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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Ever Happened to Jon Huntsman?

One of the interesting outcomes of this year’s Republican election process has been the fate of Jon Huntsman. Huntsman, as you may know, is on paper a potentially appealing presidential candidate. He is the former governor of Utah, the former ambassador to China (albeit an ambassador appointed by a Democratic president), speaks fluent Chinese, served in the administration of both Presidents Bush, has at least some business experience as part of his family’s Huntsman Corporation, and has been actively campaigning for the nomination all year. At one point he was considered by at least to some observers to have a real shot at the nomination.

Yet his campaign has gone nowhere.

In fact, Huntsman has the distinction of earning the lowest Positive Intensity Score of any GOP candidate we measure. In last week’s update, Huntsman’s Positive Intensity Score is -2.

Let’s look at where this comes from. Just 50% of Republicans nationally recognize Huntsman. This is the lowest recognition value of any of the eight candidates we are tracking. The next closest is former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at 57% recognition. Huntsman’s recognition was at 21% when we first measured him in January. Which means that he has increased his recognition by 29 percentage points since then. We can compare Huntsman to his fellow Republican, Herman Cain, who also had a 21% recognition among Republicans when we first measured him. Cain is now at 78% recognition, a jump of 57 points. Huntsman and Cain began at the same point. Cain caught on with Republicans; Huntsman did not.

Among those Republicans who know Huntsman, 46% have a generally favorable opinion of him, while 36% have a generally unfavorable opinion (the rest don’t have an opinion, even though they said they recognized him). These are the lowest favorable and unfavorable percentages of any candidate we are measuring. Additionally, Huntsman’s favorable to unfavorable ratio is 1.28. The next closest ratio to Huntsman’s is Ron Paul’s, whose ratio is 1.59 (based on 54% of Republicans who recognize Paul who have a favorable opinion and 34% who have an unfavorable opinion).

In terms of strong opinions, Huntsman also strikes out. Just 4% of those who recognize Huntsman are willing to say that they have a strongly favorable opinion of him, while 6% say they have a strongly unfavorable opinion. The critical measure here is that 4% number. This is by far the weakest “strongly favorable” percentage we have measured. The next lowest is a group of four Republicans -- Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum -- who have 11% strongly favorable ratings. At the top of the list is Herman Cain, who has a 33% strongly favorable rating.

Basically, Huntsman has not been able to penetrate the consciousness of rank-and-file Republicans around the country. Even after participating in most debates this year, he is unknown to half of all Republicans. And among those who do know him, he has a very dull image, with over a third saying they view him unfavorably, and with very few willing to say their opinion is strongly favorable.

By contrast this year, we’ve seen Bachmann, Perry, and Cain all “catch on” with Republicans at one point or another. The intense interest in the first two of these, of course, has faded. Cain is still standing. But Huntsman has not caught on, even briefly.

Part of this is, no doubt, because Huntsman does not appeal to the very conservative part of his party -- which, at this juncture, has the enthusiasm and whose preferences appear to be driving to some degree the standings and images of the candidates. Huntsman’s moderate positioning is apparently out of sync with the enthusiasm within the GOP, exemplified by his agreement to serve Democratic President Barack Obama as ambassador to China.

Huntsman is still active on the campaign trail, boycotting the recent Nevada debate because of that state’s erstwhile attempt to push their caucuses up early in the year, appearing on the Stephen Colbert Show, and issuing tweets and position papers.

The most recent New York Times/CBS News poll has Huntsman receiving 1% of the Republican vote.

As a sidenote, I might mention, one would have been hard-pressed to find Huntsman's standing from reading the main Times’ report on their survey. The article only briefly mentions the data from the poll relating to the Republican horse race, alluding to the fact that Cain is in a “statistical dead heat” with Mitt Romney (Cain has 25% of the Republican vote, Romney 21% -- although these numbers are not mentioned in the article), and that Perry has fallen to 6% support. By contrast, CBS News, the partner with The New York Times in the poll, headlined their news story thusly “Herman Cain tops Mitt Romney in latest CBS/NYT poll.” Different editors, different emphases.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Obama, Marijuana, and Facebook

Five questions we have recently answered here at Gallup:

1. Is the Occupy Wall Street movement a “windfall” for the Obama presidential campaign?

The Occupy Wall Street movement certainly exemplifies a generalized populist anger. There is little doubt that Obama, and other Democratic candidates, are thinking about taking advantage of it. There is a big caution on this from our recent USA Today/Gallup polling, however. That caution is based on the finding that while Americans certainly blame Wall Street for our nation’s economic problems, they blame the federal government more. In fact, when we asked Americans to choose which of these two entities is most to blame for our economic woes, the federal government won out by over a two-to-one margin.

The danger for Democratic candidates, then, is that they ignore the elephant in the backyard -- the federal government, with which they are more highly identified than are the Republicans. The data show that Republicans continue to have a potent weapon when the criticize big government. The wise course for any candidate, it would seem, is to acknowledge that both entities -- Wall Street and the government -- have major issues, and that these issues should and will be addressed by the candidate. 

2. Who has the most popular support -- the Tea Party movement or the Occupy Wall Street movement?

That’s tricky. We asked the same “support” or “oppose” question of both in the aforementioned USA Today/Gallup poll. The results show broadly similar views, although the Tea Party, with a 22% supporter, 27% opponent response in this poll, is slightly more negative than the 26% supporter, 19% opponent profile for the OWS movement. Half or more of Americans are neither supporters nor opponents of these movements. That underscores the point made by my colleague Jeff Jones in his analysis -- namely that the majority of Americans are not highly caught up in these movements that occupy so much of the news media’s time.

3. True or false: Presidential job approval ratings don’t rise between the fall of the year before an election and election year itself.  In other words, it's unlikely that Obama’s job approval ratings will be much higher next year.

That’s false. Clinton’s ratings went up over 10 percentage points between October 1995 and 1996. Reagan’s job approval ratings went up over 10 points between October 1983 and 1984. Carter’s ratings went up over 20 points between October 1979 and January 1980 (although they rapidly fell back down again). And George H.W. Bush’s job approval ratings fell more than 30 points between October 1991 and 1992.

In other words, an incumbent president's job approval ratings can, in fact, change significantly between October of the year before an election and the election year itself. Obama’s job approval ratings are hovering right around 40%. History suggests it is in theory possible that his ratings could rise 10 points between now and next year, which would put him at or around 50% -- the bottom range of where he would need to be based on history to win re-election.

4. What percent of those aged 65 years and older say marijuana should be legalized?

The answer to that question is 31%. That contrasts, of course to the overall average of 50% for all adults, and 62% among those aged 18-29 years who support legalizing pot. Perhaps some of those aged 65 and older are aging hippies who fondly remember the Flower Power days of the 1960s.

5. True or False:  Facebook users are almost entirely composed of those below age 50.

False. While Facebook use certainly skews young, 18% of those we interviewed in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll who were 65 years and older said they have a Facebook page. That compares to 35% of those 50 to 64, 58% of those 30 to 49, and a whopping 74% of those 18 to 29 we interviewed. Overall, 48% of Americans say they have a Facebook page.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

Could the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement signify a return to enthusiasm on the other side of the spectrum from what we saw last year? Enthusiasm in a political situation often comes from rabid opposition to something. Right now we are seeing a surge in opposition to Big Business exemplified by the OWS movement. Since being anti-business generally translates into being Democratic in terms of political orientation, it’s possible we could see a return to more proportionate enthusiasm on the two ends of the political spectrum.

As I’ve noted, angst, anxiety, and worry often are translated into (or displaced unto) convenient targets. Right now two of the most convenient targets are Big Business and Big Government. The Tea Party has been targeting Big Government. Now the Occupy Wall Street movement is targeting Big Business.

So the frame of this election could well be the choice of the most effective target: Big Government versus Big Business. Gallup has in fact, from time to time, asked Americans which is the bigger threat to the country in the future: Big Business, Big Government, or Big Labor. Few people these days think that Big Labor is the biggest threat, but when we last updated the question in 2009, Big Government won out over Big Business as a threat by 55% to 32%. In fact, Big Government has won out every time we have asked this question going back to the 1960s. (We will be updating it again shortly.)

One of the big impacts of the Tea Party movement in last year’s election was enthusiasm. All of our tracking showed that Republicans remained more enthusiastic than Democrats throughout the election and, of course, that enthusiasm was translated into a near-record take back of control of the House by the GOP. So far this year Republicans remain more enthusiastic about the forthcoming election than do Democrats. But could that change as a result of getting fired up against Big Business this year? That’s the key question.

Most data I’ve seen to date show that Americans’ initial reaction to the Occupy Wall Street movement has been more positive than negative. In a The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 37% of those interviewed tended to support “the sit-ins and rallies in New York City and other major cities around the country with people protesting about the influence Wall Street and corporations have on government,” 18% tended to oppose, and the rest either had no opinion or have not seen read or heard about them. In an Ipsos/Reuters poll, 38% of those who had heard of the Occupy Wall Street Protests (defined as “the protest going on in New York City and other locations around the country referred to as Occupy Wall Street”) had a favorable opinion, while 24% had an unfavorable opinion.

A TIME/Abt SRBI poll described the OWS as follows: “In the past few days, a group of protesters has been gathering on wall street in New York City and some other cities to protest policies which they say favor the rich, the government’s bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political system,” and found that 54% had a favorable opinion, while 23% had an unfavorable opinion. (More on this TIME description in a moment.)

How the protests are described to respondents appears to make a difference, but the overall responses are more positive than negative, regardless.

On the other hand, the last time Gallup asked about the Tea Party movement, it had a more unfavorable than favorable image, and slightly more Americans consider themselves opponents of the Tea party than supporters. We will have an update on the Tea Party, along with some new data on the OWS movement to use for comparative purposes early next week.

The TIME Magazine poll was accompanied by this headline: “Why Occupy Wall Street Is More Popular than the Tea Party,” followed by text which, among other things, said, “Twice as many respondents (54%) have a favorable impression of the eclectic band massing in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park than of the conservative movement that has, after two years, become a staple of the American political scene.”

I’m not sure that conclusion is warranted by the data as collected in the TIME/Abt SRBI poll.  Look carefully at how the respondents in the Oct. 9-10 poll when asked about the two entities:

1. On another issue, is your opinion of the tea party movement very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, very unfavorable, or don’t you know enough about the Tea Party to have an opinion?

2. In the past few days, a group of protesters has been gathering on Wall Street in New York City and some other cities to protest policies which they say favor the rich, the government’s bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political system. Is your opinion of these protests very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, very unfavorable, or don’t you know enough about the protests to have an opinion?

TIME's respondents were provided with a description of the protests, and no description of the Tea Party movement.

Further, the description of the protests included explicit rationales for their protesting: “. . . policies which they say favor the rich, the government’s bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political system . . . ”  Other research shows these types of descriptions test very well, including in particular Americans’ negative views of the “rich” (i.e., Americans favor taxing the rich more), and negative views of the influence of money on the political system. Presumably had the pollsters for TIME included descriptive phrases describing the motives behind the Tea Party movement (e.g., “. . . big government’s trillion dollar deficit and out of control spending . . .”), the results could have been different.

As noted, we’ll have a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the two movements early next week. It would not surprise me, however, if we find that even with controlled equality in the measurement procedures, the OWS movement comes out ahead.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Conventional Wisdom and Romney by the Numbers

The nature of American politics today is the formation and propagation of conventional wisdom nodules that arise swiftly, achieve widespread currency, and then as often as not are swept away by the next CWN (Conventional Wisdom Nodule) that comes down the pike.

A CWN quickly formed after Tuesday night’s debate in the Spaulding Auditorium of Dartmouth College in beautiful Hanover, N.H. The CWN was that the former Bain Capital executive and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the debate and solidified his position as the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The CWN further decreed that challengers Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain put forth weak performances.

Not all that many Americans watched the debate from start to finish, of course. It was broadcast on Bloomberg Television, not the most highly rated cable network, and faced the usual programs competing for viewers’ attention -- including the third game of the American League playoffs (Detroit won, beating Texas 5 to 2).

This fact of life makes the CWN more important than ever, since many Republican voters will be influenced not by the debate itself, but by what is said about it. Hence the “Romney won" storyline will in essence create its own self-fulfilling effect.

There is no new survey data since Tuesday night’s debate. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll is slated to be released on Wednesday night, but the Republican trial heat data it contains will be pre-debate, hence dated.

A careful review of our Gallup poll trends on the GOP nomination reveal three important facts of life about Romney. First, he has been the leader in four out of five trial heat polls of national Republicans conducted by Gallup since May. Second, Romney doesn’t generate a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans. Third, Romney on the other hand doesn’t generate a lot of negatives either.

The one poll in which Romney did not lead was Aug. 17-21, when Rick Perry surged to a 29% to 17% margin over Romney. In the most recent (Oct. 3-7) poll, Romney is ahead, but by only two points over Herman Cain.

These two polls suggest a certain precariousness of the Romney lead. If Perry can zoom ahead, and then if Cain can gain rapidly, there must, by definition, be a fluid group of Republicans out there across the land who are still figuring out for whom they want to vote. As my colleague Lydia Saad pointed out on Monday, this year is fairly unusual because there is no one dominant Republican who sweeps away his opponents in these trial heat ballots. Romney may be the front-runner -- before Wednesday night’s debate -- but he is not running very far in front.

Our Positive Intensity Scores give an excellent picture of the candidates who generate a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans. That group does not include Romney. Throughout the year a number of candidates have enjoyed Positive Intensity Scores above 20 at various points. These included Michele Bachmann prior to her August decline, Rudi Giuliani when we included him in our measures, Rick Perry before his mid-September free-fall, and, of course, Herman Cain. I say “of course” Herman Cain because he has blazed a truly exceptional trail on this measure, including a score of 20 or more in every week’s report since mid-April.  His current score of 34 is 10 points higher than any other candidate has been able to generate.

Romney is currently sitting on a Positive Intensity Score of 14, middling as these things go. He scored 20 in two polls back in March and early April, but has not broached that mark since.

This is not to say, as noted, that Romney is disliked by Republicans. He is not. In fact, as perspicaciously noted by my colleague Jeff Jones, Romney actually has the second highest total favorable image of any candidate (that is, those who have a favorable opinion whether or not they feel strongly about it) and the second lowest unfavorable image of any candidate. Only Herman Cain beats him. To be specific, 72% of Republicans who know Romney have a favorable opinion, while 18% have an unfavorable opinion

One can compare Romney's unfavorable percentage to the 35% who have an unfavorable opinion of Ron Paul, 32% who have an unfavorable opinion of Michele Bachmann, 31% who have an unfavorable opinion of Jon Huntsman, and 27% who have an unfavorable opinion of Newt Gingrich. (All of these percentages are based on those who recognize each candidate).

So as he sat there at the table at the Dartmouth debate on Tuesday night, Romney was actually better liked on average by Republicans watching (assuming a random sample of all Republicans were watching) than any of the others sitting around him -- except for Cain.

This is a pretty good position for Romney. While he is not beloved by Republicans in an intense rock star fashion, he is well-liked. His challenge is to translate the blander “favorable” opinions into votes in primary states -- to make his “inevitability” come to fruition.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and Steve Jobs

No one to my knowledge has yet done a survey of the protestors connected with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in New York City and elsewhere, but news reports of a union connection and the general focus of their objectives leads one to believe that they are more likely to come from the left side of the political spectrum.

If that is the case, we now have a situation in which a segment of Americans with a more traditionally conservative orientation -- the Tea Party -- is taking public political actions against what they perceive needs to be changed, while a segment of Americans with a more traditionally liberal orientation is taking public political actions against what they perceive needs to be changed.

The targets of these groups are different. The Tea Party supporters have focused their ire for the most part on BIG government. Tea Party supporters apparently assume that huge federal government in this country is causing major and significant problems. The Occupy Wall Street group has focused its ire for the most part on BIG business. They apparently assume that the large corporate entities symbolized by Wall Street are causing major and significant problems.

A good deal of our polling data shows that Americans dislike most things that have the word BIG in front of them. In our summer update of Americans’ confidence in institutions, we found that confidence in big business was third from the bottom on the list. What was dead last? Congress or, in other words, big government.

Many, many Americans are, at the moment, frustrated and worried, primarily about the economy. As of Wednesday, Oct. 5, we have 74% of Americans saying that the U.S. economy is getting worse, and 90% (yes, that’s right, 90%) rating the current U.S. economy as only fair or poor. In our latest update, 88% of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. -- just shy of the all-time record 91% recorded in the fall of 2008.

It’s apparent that this frustration and angst is percolating up in different ways, as it often does. Tea Party supporters displace their anger onto the government, while the Occupy Wall Street group displaces their anger onto Wall Street corporations.  No doubt some other group may crop up which displaces its anger onto still another target.

One of the entities designed to cope with the problems of the nation is our group of elected officials we send off in our name to represent us in Washington, to whom we entrust over 1 trillion dollars in individual tax money each year. Unfortunately, Americans’ confidence in that process is extremely low at the moment, which probably contributes further to the angst.

I said above that Americans have negative attitudes toward everything big. That’s not the case. Our annual update on Americans’ views of the images of business and industry sectors shows that the public actually has a very positive attitude of the computer and Internet industry -- which involves some very big companies. Indeed, the outpouring of interest in and adulation of the late Steve Jobs is emblematic of the positive attitudes Americans have about this business sector. Part of this no doubt reflects Americans’ appreciation for the perceived effectiveness and efficiency of a company like Apple. The data show that this is the antithesis of the attitude Americans have about the federal government, which on the at same image list was dead last.

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