should retail BP gas stations be boycotted?

As of May 21-23, the answer was “no.” A CNN/Opinion Research poll found 70% of Americans said that that they were not less likely to buy gas at a BP station.

5. Should oil drilling in offshore areas be increased, despite the spill?

The CBS News poll question asks about increasing offshore drilling (as have other polls) but provides the respondent a pretty direct nudge to say no: "or do you think the costs or risks are too great." Not surprisingly given this question construction, it’s 40% yes, 51% costs/risks too great. There is a trend on this and the negative opinion has increased since early May or since August 2008.

Read here for my other observations on this last question.

If you, the reader, have any additional suggestions on what we should be asking the public about the BP oil spill, please let write in with a comment below.

Friday, June 4, 2010

More on Effect of the BP Oil Spill

I have been asked frequently in recent days about the American people’s reaction to the BP oil spill. This would include the economic, political, and psychological effects. I talked some about the political ramifications. There continues to be no doubt that White House officials are highly focused on calibrating just the right response to the spill, which, of course, included President Obama's Friday trip back to the Gulf Coast. Obama was also on the "Larry King Live" show Thursday, attempting to express his outrage ("I am furious") while remaining cool and in charge at the same time. I have not seen a poll question yet that asks if President Obama has expressed too much, not enough, or the right amount of anger over the spill, but that seems to be an issue some observers have raised.

The oil spill occurred on April 20.

Since that point, our Gallup Economic Confidence Index has slid. Not much in the first weeks after the spill, but a little more over the past two weeks. So far this week, the Index is averaging -28, which is even slightly lower than it has been.

We cannot establish causality. We don’t know how much the oil spill might be affecting Americans' economic confidence in comparison to, say, the overall drop in the stock market. But there may be a connection.

However, one should not despair totally. Despite Wall Street's apparent concern not only over the oil spill, but also over the economic jobs reports issued on Friday, we see some signs of relative hope in Gallup economic data. Early next week we are going to post an analysis of this Economic Confidence Index in conjunction with the comparable time trends in job creation and consumer spending. You’ll find it interesting. It will suggest that despite any impact of the oil spill -- or other factors -- on consumer confidence, other hard economic measures remain at least somewhat more robust.

President Obama’s job approval weekly average ratings since the oil spill:

So far this week Obama's approval is at 48%. That's up slightly, but we will see where his rating averages out when the week is over.

Again, it's difficult to tell what is driving Obama's job approval rating. The oil spill could be part of it. Certainly his political opponents have been hammering away at his response.

I find a new Quinnipiac University poll question related to the oil spill to be of interest."Does the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico make you less likely to support drilling for new oil supplies in currently protected areas off shore or not?"

This question is structured in a way that is a little unbalanced, in that it presents the “less likely” alternative and asks if the respondent agrees with it (although appending an “or not”). This can have the effect of increasing support for the expressed proposition; in this instance, being "less likely" to support new drilling. But even with this structure, the results show a slight plurality saying that the current oil spill does not make them less likely to support new drilling.

Our USA Today/Gallup question from last week found that 52% favored “increased offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S. coastal areas,” while 44% opposed it. The question did not mention the oil spill per se and came at a place in the questionnaire before we introduced the oil spill in the questioning sequence. But in general, it shows that there is not overwhelming opposition to the idea of drilling for oil in offshore areas -- to this point.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Politics and the BP Oil Spill

Back from a week traveling and immediately confronted by the continuing, dominating news of the BP oil spill.

Responses to this question almost certainly do not mean that Americans want the federal government to be totally hands off. More likely, respondents are expressing their preference that BP -- and not the U.S. government --  bear the brunt of the costs and effort involved. This leaves unclear the issue of how much the government -- and Obama -- should be involved in overseeing/mandating/directing BP’s billion-dollar efforts in this regard.

Certainly, White House officials are not too subtle in their attempts to show concern and response, with blog postings on such as this: “ The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill: May 30 and May 31, 2010."

Here's an even less-subtle reminder that the president is on the job: “At the direction of President Obama, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar continued his eighth trip to the Gulf region to continue his oversight of BP operations and to support federal scientists who are working to contain the oil flowing from BP’s leaking well."

At any rate, the verdict is still out on the political affect of the oil spill.

No entity should logically get too much credit from the public at this point for its response to the oil spill, given that the oil is still spilling. Obama, however, manages a modest win when our survey pitted him head-to-head with BP: Obama gets a 43% “very good/good” rating compared with 24% for BP. Obama's rating also beats the 35% generic “federal government” rating.

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