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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Last 16 Years of Newt Gingrich in Gallup Polls

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said last Sunday that he is seriously considering a run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. It's very hard to predict what will happen if Gingrich does decide to run. But let’s take a look at what we know at this point.

We have Gallup data on Gingrich’s performance when he was last contemplating a presidential run.  He generally received single digit percentages of the Republican vote in trial heats conducted in 2006 and 2007. His maximum vote from Republicans was 11% in September, 2007. Gingrich trailed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was the consistent front-runner throughout that year. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who eventually got the GOP nomination, was generally vying for second place honors with actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Both McCain and Thompson typically garnered more Republican votes than Gingrich.

The fact that Giuliani was the front-runner for all of 2007 (and that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the leader in one early January poll) gives us a good clue that these early trial heat ballots have less than perfect predictive value. Giuliani flamed out when the primaries actually began. McCain soared and eventually clinched the nomination.

Had Gingrich stayed in the race, he could, in theory, have performed well in the bellwether early 2008 primaries and moved up in GOP preferences. The 2007 data simply tell us that during his previous “serious consideration” of running for president, Gingrich did not immediately generate great fervor from his party’s rank and file.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Afghanistan Leak and Public Opinion

It's still too early to know how or if the leaked Afghanistan war documents will shift American public opinion. A lot of the focus is on the issue of the leak itself, rather than the substance of the documents. It’s doubtful that many will actually read the documents, which are massive. Most Americans will be aware that they were leaked on the Internet site and published in The New York Times and other outlets.

Keep in mind that Americans give the military the highest confidence rating of any institution we test. This has been the case for a number of years now. This, in some ways, inoculates the military from being adversely affected by whatever is in the documents.

On the other hand, the presidency has lower confidence ratings as an institution, and Congress is dead last in terms of confidence. So there is a higher probability that the release of the leaked documents may cause Americans to be more negatively focused on these government institutions -- involved as they have been in getting the country into Afghanistan and then monitoring the progress there since -- than on the military that is executing the war.

Plus, newspapers enjoy only a 25% confidence rating at this point, three percentage points off the all time low. Newspapers too may be a likely victim of public disapprobation as a result of the leaks.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Obama Drop and the Obama Paradox

Sunday’s New York Times included a section on its op-ed page devoted to suggestions from political experts on what President Obama could do to “rebound.”

Rebound from what, you ask? Well, the premise of the piece as set up by the Times op-ed editors was that Obama “ . . . has been able to do little to stop the drop in his public approval ratings . . . ” The drop? The only documentation provided is the statement that Obama’s ratings “ . . . according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, hover just above 40%.”

That reference to the ABC News/The Washington Post poll says nothing about a drop (i.e., change).  President Obama’s basic job approval rating in the latest such poll was 50%. That’s down a little from earlier this spring, when it was 53% and 54%, but going back further, Obama's job approval rating was (in the ABC News/The Washington Post poll) 51% in February and 50% last December. So there has not been a wholesale drop this year in Obama’s job approval rating in this particular poll.

The ABC News/The Washington Post poll (July 7-11) also included a list of “subapprovals” or Obama approval ratings on specific issues. Several of these are hovering above 40%. One is above 50% ("duties as commander in chief of the military"). I presume whoever wrote The New York Times op-ed page intro was referring to these.

At Gallup we track Obama’s job approval ratings every day. Whether or not one interprets Obama’s job approval ratings as having “dropped” significantly depends on one’s point of reference.

Here are Obama’s quarterly job approval ratings since he took office. Fortuitously, Obama has just finished his sixth quarter in office, and these have been discussed in detail in my colleague Jeff Jones’ recent analysis:

Clearly there was a significant drop in Obama’s ratings between his second quarter in office (April 20 through July 19) and his third quarter (July 20-Oct. 19).

Since that point the drops have been smaller. He dropped about two percentage points between his third and fourth quarters in office, another two points in his fifth quarter, and then in his most recent quarter dropped only one and a half points. (To be specific, Obama's fifth quarter in office was Jan. 20 through April 19 of this year, and his sixth quarter was from April 20 to July 19 -- just ended, as noted).

So while President Obama certainly did undergo a drop in ratings after his first six months in office, I wouldn’t say that he has undergone a precipitous drop this year in his job approval ratings. And this year appears to be the relevant time frame, since many commentators are looking at the so-called “Obama Paradox” by which the president manages to pass major legislation (healthcare, financial reform) while at the same time not realizing a concomitant increase in his job ratings to go along with these successes (more on this below).

Jeff found in his analysis that the drop in Obama’s job approval ratings between the fifth and sixth quarters was less than for any other president in Gallup’s historical annals. In other words, Obama is holding his own better than other presidents have been able to do with their ratings in their second years in office.

Now, back to the paradox issue. (See here and here for discussions).

Obama has not enjoyed a sustained increase in approval rating in conjunction with the passage of his two landmark legislative packages. So if the hypothesis is that he should have, we can reject that hypothesis.  In other words, Obama's triumphs, legislatively speaking, have not translated into triumphs defined as a sharp or even modest increase in his overall job approval ratings.

There are countervailing assumptions of course. Given that Americans remain quite negative about the U.S. economy, it might be expected that Obama’s approval rating would drop more than it has. Given the historical record, it might be expected that Obama’s rating would drop more than it has. And, keep in mind that Obama’s sixth quarter job approval rating is not out of range of other presidents in their sixth quarter. As seen above, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton were all lower in their sixth quarters. So the degree to which Obama's failure to see a rise in his approval ratings can be labeled a "paradox" certainly depends on one’s expectations. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

How Will Americans React to the Financial Overhaul Bill?

Linda Feldmann's post on The Christian Science Monitor website is headlined: “Financial reform bill another win for Obama, but will the public care?”

That’s a good question.

Financial reform is not highly top of mind when we ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the country. In fact, it is hardly top of mind at all. One percent of Americans spontaneously mention corporate corruption as the nation’s top problem in our latest MIP update. And that basically is that.

The economy and related issues are by far the top "most important problem" mentions. It is possible that the desire for financial reform is lurking underneath some of these economic mentions. As in, “The nation’s top problem is the economy, and one of the problems with the economy is the unbridled power and hubris of large financial institutions which need to be curbed by new federal legislation.” But we don't hear that type of response directly.

This doesn’t mean that Americans won't perk up when financial reform is asked about directly. A Pew Research poll back in May found that 54% of Americans said that Congress “ . . . passing legislation to more strictly regulate financial institutions and markets . . . ” was very important.
We certainly don't need new surveys to tell us what partisan politicians' reactions to the bill are going to be. Both sides of the aisle are already busily spinning the legislation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doing What Is Right

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked in his July 7 press briefing about the political implications of the recent Justice Department lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law.

Gibbs denied that the lawsuit had political implications:

“The filing of the lawsuit is based -- I would put it in the rubric of where I would put a number of the decisions, some of which I’ve talked about in here, things that are the right thing to do but may or may not be, according to your polling or others, the most popular thing to do. But the President wasn’t elected to do what’s popular. He was elected to do what was right.”

And a little later, Gibbs restated his talking point:

“The President -- and I think you could -- I think if you look at the polling that all of you all have done on this law in the short term, it’s pretty safe to see that the President did this because it was the right thing to do, not because it was the popular thing to do.”

When Gibbs notes that Obama was not doing the "popular" thing in reference to the Arizona law, he apparently was referring to overall national sentiment on the issue -- which is leaning in favor of the Arizona law and against the Justice Department lawsuit. What Gibbs did not mention is polling among certain segments of particular interest to Democratic candidates this fall -- including the core Democratic base and in particular Hispanic voters. Obama's positions would be more popular with these particular segments.  So skeptics might take some issue with Gibb’s implication that the political equation of the coming midterm elections had nothing to with the filing of the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, I’m most interested in Gibb’s broad evocation of the fairly standard political mantra that ignoring polls to do what is “right” is a commendable and good thing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Department of Justice's Arizona Lawsuit From the People's Perspective

We don’t yet have explicit data on the reaction of the public to the U.S. Department of Justice's decision to file a lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law. A reasonable hypothesis is that reaction will be more negative than positive -- if the reaction follows what we know about existing views of the Arizona law.

Most polling with which I am familiar shows a plurality of Americans favor the Arizona law. Way back in late April, when Gallup asked about “ . . . the new Arizona immigration law,” we found 39% in favor, 30% opposed and the rest saying they had no opinion.

Fast forward to the most recent poll of which I’m aware -- a late June Fox News/Opinion Dynamic poll showing that 52% favor and 27% oppose “ . . . Arizona’s new immigration law.”

Earlier in June, a ABC News/The Washington Post poll showed that 58% supported and 41% opposed the new law when it was described in the question thusly: "A new law in Arizona would give police the power to ask people they've stopped to verify their residency status. (Supporters say this will help crack down on illegal immigration.) (Opponents say it could violate civil rights and lead to racial profiling.) On balance, do you support or oppose this law?"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Daily Kos/Research 2000 Polling Controversy

Quite a bit of visibility is being given to the dispute between the website Daily Kos and the polling firm Research 2000. See here for the latest information on the dispute, including a copy of the lawsuit filed by Daily Kos. And here’s a review of some of the various blog postings on the situation over the last 24 hours.

Daily Kos hired Research 2000 to provide polling data over the last several years. Daily Kos now alleges that the research firm Research 2000 fabricated at least some survey results and did not actually conduct interviews. We certainly don't know all of the facts involved in this situation, other than allegations from one party involved and a brief statement of refutation from the other party (Research 2000). I’m sure more will come out in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

In a general sense, however, any public arguments about the veracity of polling data are of concern to polling professionals -- just as allegations of plagiarism are of concern to journalists, and allegations of data fabrication in published research are of concern to scientists.

Allegations or questions about the integrity of a number of different types of scientific data are unfortunately not new. (See David H. Freedman's book Wrong for an interesting review of many situations in which scientific data, much of it in the medical field, has been shown to be false or fabricated.)

The consumer nowadays has a tougher time isolating the quality of news and information. This is a result of the increased availability of news and information, exacerbated by the advent of more polarized writing and programming in which the motivation of the author/presenter is to push a point-of-view rather than to report neutrally or scientifically.

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