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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The SCOTUS Ruling Thursday and Public Opinion

Key implications of Thursday’s Supreme Court healthcare ruling from a public opinion perspective.

First of all, most Americans will not understand all of the complex legal verbiage in the opinion. The public will mainly hear or see the simple message that the Affordable Care Act has been upheld. Many news reports also remind readers/viewers that this is a victory for President Obama (see this New York Times story for a good example).

Reactions to the ruling will of course depend on one’s beginning position. One of our most important conclusions from our recent editors' review of public opinion data on the ACA was this: “Views of the Healthcare Law Highly Polarized by Party.” As noted in our review, 71% of Democrats say it was a good thing that the law passed, while 81% of Republicans said it was a bad thing. The law is highly identified with Obama and the Democrats, while Republicans (and Mitt Romney) have been highly critical. Hence, our first assumption is that Democrats across the country will hail the ruling, while Republicans will either criticize the ruling or, more probably, just go back to their more general criticism of the law itself.

More broadly, when everything is put together, Americans in the most recent polls I’ve seen have been more opposed to the law than in favor. Here are four examples: in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll June 20-24, 35% say “Obama’s healthcare plan that was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in 2010” was a good thing, while 41% say it was a bad thing; in an ABC News/Washington Post poll June 20-24, 36% have a favorable view of “the federal law making changes in the healthcare system,” while 52% have an unfavorable view; an AP-GfK poll June 14-18, found that 33% support “the healthcare reforms that were passed by Congress in March of 2010,” while 47% oppose; and a Pew Research poll June 7-17 in which 43% said they approved of “the healthcare legislation passed by Barack Obama and Congress in 2010,” while 48% disapproved.

Two of these organizations ventured to ask Americans ahead of time how they would react to various possible rulings by the Supreme Court. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 35% of Americans said they would be disappointed if the Supreme Court ruled that the healthcare law was constitutional, while 28% said they would be pleased. The Pew Research poll found that 51% said they would be unhappy if the court decided to uphold the entire law, while 39% said they would be happy.

So we have here the "pre" ruling estimate that on a net-net basis, Americans are more disappointed and unhappy than pleased and happy with the ruling.

The most significant finding on the part of the Supreme Court was the ruling on the individual mandate. This is also the part of the ACA to which the American public reacts most negatively.

More than seven in 10 Americans said a few months ago that they felt the mandate was unconstitutional. The majority of the Supreme Court obviously did not follow public opinion on this part of its ruling.

It is possible, however, that the upholding of the mandate by the Supreme Court (under a tax provision) may serve the function of legitimizing the mandate -- and the law -- in some Americans’ minds and could change their opinions about it. 

In general, I think it’s certainly reasonable to assume that the Supreme Court ruling will help Obama’s positioning in the minds of Americans, at least temporarily.

The fact that the Court did not invalidate his key legislative achievement may make Obama seem to be smarter or more of a shrewd leader -- certainly a much better outcome for the president than if the court had held the ACA or parts of the ACA unconstitutional.

The potential downside for Obama: the ruling essentially makes the healthcare act "real." Opponents now realize that the only way to change it is to have the legislative ability to do so, which may energize the right to do more to defeat Obama and Democrats in the election.

Also, despite the potential positioning gains from the SCOTUS ruling, Obama will have to continue to work hard to do a better job of selling the virtues of the ACA to the average American -- given the data reviewed above which shows Americans are more negative than positive about it.

Romney hasn't spent a lot of time addressing the constitutionality of the ACA, but rather has focused on his political objections to it. Thus, Romney presumably has the same political target to go after now that he has had all along. Both Romney and Obama have Harvard law degrees, of course, so it will be interesting to watch their debates on this topic next October.

Gallup and USA Today are asking about the ruling Thursday night, and by Friday, the resulting data will provide a good feel for actual, rather than postulated, initial reaction. The long-lasting impact of the law will not be known for a longer period of time. Both sides of the debate are now in heavy-duty spin mode, attempting to shape public opinion at this critical juncture. The political impact of the ruling on Obama and on Romney in the presidential race also probably will take a while to determine. At the moment, Obama is leading Romney by a 47% to 44% margin in our daily tracking. It takes a while for shifts in presidential preference to percolate through our seven-day rolling averages, but we will keep readers posted if we see any significant movement in either Obama's job approval or the trial heat ballot in one direction or the other.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Timing Romney's Vice Presidential Announcement

Mitt Romney will announce his vice presidential candidate at some point this summer. The Romney campaign is no doubt spending serious time strategizing not only about the person Romney will select as VP, but also about the timing of the announcement.

The VP announcement is a guaranteed publicity generator for Romney, giving him three to five days of almost continuous news cycle coverage as the media delve into the details of the background of the nominee, talk about the implications of the choice, and, in general, bloviate. Under the adage that any news coverage is good coverage, it is certain that the Romney campaign is doing a lot of thinking about when the announcement will do them the most good.

Barack Obama announced Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate on Aug. 22, 2008, just three days before the Democratic convention began in Denver on Aug. 25. In very similar fashion, Republican nominee John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate on Aug. 29, 2008, just three days before the Sept. 1 beginning of the GOP convention in Minnesota. Following that historical pattern, we would expect Romney to announce his vice presidential candidate on Aug. 24, just three days before this year’s GOP convention gets underway in Tampa Bay, Florida.

There is no guarantee that Romney’s team will follow this pattern, however. Announcing the nominee earlier would have the benefit of maximizing the spread of publicity and visibility for the Romney campaign across a longer period of time this summer. But there are several periods of time between now and Aug. 27 which would not be good times for the announcement. One way to get a sense of this is to look at the seven phases of the election cycle between now and Nov. 6.

Phase I: June 28-July 8. The Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act will be announced on June 28.  Along with the associated fallout and the inevitable media analysis and “spin” period, this decision will no doubt dominate news coverage up to the July Fourth holiday period when voters will be out of pocket and distracted. That holiday distraction will most likely last until July 7. So we have an election phase between now and July 8 in which it is improbable that Mitt Romney would in any way attempt to announce his vice presidential nominee.

Also in this time period is the government's Friday, July 6, release of the June unemployment rate. That will either be good news or bad news for the Romney campaign, and despite the general holiday time period, both the Romney and Obama teams will begin spinning immediately after the announcement at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Our Gallup Daily tracking data show that unemployment is down, based on our unadjusted numbers. How this will translate into the government’s adjusted numbers remains to be seen. The spin will be important.

Phase II: July 9-26. This is a period of relative down time, without any major scheduled events -- the lull before the Summer Olympics get underway in London on July 27. This would be one period of time when the Romney campaign could possibly attempt to beat the buzzer, so to speak, and announce the Veep choice, giving his campaign the VP bump of attention earlier than usual.

Phase III: July 27-Aug. 12. Summer Olympics in London. Not everyone cares about the Olympics, of course, and not everyone will be watching. But the coverage will be extensive, and the focus of the news media strong enough to make it doubtful either the Obama or the Romney campaigns will attempt to do momentous things during this time period. In particular, it is very doubtful that the Romney people will decide to time their announcement of their Veep during the Olympics and thus have to share the media spotlight with swimmers, runners, and gymnasts.

The important July unemployment numbers will be released in the middle of the Olympics on Friday, Aug. 3.

Phase IV: Aug. 13-26. This is the period of time when it would appear logical and in tune with history for the Romney campaign to make its announcement. Following the historical schedule, as I mentioned earlier, we would see Romney announcing the week of Aug. 20. But there is absolutely no guarantee that Romney won’t decide to announce a little earlier.

Phase V: Aug. 27-Sept. 6. This is the phase in which the Republicans and the Democrats will hold their conventions, with the GOP going first in Tampa Bay, Florida, followed by the Democrats in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the good old days of yesteryear vice presidential nominees were not determined until the convention. Nothing would prevent Romney from waiting until the convention is underway to make his announcement, but that would be a significant departure from recent history.

After Sept. 6, of course, both party’s tickets will be determined and campaigning will begin in earnest.

Phase VI: Sept. 7-Oct.  2. This is one of the most intense campaign periods of the election cycle. Both presidential candidates and both vice presidential nominees will be essentially campaigning full speed and non-stop. There will be the inevitable news bumps as gaffes, announcements, and mini-crises percolate up from a huge news media army desperate for content, and the average voter will be hard-pressed to avoid saturation with news coverage of the election.

Phase VII: Oct. 3-Nov. 6. The phase in which the three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate (all conducted by the Commission on Presidential Debates) will be held, followed by the final end game leading up to the election on Nov. 6.

All schedules, of course, are made to be disrupted.  Unforeseen events may throw some of this out of whack. But the major mileposts of the next 4 months are pretty much set in place.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Immigration Announcement Falls on Receptive Ears

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s announcement Friday that the children of illegal immigrants who meet certain qualifications would " considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings..." appears to fit in with our latest data on U.S. attitudes toward immigration.

Those data, analyzed here by my colleague Jeff Jones, show that Americans are now more focused on dealing with the issue of illegal immigrants in this country than they are on preventing the flow of illegal immigrants into the country to begin with.

In fact, the shift was fairly strong in the poll. This was the first time in our history of asking the forced-choice question that Americans shifted toward the “developing a plan to deal with immigrants who are currently in the U.S.” alternative. Coupled with that were trends showing more positive responses on two other questions asking about immigration in a general sense.

Thinking that the government should focus more on the illegal immigrants in this country rather than sealing the borders doesn’t in and of itself mean that Americans approve of the Obama administration's newly announced plan. But it does suggest that, taken as a whole, Americans are sympathetic to the idea of focusing on doing something about the situation -- which is what President Obama and the DHS did.

We asked a question in December 2010 about the “DREAM Act.” We explained it as follows: “...a law that would allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college.” At that point, a majority of 54% of Americans said they would favor such a law; 42% said they would vote against it.

A Bloomberg News national poll conducted June 15-18 found that 64% of Americans agreed when asked the question phrased like this:

“President Obama announced that the U.S. would halt the deportation of some illegal immigrants if they came here before age 16, have been in the country for five years, have no criminal record, are in school or have a high school diploma or have been honorably discharged from the military. Do you agree or disagree with this new policy?”

The responses to these questions suggest that the majority of Americans think the new policy is basically a good idea.

Will the Policy Announcement Help Obama Among Hispanics?

Of course, from a political perspective, last Friday's announcement was most salient to Hispanics.  Unfortunately, the two polls I referenced above didn't have large enough sample sizes to look at Hispanics' reactions to the new policy in isolation.  But I assume that Obama campaign strategists assumed Hispanics would see the announcement in a favorable light. In turn, of course, the Obama team no doubt hope that the announcement will help Obama among this important voter segment come Nov. 6th.

 All the evidence shows that Obama continues to do well with Hispanics.

Last week, June 11-17, Obama's job approval rating among Hispanics was 61%. Over the last four weeks, Obama’s job approval rating among Hispanics averaged 12 percentage points higher than Obama’s average among all Americans.

Indeed, Hispanics' job approval rating for Obama has averaged 12 points higher than the average among all Americans since Obama took office. In other words, Obama’s position among Hispanics on this job approval measure now is exactly the same as it has been throughout his time in office.

On our trial heat ballot for the last three weeks, May 28-June 17, 66% of Hispanics said they would vote for Obama, compared with 24% who said they would vote for Mitt Romney. This 42-point Obama gap among Hispanics is also exactly at the average for our tracking overall since April 11.

Given Obama’s strong position among Hispanics, observers opined that he was not so much trying to change Hispanics' minds about their choice for president, but to increase their motivation and propensity to turn out and vote in November. That’s an important goal for the Obama campaign team.  The evidence shows that Hispanics vote at a lower rate than members of other race and ethnic groups. Over the last three weeks, as an example, only 64% of Hispanic registered voters said they would definitely vote in November. That contrasts with 76% of non-Hispanic blacks and 81% of non-Hispanic whites.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ten Fascinating Things You May Have Missed

Ten fascinating findings about citizens of the U.S. and the world that you may have missed:

1. Americans who are unemployed and looking for work are significantly more likely to be smokers than those who are employed. In fact, the difference is very significant: 32.8% of those who are unemployed and looking for work smoke, compared to 19.5% of those who are employed full time or voluntarily working part time. My colleague Dan Witters discusses many of the reasons why this could be the case. Correlation is no proof of causation, but smoking looks like it could be hazardous not only to your physical health, but to your employment health as well.

2. Despite rampant gloom and doom, more Americans were “thriving” and fewer were “struggling” in May than has been the case since February of last year. This appears to be driven by an uptick in the percentage of women who are thriving.

3. About half of Americans rate the economy in their local area as excellent or good. This is more positive than the ratings Americans give the state of the U.S. as a whole. And all three of these ratings are more positive than the ratings Americans give Europe and the world as a whole. Ever optimists, 60% of those under 30 rate economic conditions in their local area excellent/good, the highest of any age group.

4. About half of Republicans say that Republican president George W. Bush deservers a great deal/moderate amount of blame for the bad economic conditions in the U.S. -- even though he has been living in Dallas totally out of the political world for about three and a half years now. On the other hand, only 19% of Democrats say that Obama deserves a great deal/moderate amount of blame.

5. Four in 10 Americans do not know what Mitt Romney’s religion is. Even fewer know what Obama’s religion is. Stay tuned for more on these fascinating findings the week of June 17.

6. Only one in 10 Obama voters say they are voting for him because of his approach to healthcare or his healthcare plan, and only 4% of Romney voters say they are voting for him because of something relating to healthcare. Most voters' rationales for their support for either candidate deal with things other than healthcare.

7. Of the five so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) residents of Russia are the least likely to be satisfied with their personal health and the most likely to report having health problems. The Chinese appear to be most satisfied with their health, at least based on their self-reports of health problems.

8. The impact of the federal government on health insurance is plainly evident in Gallup’s tracking of Americans’ reports of whether or not they have insurance. Only 3% of those 65 and older say they don’t have health insurance -- thanks to the government’s Medicare program. The percentage of those 18 to 25 years without health insurance is high at 23.0%, but that’s down from 28.0% in the third quarter of 2010, almost certainly thanks to the influence of the new healthcare act’s provision that young people can ride on their parents’ policies. Meanwhile, 19.6% of the bulk of the population, those aged 26 to 64, don’t have health insurance, which is up from 15% at the beginning of 2008.

9. Iraq has the most negative emotions of any country in the world. Countries with the lowest negative emotional score are the Somaliland region of Somalia, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan. The explanation for Iraqi’s negativity is self-evident; why residents of Somaliland, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan have such positive mental attitudes is less clear.

10. Americans who have postgraduate education are a widely varied lot -- including those who have MBAs, PhDs in English literature, MDs, DVMs, MPHs, MAs, JDs, MSWs and so forth. But these postgraduates as a group have one thing in common -- they are significantly more supportive of Barack Obama over Mitt Romney than those who don’t have a postgraduate degree. Among white women, the difference between having a postgraduate education and not is 13 percentage points (52% support for Obama to 39% support). Among white men, the difference is 14 points, (45% support for Obama to 31% support).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Despite "Bad Week," Obama Reaches 50% Job Approval

The broad conclusion picked up by the news media/pundit/commentator sector of American society over the past week has been Barack Obama’s “bad week.” This was predicated on several facts: the June 1 unemployment report from the federal government was more negative than expectations, the Democratic challenger in the Wisconsin recall election lost, Mitt Romney’s campaign raised more money in May than did Obama’s, and Obama said in a press conference on Friday that “the public sector is going fine.”

The interpretation of the significance of these events is based on what’s in the minds of the aforementioned journalists, pundits, and commentators -- aided and abetted by the hard-working teams at both the Obama and the Romney campaigns who constantly push out efforts to define the election in ways favorable to their candidate.

Our job here at Gallup, in contrast, is not to ride these "waves of conventional wisdom," but instead to monitor the reactions of the more neutral, less-engaged, average, normal jury of actual citizens in this country.

Fortunately we here at Gallup can track Americans' opinions daily. In the current situation, we can look at the trend line in average Americans’ job approval ratings for the president, their self-reported vote intentions for Obama versus Romney, and their views of the economy. This gives us a near real-time measure of the impact of events on the thinking of average citizens.

Obama’s job approval ratings have gone up, not down over the last week or so. In fact, in our three-day rolling average, Friday through Sunday, Obama’s job approval was 50%. This marks the first time he has reached that milestone since early May. Obama’s job rating for last week as a whole was 47%, which is one point higher than the previous week -- and basically no different from what we have been seeing for months now.

Certainly, then, there is no evidence that Obama's “bad week” resulted in any measurable decrease in Americans’ approval of the job Obama is doing as president.

Obama and Romney continue to be statistically tied in our ongoing Gallup Daily tracking of the trial heat ballot -- as they have been. In our seven-day rolling average that ended May 31, Romney was at 46% and Obama at 45% of the vote. In our first seven-day rolling average that included only days from June 1 forward (June 1-7), Obama was ahead 46% to 45%. In our latest seven-day average, it’s Romney 46%; Obama 45%. Basically, these trends show no significant change.

Obama has neither gained nor lost ground against Romney since the “bad week” began.

Then there is economic confidence. That declined slightly last week, to -20 from -18 during the week that ended June 3. In recent weeks Gallup's Economic Confidence Index has been as low as -16 two weeks ago, but was also at -21 the week ending April 23, and earlier this year was even more negative. It’s difficult to pinpoint if this current slight dip is a.) a lasting interruption in the generally more positive trend on economic confidence, b.) a result of the jobs report, or c.) a result of something totally different.

Bottom line: As far as Obama himself is concerned, we do not find evidence in the tracking data -- yet -- that the “bad week” has hurt his standing in the eyes of average Americans. In fact, Obama’s job approval has reached 50% for the first time in well over a month. We are seeing a slight deterioration in Americans’ views of the economy, and if that continues it could begin to hurt Obama moving forward. But we don't see it yet.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tipping Point for Obama?

Observers and pundits and journalists and campaign staffs are constantly looking for evidence that the direction of a presidential election is changing -- that something new has happened that alters the probability that one candidate or the other is going to win.

So, it is not surprising that after last Friday’s jobs report, these types of people begin to opine that we were on the cusp of a major turning point in the election. As Reid Wilson of the National Journal speculated: “If Republican Mitt Romney is inaugurated as president in January, history may look to June as the month in which President Obama’s fate was sealed. This may be the month, seen in retrospect, in which it became clear the economic winds that propelled Clinton to a second term won’t be at Obama’s back.” And “if Romney wins the White House, remember June as the month in which Romney’s campaign went from resembling Bob Dole’s ill-fated 1996 effort to representing something closer to Bill Clinton’s 1992 win. The tipping point toward a Romney victory may be at hand.”

A lot of "ifs" in Wilson's thoughts there, but clearly he feels this is a time when the momentum of the race is changing.

One of the significant advantages we have here at Gallup is the ability to track the impact of events on a day-by-day basis. One such event is last Friday’s jobs report. We can monitor Americans' confidence in the economy, their approval of the job Obama is doing as president, and the ballot choice between Obama and Romney on a before and after basis. Plus, on Tuesday night, June 5, we asked Americans more directly how closely they had been following the news of last Friday’s jobs report, and their recollection of how bad it was.

Let’s look at the last information first. My conclusion, summarized here, is that the jobs report per se was not that big a deal to many Americans. Americans' attention to the news of the job report was below the average of news stories we have tracked over two decades. And, only 42% of Americans said they recalled the report as being negative, while 40% recalled it as mixed and 9% recalled it as positive. So, one conclusion from those data is that over half of Americans were not aware that the government put out a negative jobs report last Friday.

Now, we can turn to actual economic confidence per se. Here we simply haven’t found much movement -- at least not yet. This is a key tracking measure. We would suppose, if the jobs report did signal a tipping point in how Americans view the economy, we would see a change in how Americans view the economy. But that hasn’t happened -- at least not as of the middle of this week. There has been no change whatsoever in the average American's views of the economy's direction, and only an insignificant uptick in the percentage of Americans rating the economy as poor.

In terms of the implications of the jobs report on President Obama, the first place we turn to is his job approval rating.  We just don’t see a lot of change there. Obama’s job approval rating was 45% for the three days ending last Thursday, May 31. His job approval rating is at 45% for the last three days ending Wednesday, June 6. Obama's job rating actually rose in the three days immediately after the jobs report was released last Friday -- to a three-day average of 47%. Now it is basically back to where it started.

The current 45% is still lower than Obama’s average for all of May, which was 47%. So this is a good indicator to monitor in the days ahead. If his approval doesn’t move back up, it could be a warning sign for his presidential campaign.

Then we turn to the trial heat ballot. We have seen a very modest shift in our seven-day average on this measure, which as of the Thursday, June 7, report encompasses interviewing conducted Thursday of last week through Wednesday of this week, mostly after the jobs report. In it, Romney is ahead of Obama among registered voters by two percentage points. Of course, thrown into all of this is the Tuesday recall election in Wisconsin, which in theory could affect the ballot. We have seen Romney ahead before in our tracking, as we have seen Obama ahead. It is too soon to tell if this is the beginning of a trend towards Romney that is more sustained than the usual ebb and flow around the basic tendency for this race to be tied at 46% for each candidate.

Now, nothing in life stands still. Any impact of the jobs report will begin to fade, and other events will creep into the mix. I mentioned the Wisconsin election on Tuesday, in which the Republican Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall attempt that involved massive mobilization and expenditure of money on both sides. The positive movement of the Dow, both Wednesday and Thursday of this week, could affect things. So, as we move forward, if there is a tipping point of some sort, it becomes increasingly difficult to tease out what is causing it.

At any rate, we will be looking for any indications of a sustained change in the three vital tracking measures I outlined above in the days and weeks ahead.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lessons From Europe for the U.S.

David Brooks in his recent New York Times column on the “segmentation century” argues that Europeans are reverting back to their national identities and national differentiation and national values, and eschewing the pan-national identity that came with the European Union. Brooks calls this the “failure of convergence” and says “people in different nations, even people within nations, have become less alike in at least as many ways as they have become more alike.”

This view of what’s happening in Europe is related to an issue I've been looking at that plays itself out here in the U.S. Humans almost certainly have natural instincts to seek identity and meaning from small groups with which they share affinity, even as the Internet and communication allow us to be connected with a much larger sphere. Maybe the enormous capability to communicate with anyone, anywhere has paradoxically pushed us more toward seeking smaller group identity.

In some ways I think it’s our old evolutionary instincts, which seem to promote the value that comes from small-group structures, tribalism, and close-knit groupings and social systems. We may get more benefits from attachment to smaller, more localized, or more niched social groupings than we do from very broad identities -- which of course didn’t exist when we evolved. Many wars and disruptions around the world are still to this day fought on the basis of religions and ethnic identity. Remember the American Soldier studies in WWII, which showed that GIs were fighting mainly for their buddies (small groups), not for their country or some larger big-picture purpose?

I’m constantly amazed at how powerful state cultures and identities remain in this country, despite mobility across states and advanced communications development, which means the person in Alabama can get the same input, news, and entertainment as the person in Vermont. Yet, the red-blue map of the nation shows how powerful state cultures are on the political scene. In my forthcoming book on religion, I devote a chapter to just how powerful state cultures appear to be in the average religiousness of the citizens of a state. I point out how the map of the states based on average religiousness of each state's citizens looks similar to the map of the states in the Civil War. And this religiousness isn’t driven, for the most part, by the type of religion or the type of people living in a state -- rather, it results from something about the state itself.

The argument, difficult to prove, is that humans evolved to operate with small-group identities and loyalties, which bucks the efforts in Europe and to some degree in this county to focus us on big entities.

This has implications for the U.S. political scene. We find support for the idea that the more local, the better when it comes to government. We ask Americans how much confidence they have in local, state, and federal government. While Americans have a lot of faith in the judicial branch of the federal government, they have more faith in both their state government and their local government than in either the executive branch or the legislative branch in Washington. Plus, while Americans say the federal government wastes 51 cents on every tax dollar it collects, they believe that state governments waste only 42 cents and local governments 38 cents.

President Obama has a well-meaning philosophic belief that the federal government is good, and should be used as an instrument to address and ameliorate the nation’s problems. But he gets pushback on this idea in our data. Americans are very wary of the federal government, as noted. In fact, our annual ratings of business and industry categories show that 17% of Americans have a positive view of the “federal government” and 63% a negative view. This puts the federal government at the bottom of the list of 25 sectors tested (computer industry is tops, with 72% positive and 10% negative perceptions). Just 19% of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed. Almost half of Americans think the federal government presents an immediate threat to their way of life.

The European Union was put together with the understanding that a large grouping together of nations would produce positive results and help overcome the problems that come from having many small nations crammed together on the European continent. The people of Europe have not necessarily taken to that concept, as Brooks points out. The trend toward people liking that which is local may be more in line with people’s instincts -- and in line with what we are seeing to some extent here in the U.S.  The federal government obviously has tremendous value; as one example we find that Americans have more confidence in the U.S. military than any other institution we measure. But the battle continues both here and in Europe between the public's faith in very large entities and their faith in more local entities as the mechanisms to which they give their problem-solving allegiances.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Jobs Report and the Presidential Race

When it comes to the economy, both presidential candidates -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- (see here and here) talk about the need for economic growth and for the creation of more jobs.

I think it's fair to say that within these broad, shared goals, Obama puts more emphasis on the role of the government in helping change the structure of the economic system so that it is fairer to those who are less advantaged (including the middle class) and to make sure that everyone plays by the same rules. In other words, Obama's campaign strategy involves an emphasis on the way in which the economic system works internally -- the distribution of opportunity and the distribution of economic rewards.

Mitt Romney puts less emphasis on the internals of the economic system, and certainly less emphasis on the role of the federal government in fixing the economy. Romney and Obama both want the economy to grow and want the creation of more jobs, but Romney doesn't appear to see the current economic system as unfair internally, as does Obama.  

Obama's positioning, we can assume, fits in with the position of the coalition of voters that form his political strengths. Obama generally does better with those who can, in theory, identify as disadvantaged -- low-income, minorities, young -- along with those who are less connected to traditional structures -- single, nonreligious. He joins those groups with more liberally-oriented white voters with post graduate degrees and those in professional occupations.  Romney's positioning is strongest among traditional, majority groups -- whites, those who are married, those who are religious, those with higher incomes, and managers and executives.

A key question at this point is how Friday morning’s less-than-positive BLS jobs report will affect the presidential race. We assume it will create a more downbeat economic environment in the minds of voters, but we will have to wait and monitor our Gallup Daily tracking of the Economic Confidence Index to document whether or not that comes to pass.

We assume more generally that negative trends in economics and employment create negative effects on the probability that an incumbent president will be re-elected.  (See this forthcoming book for documentation on that front).

Romney, in fact, has some marginal strength on the economy based on our data. Americans are more likely to say the economy will be better in four years if Romney is elected than if Obama is elected. Americans, by a slight margin, say Romney is better able to handle the economy than Obama. On specific issues Americans say that Romney is better positioned to handle economic growth than Obama.

However,  the two candidates are tied in terms of the public’s perceptions of which can do the better job handling unemployment and jobs. This is a critical issue, given the evidence from the government that there are not a lot of new jobs being created.

Obama is clearly better positioned as being better able to handle specifics like healthcare, the cost of college, and the situation of the poor, and he is more likely to be seen as caring about the needs of “people like you.” This positioning fits in with his overall strategy of appealing to those who are less advantaged. 

But, Obama's emphasis on the internals of the economy may be less relevant in a declining economic environment than they would be in a booming economic environment.  We know, for example, that Americans are less worried about the environment when the economy is bad than when it is good.  This comes under the assumption that the overall health of the economy trumps all else in voters' minds.  Thus, one argument is that Obama's focus on fairness and playing by the same rules may not be as significant to voters in a down economy as it would be in an up economy.  We know that union members are less likely to argue that they need higher wages and more benefits when their company is in dire financial straits, than when their management is sitting on a growing company.

In short, if the perception of a generally withering economy takes hold, voters could, in theory, become less interested in the internal distribution mechanics of the economy, and more interested in the overall health of the broad economy.  

As I mentioned, at the moment, our tracking measure of economic confidence is holding up fairly well, at about its highest point over the last four years. Of course, economic confidence is still underwater -- Americans are more likely to say the economy is poor than excellent or good, and more likely to say it is getting worse rather than getting better. We will monitor this index in the days and weeks ahead, because it gives us a good idea of how the "real world" economy is filtering down into the minds of the average American.

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