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Friday, August 19, 2011

Perry vs. Huntsman on Evolution

Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted on Thursday “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."  This was no doubt intended to contrast him to Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry, who said this past week that evolution was “a theory that's out there…with gaps.” Perry did not say that he didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but USA Today reports that he is on record as adhering to a theory of intelligent design, which is not evolution as most scientists understand it.

Where does the public come down on this?  There are a number of different ways of asking the public about evolution. Back in 2007 Gallup asked the public this question:

Next, we'd like to ask about your views on two different explanations for the origin and development of life on earth. Do you think -- [ITEMS ROTATED] -- is -- [ROTATED: definitely true, probably true, probably false, (or) definitely false]?

A. Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life

We found in response that 53% of Americans believe that evolution (as defined in this particular question wording) is definitely or probably true, while 44% said evolution was definitely or probably not true.

Of importance to us here is the breakout among Republicans. We found in 2007 that a whopping 68% of Republicans did not believe in evolution when using this question wording. By contrast 61% of independents and 57% of Democrats did say they believed in evolution.

Another Gallup question on evolution is the following:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- [ROTATE 1-3/3-1: 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so]?

Here we find, in our last asking December 10-12:
  • Man developed, with God Guiding: 38%
  • Man developed, but God had no part in the process: 16%
  • God created man in present form: 40%
The two questions have rough agreement in estimating those who believe in evolution. Fifty-three percent said they agreed in the 2007 wording, while 54% agree with the “man developed” wording in this latest update on the 2010 wording.

There is, however, a difference in Republican sentiment using the two wordings. In the 2010 wording we find that 52% of Republicans say that God created humans in present form within the last 10,000 years. That’s roughly the “non-evolution” position. So we can say that the percentage of Republicans who do not believe in evolution goes from 68% (using the 2007 wording) to 52% (using the 2010 wording).  Still, and this is the key issue, it's a majority of Republicans who disbelieve in evolution in both cases.
Now, back to GOP candidate Perry. He didn’t flat out say that he didn’t believe in evolution in his latest utterances, but certainly adumbrated that conclusion.  He said it was a theory with gaps. Which is actually not that controversial.  Any scientist would say that evolution is a theory, just as gravity, general relativity, the Big Bang, and so forth are theories. Science works by proposing theories, and then seeing if there is data which support or reject them. Most scientists would say today that the data generally support the broad theory of evolution, and that there is not a sufficient mass of data to cause them to reject the theory. So Perry is not being very controversial by saying that evolution is a theory per se. But the implication of his comments -- coupled with previous comments -- is that he doubts that the theory is or will be sustained by the data. So it’s probably fair to put him in the “skeptical” column when it comes to evolution.

In that sense, Perry is in sync with the majority of Republicans nationwide as we have seen. Jon Huntsman is less in sync with Republicans nationwide with his tweeted comment about belief in evolution.

When it comes to the general election and the general electorate, on the other hand, Huntsman is more in tune with the population.  This episode in fact exemplifies the situation in which Republican candidates find themselves today. By pleasing the Republican base, they move further away from the general population of voters who will be crucial in November 2012. If they fail to please the Republican base, however, they run the risk of not getting the nomination in the first place, rendering all else moot as far as they are concerned.

Nothing in our data, by the way, suggests that evolution is, at this point, a major issue for Republicans or for the general population.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Iowa Fallout

The Iowa straw poll has no binding significance whatsoever, but the results of Saturday’s affair had significant consequences nonetheless.

For one thing, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race because he didn’t gain the psychological benefit that would have come from a first or second place showing. He tried hard. He was all over Iowa (his neighbor state) but the Republicans in that state -- or at least the ones who voted in the Ames straw poll -- didn’t become wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy.

That Pawlenty was not able to generate enthusiasm from Republicans was evident from our data all year. His name recognition among Republicans moved up during the year, from 39% in January to 56% in the first week of August, but his fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann’s moved up more -- from 52% to 78%.  Pawlenty was also never able to gain the “strongly favorable” responses from Republicans that would signify he was making a dent in their collective consciousness. Over the first week of August, Pawlenty’s Positive Intensity Score was 7, which compares to 18 for Bachmann and 23 for Rick Perry.  Pawlenty had seen a Positive Intensity Score as high as 17 earlier in the year, but the more he campaigned, the lower his score sank. The exact same process was apparently at work in Iowa. Pawlenty presented himself to the voters. The voters were not wildly impressed.

This is despite the fact that on paper Pawlenty was a strong potential candidate. One pundit in fact -- Mark Halperin of TIME Magazine and MSNBC -- annointed Pawlenty as one of three former governors (along with Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) who were the front-runners to win the nomination. As I noted at the time, that prognostication was made without benefit of data. Even then, we were seeing no signs that Pawlenty was lighting the type of fire under GOP voters as was, for example, Michele Bachmann -- who this past weekend got the most votes in the Iowa straw poll.

And what about Huntsman? He didn’t campaign in Iowa (neither did Mitt Romney) and got relatively few votes. Huntsman was in the Thursday night’s GOP debate. As was the case for Pawlenty, we see no signs of enthusiasm among rank-and-file Republicans for Huntsman. His name recognition has remained remarkably low -- at 39% among Republicans nationwide in the first week of August. Whether he will be able to emerge as a viable candidate going forward is doubtful.

Rick Perry does generate enthusiasm -- with a net Positive Intensity Score among Republicans at the top of the list, along with Herman Cain and Bachmann. (New Positive Intensity Scores for this week will be out Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.). All three of these candidates have an “it” factor that reaches out and grabs voters -- at least at the moment. Bachmann’s Positive Intensity Score has wavered up and down over the year but remains strong. It will be interesting to see what happens to Perry’s now that he is officially in the race. Candidates like Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Huntsman have seen their Positive Intensity Scores wane as they intensified their campaigning. Bachmann has been the exception to this process.

Mitt Romney has a relatively lower Positive Intensity Score. He however leads our trial heat polling and must therefore be considered one of the front-runners for his party’s nomination.

Perry said in his announcement on Saturday in South Carolina -- after the usual promises to create jobs and get citizens working again: “And I’ll promise you this: I’ll work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.”

This makes the contrast with the position taken by President Obama and other Democrats about as direct as it can be. Obama believes, by all available evidence, that the government in Washington, D.C., should be consequential -- that it should be used to do good for the citizens of the country.

Indeed, our data from last fall show that Americans are split on the issue of what role the government should take. About as many say that government should do everything it can to improve the life of its citizens as say government should do only the bare minimum. Thus, Perry’s insistence on government doing as little as possible is going to run into some opposition if he wins his party’s nomination. A lot of Americans feel that the government -- inept though it may be in their view -- does have a role to play in improving the lot of the citizens of the country.

The appropriate role of government will be the central issue of the presidential race.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tracking Economic Confidence and Obama’s Job Rating Post-Agreement

Pay careful attention to our ongoing measure of economic confidence over the next several days. Confidence in the economy has been drifting more and more negative as the debt ceiling negotiations have progressed (or failed to progress) over the last two weeks, culminating in a weekly average of economic confidence for July 25-31 of -51.  That's pretty bad.  The downward slope of this economic confidence curve is pretty dramatic. Confidence was at -43 last week (July 18-24), and -34 just two weeks before that. Last January economic confidence was at -19. The current -51 confidence reading is the most negative since March 2009.

One of the purported benefits of the new budget agreement will be to restore not only Wall Street and investor confidence in the U.S. economy, but also to restore confidence among average Americans. Restored confidence is obviously much needed on the part of average Americans. Will we see a U-turn in the downward slope of the confidence curve now that the agreement has been reached? The answer to that question is a real key factor to monitor.

Meanwhile, we will also be tracking President Obama’s job approval rating, which he and his advisers are also no doubt hoping will improve. Last week’s 42% average was the lowest of his administration. In terms of the Gallup Daily tracking three-day average that Gallup routinely reports, Obama hit a new low of 40% last week, but by Tuesday was back up to a three-day average of 42%. Obama thus continues -- so far -- to avoid a symbolic drop into the 30% range. This is pretty significant, because most presidents in the modern era have in fact seen their job approval ratings drop below 40%.

President Ronald Reagan’s job rating fell into the 30% range by the 24th month of his presidency (in January 1983). Bill Clinton’s approval rating fell to below 40% in the fifth month of his presidency (in June 1993).

Job approval ratings for the two President Bush’s were buoyed in their first terms by highly unusual events -- George H.W. Bush by the Persian Gulf War, and George W. Bush by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The elder Bush didn’t drop below 40% until February of 1992, in his fourth year of his presidency. This was bad timing, of course, since he was, at that point, already running for re-election. His ratings crashed down even further as 1992 progressed, and -- of course -- he lost to Bill Clinton that fall. The younger Bush went through his entire first term without ever dropping below 40%, a milestone he did not reach until October 2005, about a year after he had been re-elected.  The younger Bush, like his father, ultimately found his ratings in the 20% range before he left the presidency.

Only two presidents in the modern era of polling -- since World War II -- did not drop below the 40% job approval rating level at all -- Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Eisenhower, in fact, only dropped below the 50% level twice in his presidency, in March/April 1958, and in January 1960. Kennedy’s lowest job approval rating was 56% in September 1963, just a couple of months before his assassination in Dallas later that year.  How low JFK's approval rating might have fallen had he lived is unknown. What is known is that his standing was beginning to suffer from a major drop off among Southern whites as a result of his administration's involvement in civil rights actions.

Another measure we are watching is Congress' job approval rating, our monthly update of which we will have within a week or two. Based on all available evidence, it would seem to be a reasonable hypothesis that Congress approval is going to go down, not up -- but we will have to wait and see.

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