President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate today.
The discussion of Obama's birthplace is not new; it has occupied the attention of Obama critics since the 2008 election to one degree or the other. More recently, however, the discussion has ramped up as a result of businessman and TV personality, and possible presidential candidate, Donald Trump's high-profile focus on the issue.
But Obama and his advisers most probably made today's decision to release the birth document not so much because Trump was focusing on it -- but because it appeared that the allegations were evidently taking hold in the mindset of a not-insignificant swath of Americans.
The developing wisdom in American politics today is that allegations or attacks that are not directly and forcefully addressed can take on a life of their own -- no matter how spurious. And in this instance, public opinion polls -- including our recent USA Today/Gallup poll -- show that a sizable segment of the U.S. population believe that Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S. Hence, the decision by the Obama team to address the issue, rather than ignore it or deem it too irresponsible to dignify with a response.
To get to the data, our April 20-23 USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 9% of all Americans say that Obama was “definitely” not born in the U.S. Another 15% say that Obama was “probably” not born in the U.S. That’s about a quarter of the U.S. adult population, 24% who have doubts about Obama's being "natural born," the constitutional requirement for a president.
That contrasts with 38% of Americans who say Obama was “definitely” born in the U.S. and another 18% who say he was “probably” born in the U.S. Another 20% said that they didn’t know enough to say or refused to answer.
Who were those 24% who suspect Obama was not born in the U.S.?
Beliefs about Obama's birthplace are certainly related to education. Although 13% of those with post-graduate educations say that Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S., that’s half the 28% of those with some college and 26% of those with only a high school education or less who believe Obama was not native born.
Beliefs about Obama’s birth are strongly related to partisanship: 43% of Republicans say that Obama was not born in the U.S., including 15% who are definite in their beliefs and another 28% who say “probably.”
Of some concern to the White House and Obama’s 2012 re-election strategists is the fact that 20% of independents believe Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S. Nine percent of Democrats agree.
Naturally enough, this partisanship connection means there is a connection between beliefs in Obama's place of birth and intent to vote for Obama. Seventy-five percent of registered voters who say Obama was born in U.S. would consider voting for him. Fifteen percent of those who say he was not born in the U.S. would consider voting for Obama, while 85% say they definitely would not.
Partisanship is related to ideology. Thus, 36% of conservatives say Obama was definitely or probably not born in the U.S, compared with 17% of moderates and 13% of liberals.
A striking 47% of Americans who view themselves as “very” conservative -- about 13% of the adult population in the survey -- say that Obama was not born in the U.S. A slightly smaller 43% of conservative Republicans agree.
It is not surprising to find a strong correlation between opinion of Trump and views of Obama’s place of birth: 35% of those with a favorable opinion of Trump say Obama was not born in this country (probably or definitely) compared to 14% of those with an unfavorable opinion of Trump.
Tea Party support is also, though not surprisingly, related to Obama birth beliefs. Almost half, 46%, of Tea Party supporters say that Obama was definitely (17%) or probably (29%) not born in the U.S., compared with 5% of Tea Party opponents, and 19% of those who are neither supporters nor opponents of the Tea Party.
We thought some of the explanation for these beliefs could be a result of the fact that people are confused about, or have no knowledge of, where a lot of celebrities are born.
So we included this same “birther” question in the survey asking about Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. According to Sarah Palin’s PAC website (one has to be careful in attributing these claims these days) Palin was born in Sandpoint, Idaho. According to Biography.com Trump was born in Queens, New York.
Well, 7% of Americans we interviewed this past week say that Trump was not born in Queens, but was rather born outside the U.S. (4% probably, 3% definitely). Another 31% say they don’t know enough to say if Trump was born in the U.S. Only 3% say that Palin was not born in the U.S., although 25% say they don’t know enough to say.
Of interest is the fact that 10% of those who think that Obama was born in another country also think that Trump was also born in another country.
What does all of this tell us? Well, as I mentioned above, the data certainly highlight the political reality of the birther accusations. As wise social psychologists have said for a long time, if people perceive a situation to be real, the consequences are real. The Obama administration has apparently come to realize that a sizable segment of Americans are defining the birther situation as real and that this could have real consequences -- particularly with the 2012 election looming. Hence today's actions.
President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate today.
Some recent announcements in the race for the GOP presidential nomination provide a good opportunity for me to review where things stand -- based on our latest update of the views of Republicans nationwide.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour dropped out of the race officially, even though, of course, he was never in the race officially.
Our tracking of Barbour's name identification and image gave no indication that he was generating any unusual enthusiasm among Republicans nationwide. He was recognized by only 43% of Republicans, virtually the same as the 41% who recognized him back in early January. His Positive Intensity Score of 11 was the same as in late February, when we began tracking it regularly -- and well below average for the candidates we track.
Barbour got 2% of support in our latest trial heat measure in which Republicans were read a list of candidates and asked whom they would support.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson announced the formation of an exploratory committee for his possible bid for the Republican nomination. Johnson has the lowest name recognition of any candidate we are currently tracking, at 17%. However, that’s up from 12% in late February. Still, more than 8 in 10 Republicans nationwide don’t know who Johnson is. His Positive Intensity Score has routinely been at or near the bottom of the list, and is now 3 in our latest update covering April 11-24, 2012.
Congressman Ron Paul also announced on Tuesday the formation of an exploratory committee. Paul, who at age 75 has run for president before, has the virtue of fairly high name recognition, at 73%, putting him just below the group of those potential candidates who are most recognized -- Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee (and of course Donald Trump, whom we will include in our tracking reports beginning next week).
Paul’s Positive Intensity Score is now at 15, virtually unchanged over time, but in the same range as that of Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum, and just below that of Sarah Palin. All of these remain behind the top two in terms of Positive Intensity -- Huckabee and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
It should be noted that Bachmann’s name recognition has climbed further than anyone else's since late February -- up six percentage points from 52% to 58% today. As noted, Gary Johnson’s name recognition is up five points, for the second highest gain of any of the candidates we track.
Right now, our Gallup Economic Confidence Index is at -39. That’s the lowest it has been since July of last summer. Confidence in the economy has essentially followed an inverse U-shaped pattern in recent months. Americans became more confident earlier this year. But beginning about the middle of February, confidence began to drop. The major driver of the lower economic confidence score is views of the direction of the economy. At this point, 69% of Americans say that the economy is getting worse, rather than better.
Americans' views of the job market, interestingly, are actually moving in the opposite direction. Our Job Creation Index and unemployment measures are more positive in general in recent weeks, albeit with some short-term ups and downs.
There are two ways of looking at this: It could be that consumer confidence will shift more positively once the full effect of increased hiring percolates through to consumers' consciousness. Or it could be that the jobs situation will deteriorate further as the effect of consumers’ more negative views become felt.
One might ask what's causing the downturn in economic confidence -- if it's not the jobs situation. One obvious answer is the price of gas, which keeps going up. Still, our update on what Americans perceive as the most important problem for April doesn't show a high degree of top-of-mind concern about gas prices, particularly when compared with previous time periods in which gas prices rose.
The most accessible economic numbers to most Americans -- in addition to gas prices -- is the Dow. And that is up, not down. So that's certainly not a cause for the downtick in economic confidence.
Who do Americans trust to handle the economy? My colleague Dennis Jacobe has written an interesting analysis of responses to the just that question. Among the "big three" political players, Obama does best, but not by a huge margin -- Obama is trusted a "great deal" or a "fair amount" to handle the economy by 50% of Americans, the Republican leaders in Congress by 44%, and the Democratic leaders in Congress by 41%. Americans are most trusting of their state governors. And, despite the low ratings of the honesty and ethics of business executives and the low confidence in big business as an institution, Americans have more confidence in business leaders to do the right thing for the economy than any of the big three political entities.
Meanwhile, using a different measure, we find that President Obama’s job approval ratings are flirting with their all-time lows. Obama's job approval rating was at 41% last Friday, tying his low. As of this writing on Thursday, April 21, his approval rating is at 42%.
Approval of Congress is at 17%. That's basically where it was last November. The short-term uptick in Congress approval in January and February -- after the new 112th Congress took office -- has totally dissipated.
Satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. is at 18%. Not a highly auspicious number.
The entire political debate going on now, while perhaps a positive representation of democracy in action from a broad view, is probably not adding to Americans' short-term confidence in their government and leadership. We have the highly public debates on the evils of the federal budget deficit and the cries of doom if nothing is done to narrow it. We hear negative prognostications about the future of the country economically speaking. These discussions may not be adding to Americans' confidence.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said on CNN the other day that “I’m running for president.” Of course, in the strange world of today’s presidential politics, that doesn’t mean he’s officially running. His campaign said that it was not an official announcement -- even though Pawlenty has a presidential exploratory committee, has hired presidential campaign consultants, and even now has a pollster to help him run his non-official campaign.
Where does Pawlenty stand at this point? What type of chance does he have of winning the GOP presidential nomination?
One can certainly focus on his very low position in various trial heat polls among Republicans. He received a scant 3% of the vote of Republicans in Gallup’s latest such poll, conducted March 18-22.
But at this point, the results of this type of trial heat ballot mainly reflect Pawlenty’s lack of name recognition (more on this below).
We think a more informative way to analyze Pawlenty's position at this stage of the nascent presidential campaign is to gauge his recognition and positive intensity among Republicans as separate entities.
Pawlenty is recognized by well less than half of Republicans -- 41% to be exact in Gallup’s last two-week aggregate (March 28-April 3). When we first measured Pawlenty’s name identification among Republicans in early January, it was 39%. So, despite the establishment of his exploratory committee and the press coverage that resulted, Gov. Pawlenty is not much better known among Republicans nationwide now than he was three months ago.
Pawlenty’s Positive Intensity Score is now 15.
Keep in mind that the Positive Intensity Score measures the percent of Republicans who recognize a politician and who have a strongly favorable opinion of him or her, minus the percent with a strongly unfavorable opinion.
At the moment, Pawlenty's Positive Intensity Score is tied with those of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. He is a point or two behind Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. All of these possible contenders are behind Michele Bachmann, with a Positive Intensity Score of 20, and way behind the leader, Mike Huckabee, with a Positive Intensity Score of 27.
Here’s a graphic representation of what the field looks like:
So Pawlenty is not too badly situated at this point in time -- given his handicap of low name identification. It's hard to win a presidential nomination if less than half of your party's rank-and-file identifiers know who you are. If Pawlenty does succeed in becoming better known, and continues to keep the same level of positive intensity among Republicans, he would be competitive with some of his potential challengers who are now much better known.
Battle of the Budget I is now over. Battle of the Budget II is now brewing. The U.S. debt ceiling will need to be raised soon. Congress needs to vote to do that. Both sides are predicting a major battle ahead.
The issues more generally come down to bringing more money in the federal government's door or cutting back on the amount of money that goes out. For the federal government, the primary source of income is extracting taxes from the citizens of the country. If there is a robust economic recovery, tax revenues would increase without raising tax rates. Most do not assume that will happen. The specter of raising tax rates therefore looms large as one possible way of dealing with the budget.
In that regard, Americans tend to say OK, as long as it is not their own tax rates that are being increased. Since most Americans make less than $250,000 a year in income, many appear willing to sanction increased taxes on those making $250,000 a year or more. So that’s one way of increasing revenues.
From the other perspective, there comes the question: “For what is my tax money being used, and can less of it be used to do that?” And that comes back to government spending. And cuts therein. Americans have a generally negative view of the federal government. Some of the most prevalent top-of-mind associations with the words “federal government” are waste and corruption and inefficiency. So Americans believe that spending could be cut back on the basis of simply making government more efficient.
That’s been tried. It’s not likely that billions are going to be saved in the next year or two by making the government more efficient. So we are back to other places to cut spending.
This, in turn, comes back to what Americans think the role of government should be in society. I harken back to some polling we conducted last fall. We gave Americans a five-point scale, anchored at one end by the concept that “government should do only those things necessary to provide the most basic government functions” and at the other by the concept that “government should take active steps in every area it can to try and improve the lives of its citizens.”
Lo and behold, Americans spread themselves out pretty evenly across the five points in the scale: 34% put themselves near the “active steps” end of the scale, 33% near the “only things necessary” end, with the rest (33%) right in the middle.
So the idea that there is debate in Congress on the appropriate role of government reflects the views of the public. The debate, in other words, is a good thing. Those who say the federal government should have a major role in improving the lives of its citizens presumably approve of the idea of paying more in taxes to achieve just that goal. Those who say the federal government should have a limited role are more likely to say “less taxes, less services.”
The issues that frame this debate are thus pretty well established.
A major quesiton, however, is just how protracted this debate should be. Taken to its extreme, we could again reach the point where the government is shut down (or presumably until the debt ceiling is not raised and the U.S. defaults on its obligations) because agreement can’t be reached. The American public generally eschews this idea of "sticking to my principles even it has dire consequences." Americans want compromise over shutdown. That may be one reason why our friends at The Washington Post and Pew Research found that people used phrases like “ridiculous” when asked to describe what went on in D.C. right up in the time period leading up to last Friday’s deadline.
As you may know, if the Republicans in Congress and President Obama do not agree on federal spending goals by April 8, the federal government will have to shut down all of its nonessential services until a budget is passed. What would you like the people in government who represent your views on the budget to do in this situation? Should they – [ROTATED: hold out for the basic budget plan they want, even if that means the government shuts down, (or should they) agree to a compromise budget plan, even if that means they pass a budget you disagree with]?
- 33% Hold out, even if government shuts down
- 58% Agree to compromise budget plan, even if you disagree
So if there is a shutdown, we would have a Congress, which as a body was elected to represent the American public, taking action that is not representative of the American public.
But. As my colleague Lydia Saad wrote this week: “The difficulty for House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders is that rank-and-file Republicans' views on this question are starkly different from those of the public at large.”
A slight majority of 51% of Republicans say that those who share their views should hold out for the budget plan they want -- even if that means a shutdown of the Federal government. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats and 29% of independents agree.
Of course, each side in these types of negotiations believes they are making a reasonable offer and that the other side is being recalcitrant. That’s why we have a NFL football lockout going on right now. Both sides blame the other for not being willing to compromise.
Many who follow politics for a living cannot help but look at the political consequences of anything that happens. This follows the mantra that “everything is political.” Even as we speak, dozens of political consultants and operatives are calculating away at the impact of the current budget situation on their clients' chances of being elected/re-elected.
President Obama just this week announced officially that he is running for re-election. It cannot have escaped his and his advisers’ attention that his actions in this budget/shutdown situation could recalibrate in some fashion how he is viewed by the American people. In other words, it could affect his chances of being re-elected.
Similarly, there is a large pool of Republican presidential candidates out there, most still not officially running, who are seeing how this situation could affect them. Plus, Republican leaders are no doubt pondering the implications of whatever they do for the House and Senate primaries next year -- primaries in which smaller numbers of voters who have strong views on cutting government spending (i.e., Tea Partiers) can have a major impact.
Dire situations and emergencies create political opportunities. It has not escaped the attention of those involved here that President Clinton is widely considered to have benefited from the last big shutdown in the federal government that occurred in 1995-1996.
Our data show that Obama gets slightly more positive credit than the Republicans in terms of handling the federal budget standoff. But this is a fluid situation. The long-term political outcomes will probably take a while to develop and to show up.
We don’t see a lot of change in President Obama’s job approval rating over the last several days. It remains in the 45% to 50% range in which it has generally operated for months now. We know that Americans' opinions of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress remain low. We will have an update on Congress job approval this weekend.
But it’s possible that Americans are becoming more negative about any element of the government we put in front of them at this point. We will find out.
President Obama officially announced his bid for re-election on Monday. As suits the communication processes of the day, Obama announced his candidacy with an e-mail and a video. As suits his team’s awareness of how far away Nov. 6 is, Obama says in his e-mail announcement: “So even though I'm focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today.”
Obama’s announcement focuses on the one-to-one communication that will be going on over the next 18 months. But in reality, the focus for an incumbent is on his job approval rating. If Obama gets his approval rating above 50%, he has a high probability of being re-elected. If not, his probabilities sink.
Obama’s job approval rating is at 46% for the three-day period of Friday through Sunday (April 1-3), and his weekly average for the week March 28-April 3 was 48%.
This is not optimal for an incumbent seeking re-election. One can win with a sub-50% rating. George W. Bush did it in 2004. His final job approval rating before the Nov. 2, 2004, election was 48%. But Bush enjoyed a number of Gallup job approval ratings above the 50% level earlier in October and September that fall, including 54% Sept. 24-26. Regardless, for the most part, incumbents win when their job approval ratings are higher than 50%.
Bill Clinton finished his campaign in 1996 with a job approval rating of 54%. He had been as high as 60% earlier that fall. Clinton, of course, had little trouble winning re-election against former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole.
Ronald Reagan was at 58% Oct. 26-29, 1984, just before dominating Democrat Walter Mondale in that fall’s election.
Gallup didn’t measure Richard Nixon’s job approval rating very frequently in 1972 as he sought re-election, but in June of that year it was at 54%. Nixon went on to beat George McGovern handily.
Lyndon B. Johnson was at 74% when Gallup stopped measuring his job approval rating in the summer of 1964. He very soundly defeated Barry Goldwater in that fall’s election.
Dwight Eisenhower’s approval rating was 68% in 1956 the last time Gallup measured it before that election -- in which the former five-star general and West Point graduate defeated Adlai Stevenson for the second straight election.
George H.W. Bush was, of course, defeated in his bid for re-election in 1992. His final job approval rating before the November 1992 election was 34%. Jimmy Carter went down to Ronald Reagan in 1980. His final job approval rating was 37%. Carter himself beat Gerald Ford in 1976; Ford's final Gallup job approval rating was 45%.
Basically, as noted, an incumbent president wants to have a job approval rating at the 50% level or higher to feel comfortable in his bid for re-election. Obama does not have that at the moment. As I’ve discussed before, that is not necessarily cause for great alarm for the Obama campaign, given the huge amount of time between now and the end of party conventions in early September 2012. But at that point, the degree of alarm Obama's re-election team will experience will be directly and inversely proporational to his job approval rating. The further below 50% the approval rating, the greater the alarm.
Obama’s job approval rating next September will depend in large part on the state of the economy as perceived by the American public.
On that front, we just received what has been typified as modified good news on the jobs front -- the government's unemployment report on Friday.
Reporters asked me what the impact of Friday’s government report on employment will be. I would say that the impact depends on how the data (and the state of the economy in general) is filtered through the perceptions of the American public. One key measure I am monitoring in this regard is the public’s perception of the direction of the U.S. economy. As of last week, 60% of Americans said that the U.S. economy was getting worse, not better. That weekly average doesn’t yet take into account any impact of the unemployment report. Our three-day average for Friday through Sunday, which for the most part did come after the report, shows that 58% say the economy is getting worse. A slight improvement? Stay tuned.
Obama's chances of being re-elected will also depend on his opponent and how that opponent conducts his or her campaign. We do not have the ability, at this point, to ascertain with certainty exactly who the GOP nominee will be.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has enjoyed a number of different jobs in her public career. As a young attorney out of Yale Law School, she served on the Senate Judiciary Committee as it was looking into the Watergate affair. She then was the First Lady of Arkansas and the First Lady of the United States while her husband was governor and president. Then, she served as a Democratic senator from New York, a highly visible candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, and now as the Secretary of State, fourth in the line of succession to the presidency.
Through all of this, Clinton’s favorable ratings in the eyes of the American public have waxed and waned. Her highest, most positive favorable rating -- 67% -- came in December 1998, just as her husband was being impeached by the House of Representatives of the United States. Her lowest favorable rating (after she became well known) was 43% in January 1996, a time when her husband Bill Clinton was also suffering from low job approval ratings. Clinton’s ratings were also relatively low during the height of her campaign for the Democratic nomination in the winter and spring of 2008, dropping to 48% in late January and February of that year. By the time the summer of 2008 came around -- and Barack Obama’s nomination was assured, her ratings rose up above 50%.
Since being appointed secretary of state by Obama, Clinton’s ratings have been quite high -- with a 65% in early 2009, a 62% in late 2009, 61% in July 2010, and now a 66% rating in our latest Gallup poll conducted March 25-27. This marks the second highest rating she has received in her Gallup history, and the highest since early 1999.
Clearly her current job has been good for Hillary Clinton. She has assiduously refused to get involved in ordinary, common political discourse and arguing, and works diligently on lofty, positive, international goals. She now gets a 40% favorable rating from Republicans, quite high as these things go.
Of course, as my colleague Lydia Saad has pointed out, it’s not unusual for a secretary of state to do well in the eyes of the public. Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell all scored high favorable ratings while occupying that office.
We assume Clinton’s ratings would fall again if she were to make a fateful decision to run again for the presidency in 2016 -- politics is usually a bruising sport. But will Hillary Clinton ever run for office again? She has said “no.” But in politics that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot. Richard Nixon appeared to make it clear he was through with politics when he was defeated in his bid for governor in California in 1962 (after having been defeated in his bid for the presidency in 1960). But, as history tells us, he wasn’t through, and ran again and was elected president in 1968.
There is, it must be pointed out, an age factor when one ponders Hillary Clinton’s political future.
She was born on Oct. 26, 1947, and thus would be 68 years old during most of the 2016 campaign for the presidency. If elected, she would turn 70 during her first year in office. That age would not be unprecedented, of course. John McCain was born Aug. 29, 1936, (in the U.S. Canal Zone in Panama) and was thus 71 and 72 during most of his campaign for the presidency in 2008. Ronald Reagan was born on Feb. 6, 1911, and turned 70 shortly after he was inaugurated for his first term. Reagan was 73 during most of his campaign for re-election in 1984.
There is also the question of how attractive it would be for a Democrat to make a run for the presidency in 2016. If re-elected, Barack Obama would be finishing his second term and it would be an open seat. That would make it a propitious opportunity for candidates from both parties -- basically the same type of situation that pertained when Clinton made a run in 2008.
If a Republican is elected in 2012, a Democratic candidate would most likely be trying to unseat a Republican incumbent, something that has happened only twice since World War II -- Gerald Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter in 1976, and George H.W. Bush’s defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992. (Democrat Carter was, of course, himself defeated after one term by Ronald Reagan in 1980.)
At any rate, Hillary Clinton will continue to be an interesting public figure to watch. If she retires as Secretary of State at the end of 2012, will she be content to settle down in one of her two homes and observe from afar -- with no direct involvement in national political life for the first time in 20 years?
It’s also interested to contemplate what Joe Biden might do -- if Obama wins re-election and if he retains Biden. Vice Presidents have a long history of running to succeed the president under whom they served, including Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, George H.W. Bush, and Al Gore. Only one of these (Bush) was successful, although as noted, Nixon came back eight years later and finally was victorious. Biden has a history of wanting to be president. He first ran for that office in 1988. But. Biden was born in Pennsylvania on Nov. 20, 1942, and would thus be 73 or so if he decided to make still another run at the presidency in 2016. So such a scenario is probably unlikely.