A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

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Tag: obama poll

The Two Numbers To Watch In The Post-Debate Polls

by evanmcmurry

Romney gained in numerous ways from his strong first debate performance, but the two most important were his favorability ratings and his performance among women voters. Before two weeks ago, Romney’s favorability ratings had been underwater in multiple swing states, largely due to a successful push by Obama’s campaign to paint him as a heartless, offshoring plutocrat. Romney managed to flip those numbers with his debate win, and his rise in the polls, especially in states like Florida and Pennsylvania, followed his rise in favorability ratings; only in Ohio, where the Bain attacks hit especially hard, has Romney not seen a significant increase in his favorability, though he has still gained there. Per Greg Sargeant, Romney also significantly closed the gap among women voters, which, during the legendary contraception wars of the spring of ought-12, was almost comically large.

In Tuesday night’s debate, Obama hit Romney hard in both these areas. Obama’s constant, Biden-like interruptions about the mendacity of Romney’s claims, his reminders that Romney has often held differing positions for differing audiences, his resuming the vulture capitalism trope, his Bain attacks, his nice line about Romney’s pension—all of these were in the same key as the attacks that kept Romney in the high-30s to low-40s favorability for much of the general election. Obama also brought up Planned Parenthood four times (even when it wasn’t particularly relevant); had one of his strongest answers when speaking on the Lily Ledbetter Act and women’s health access; and quite insightfully spun a question about Bush economic policies onto Romney’s arguably more extreme social policies—all points aimed at reminding women voters why they were turning from the GOP in droves a few months ago.

Last night’s debate is unlikely to change the national polling numbers—as Kevin Drum points out in a spot-on post, the national polling is exactly where we thought it would be given the dynamics of the race and is unlikely to change. But just as Romney’s general rise in the polls has been the aggregated result of specific* gains in certain categories, look for Obama’s strong debate performance to be felt not in the national poll averages but in targeted areas like Romney’s favorability and women voters—areas that, however narrow they may seem, could be pivotal in important swing states.

* The first and last time Mitt Romney benefited from specifics in this race.

Tips For Coaxing Your Local Obama Supporter Back From The Ledge

by evanmcmurry

Obama supporters are notorious overreactors, and sure enough one just asked me if “they’ve managed to steal another one,” they meaning Republicans and another meaning election. All this is based on Romney’s post-debate poll bounce, which was admittedly sizable. So if you need to coax your local Obama supporter back from the ledge, here are a few talking points:

1) Romney’s bounce is already dissipating. Obama’s post-convention surge in the polls never fell back to earth (and therefore wasn’t actually a bounce), but became the new reality of the race. But daily tracking shows Romney’s numbers trending downward the farther we get from the debate; Gallup, which has a noted right lean, found Obama back up by five points today, exactly where he was before the debate, completely erasing any Romney bounce. That’s one poll, but significant since it’s Gallup. Romney will emerge at best with a +1.5 gain from the debate, a good get in a close race, but nothing game-changing.

2) The PEW poll that shows Romney up by four points nationally—the best he’s ever polled, per Nate Silver—appears to be an outlier. (PEW also showed Obama with an outsized lead of +8 before the debate. I blame this on the fact that PEW employees listen to Lulu.) Silver has commentary, and Dave Brockington has the numbers in detail here.

3) Most important: the bounce is not coming from independent voters, but from Republicans. Jon Cohen breaks it down in a much linked-to article at WaPo:

Who moved in Romney’s direction?

Well, not political independents, for one. There was no meaningful change in their support for Obama or Romney in either poll.

All of the change in both polls came from the composition of each sample. In pre-debate interviews by Gallup, self-identified Democrats outnumbered Republicans by five percentage points, according to Gallup’s Jeff Jones. By contrast, in the three days following the debate, the balance shifted in a GOP direction, with 34 percent of registered voters identifying as Republicans (two points up from pre-debate), 33 percent as Democrats (four points down).

So voters who had been denying their Republicanism due to either the GOP’s noxiousness or Romney’s uninspiring existence were energized by the debate to reclaim their party affiliation. Long story short: Romney’s performance motivated his base. That’s good news for Romney, as they were about to sleep through the election, and it certainly improves his chances in swing states.

But it doesn’t change the underlying electoral math. There aren’t enough Republicans in swing states to get Romney to 270, which is why his and Obama’s campaigns have been fighting so hard over undecided voters/independents/whateveryoucallem. And as Cohen notes above, there was no shift in independent voting trends, which means Romney’s debate didn’t change anybody’s mind, but merely awoke his own somnolent party. Sure enough, polls in swing states show the race tightening some, but not changing. For a couple weeks there, Obama looked to be running away with Ohio; now he’s only four points ahead. Those four points all but keep him in the White House.

This makes sense historically. Debates have rarely had anything close to a cataclysmic effect, but instead served to rally base support. More proof that that’s what we’re seeing: Romney had his highest favorability rating so far in an ABC News poll—but so did Obama, even after his woeful debate performance. And Romney still has not crested the 50% where Obama now regularly resides.

To be sure, Romney has some wind at his back right now. If Paul Ryan turns in a good debate performance (not bloody likely), perhaps momentum really could shift. But as of right now, the forecast still favors Obama. Tell your local Obama supporter to calm the eff down. (Or, as Obama said at a campaign rally the other day, “Don’t boo. Vote.”)

Obama Now Up By Five Among Likely Voters, Convention Bounce Or No

by evanmcmurry

Though the headline says Obama’s lead “narrows,” he still is ahead in Monday’s Reuters/Ipsos poll by five among likely voters, the group most likely to tend rightward.* Keep in mind, the two candidates were statistically tied at the beginning of the conventions. As we’re almost two full weeks past the convention, there’s good reason to think this is no longer a long convention bounce we’re seeing, but a reflection of Romney’s stumbles: the public did not view his response to the Libya attacks favorably at all. And this is all before the Politico story on Romney’s shambling campaign or the revelation of a video showing Romney disparaging half the country as moochers, the former of which likely won’t matter to voters, but the latter of which could be devastating.

All of this means Obama’s five point lead is not likely to fade in the next week, at least. This has historical precedence, as Ezra Kelin explains:

The least-stable period of the campaign isn’t early in the year or in the fall. It’s the summer. That’s because the conventions have a real and lasting effect on a campaign.

“The party that gains pre- to post-convention on average improves by 5.2 percentage points as measured from our pre- and post-convention benchmarks,” write Erikson and Wlezien. “On average, the party that gains from before to after the conventions maintains its gain in the final week’s polls. In other words, its poll numbers do not fade but instead stay constant post-conventions to the final week.”

In other words, Obama’s five point lead is dead on, statistically, and likely to be permanent.

Also noteworthy: Obama is now leading Romney on who would do a better job on the economy, one of the only areas on which Romney has been beating the president, and the logic for his entire campaign.

* In contradistinction to registered voters, or the public in general.

Jewish Voters Sticking With Obama, Despite Conservative Crying About Israel

by evanmcmurry

If you had only been paying attention to headlines and opinion writers lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Obama was losing some sort of public relations war over Israel. Mainstream conservatives have been accusing him of shirking the all-important neocon ally, the DNC had itself a little to-do over the removal of Jerusalem from its platform, other Jennifer Rubin columns, and so on. The implicit warning from conservative quarters was that Obama was finally in danger of losing reliably Democratic Jewish voters, a small but crucial bloc neocons have been after for years.


President Barack Obama is closing extending his lead with Jewish voters, leading among registered voters 70-25 percent according to unreleased Gallup daily tracking poll data.

The data, obtained through a Democratic source, shows Obama up from leading 64-29 in polling this spring — and on par with his 2008 performance at this point when he led 69-25 over John McCain in Gallup polling. The data is drawn from tracking polls taken between July 1 and September 10th. (via)

Haaretz points out:

The rise in Jewish support for Obama, seems to indicate that American Jews are less concerned with Israel than might be thought. [sic]

They said it, not me. This is not just important to the national election, which Romney has for all intents and purposes ceded, but down ballot as well. We all remember this bullshit, right? In the Democratic quest to keep Congress from becoming a quagmire of obstinacy for the next four years, they need to hold on to all the seats they can; stray Jewish voters returning to the Democratic fold may save only one or two seats, but two years ago, one or two seats was the difference between health care and no health care.

The refusal of Jewish voters to cross party lines also speaks poorly for the Republican party in the long term. Sayeth Zeke Miller:

Despite a heated debate on Israel, most Jewish voters are Democrats and align closely with the Democratic Party on domestic issues from abortion to taxes and spending, and Republicans have tried without success for years to pry the group away from the Democratic Party.

In isolation, this doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Combine it, however, with the GOP needlessly antagonizing the increasingly important Hispanic vote, and smaller communities like Indian-Americans, and you have a different story. Via Robert Farley:

The bulk of Indian-Americans seem to behave very similar to the bulk of Jewish Americans, voting Democratic by large margins. Elite level coalition builders of this sort seem congenitally incapable of understanding just how goddamn scary mainstream Republican rhetoric is for minority voters.

The GOP is well positioned to cleave off certain segments of the voting population—their strident pro-Israel tic being a perfect opportunity—but can’t close the deal because of their noxious social policies. Combine this further with the fact that they weed out their own members based on stupid bigoted litmus tests, and you have a party that’s escorting itself to the margins of the mainstream.

Proof Bill Clinton Could Sell Igloos To Eskimoes, Elevators To One-Story Buildings, Etc.

by evanmcmurry

Greg Sargeant notes* that a new Spanish language Obama ad explicitly makes the claim that the economy is “recovering,” something the Obama campaign has been hesitant to do for fear of seeming out of touch with voters still feeling the brunt the recession.

What changed? A little speech by one Bill Clinton:

There are signs that voters may be growing more open to this argument, in the wake of Bill Clinton’s convention speech, which spelled it out very effectively. As MSNBC’s First Read crew notes this morning, the new NBC/WSJ polls in Florida, Ohio and Virginia show a jump in the number who think we’re on the right track, to oer 40 percent. [sic]

The NBC team attributes this to Clinton’s argument: “No president — not me or any of my predecessors — could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving, and if you’ll renew the president’s contract you will feel it.” Clinton, of course, will continue to play a key role in trying to make swing voters feel better about the direction of the economy.

 That’s obviously a pretty big assumption—I don’t now how NBC found a causal connection between Clinton’s speech and the change in numbers—but I have no problem buying it, either. It sure wasn’t Obama’s speech that did effected the change, nor was it the wan jobs report that followed the next morning.

You may also enjoy this drink with an irony back: Republicans talked up Bill’s speech, expecting him to overshadow Obama, and remind people of the good times they enjoyed under his presidency that Obama has been unable to replicate. No such luck!

As a side note, a lot of people before and during the conventions made the dismissive argument that “conventions no longer matter.” I wonder how those authors feel now. Obama received a pretty sizable bump from the convention that has yet to fade; more important, he now polls even with Romney on who would better handle the economy, effectively neutralizing Romney’s one strength. Add on the above change in the “right track” metric, and I bet we will look back on the DNC as the moment the election slipped once and for all from Romney’s grasp.

* Link feature not working for some reason; maybe it needs a tax cut.

Literally Everything You Need To Know About Obama’s Convention Bounce (Literally)

by evanmcmurry

There were only two likely results once the Democratic National Convention started with Romney and Obama in a virtual dead heat in the polls. The first was that Obama would get little to no poll bounce—and after his wet rag of a speech, that was certainly a possibility. Together with the dismal job numbers released less than twelve hours following the closing of the convention, that might have spelled real trouble for the Obama campaign: if he was unable to capitalize on memorable performances by almost every figure in the Democratic party, and was hurt by job numbers, it would have shown that he really was the vulnerable incumbent Romney had been claiming all along, one wind-shift away from falling behind his opponent.

That didn’t happen. Obama’s poll bounce seems to be averaging five points,* and yes, that includes Rasmussen, a polling firm that skews heavily Republican. The most recent CNN poll of likely voters—who, as Greg Sargeant points out, break more toward Republicans than the general populace—has him up six points. Obama is at 50% for the first time in the race, and perhaps most important, he is finally beating Romney in who would better handle the economy.** That has been, for months, Romney’s only strong point; it’s really, really bad news for Romeny that Obama pulled ahead on that metric.

So what, says you the skeptic, that’s why they call it a “bounce.” Sure thing, dick, except Romney didn’t get one himself. Romney, in fact, hasn’t gotten a bounce from either the selection of Paul Ryan or the RNC convention. As Jonathan Chait puts it, the fact that Obama got such a bounce says that voters are very open to the idea of reelecting him, and not about to turn on the president out of economic malaise, as Romney argues; double that if Obama was still able to get a 5-6 point bounce despite those job numbers throwing a bucket of cold water on his convention.

Meanwhile, the fact that Romney can’t break through the polls—his unfavorability ratings remain a point underwater despite his multi-million dollar prime-time attempt to humanize himself, and he has yet to lead Obama in the race—suggest that his voters-will-elect-anybody-not-Obama strategy is officially failing. I’ve been screaming from rooftops for a while now that if voters were going to drop Obama over the poor economic recovery and turn to his private-sector replacement, it would have happened by now. But if there were ever a moment for such a defection, this past week would have been it. It’s simply not happening.

This is the second possible narrative coming out of the DNC: that Obama has never trailed this race, and will now begin to pull away with it. That’s what Steve Kornacki at Salon is arguing; headline: “Barack Obama is winning and pretty much has been all year.” Moreover, TNR‘s Nate Cohn posits, somewhat persuasively, that we are at the most indicative point of the whole race. While he’s careful to hem his thesis, he essentially says that every presidential race dating back to Johnson has been decided by this point. History’s greatest monster Jimmy Carter, the predecessor to whom Republicans keep trying to link Obama, received a bounce from his convention—from 39 to 41 percent. Obama, by contrast, is breaking 50 percent, equal to Reagan’s 1980 total at this moment. Even more telling, this is the highest Obama has polled in the whole race:

This election’s unusual stability makes Obama’s potential movement even more significant. For two years, Obama’s approval ratings hewed within just a few points of 47 percent and the entire summer elapsed without any discernible movement toward either candidate. Romney wasn’t able to secure any post-RNC bounce, and Obama’s gains represent the first decided movement toward either candidate since Romney won the Republican nomination. Put differently, we now know there are voters open to voting for the president beyond the initial 47 percent he held in summer polls, but Romney has not demonstrated similar upside.

In other words, the 47% at which Obama’s been hovering all this time was his weak number due to the economy. Romney’s been arguing that Obama’s been polling artificially high due to how much voters like him, but that once they come to terms with the fact it’s okay to dump him over his weak performance, he’d drop. But it’s looking more like 47% was Obama’s floor, not his ceiling.

Via Ed Kilgore, this is bad news for Romney, not just cuz he’s losing, but because his losing will activate the crazier sections of his party, the way a fever causes chills. We all remember that the tail end of the McCain campaign was pretty much taken over by “goin’ rogue” Sarah Palin, who started flinging accusations of socialism and terrorist-pallin’ in an attempt to salvage the race. Romney has even less of an ability to withstand the demands of the more conservative elements of the Republican party. Which means that at a moment when Romney should be paddling toward center as fast as possible, especially to win women voters, he’ll instead by getting whipped by the right of his party to become even more conservative to mobilize his base in hopes to beat Obama in turnout. Good luck winning an election like that.

Obvi, we’re eight weeks out and this is all speculative. But the Romney campaign is looking at all these same numbers and panicking.

* Eternal poll disclaimer: national polls are meaningless, margin of error, etc.

** Actually, he’s only one point ahead in this metric, well within the margin of error—sorry, “credibility interval.” But this has been Obama’s weakest point, so merely the fact that he’s attained a watery lead means something.

Paul Ryan Is A Drag, And Other Things We Learned From The New WaPo/ABC Poll

by evanmcmurry

There’s a pile of stuff to work through in the new WaPo/ABC News poll, but the most interesting is about Paul Ryan, if nothing than because we’ve been over the rest before. Follow me here:

  • Ryan’s numbers are net positive, with 50-31 percent in approving of his choice. Seems like a nice figure, except that Republican VP’s Greatest Hits have all polled at 60% approval at this point. That’s right—both Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney had higher numbers than Ryan four and twelve years ago. Even Joe Lieberman garnered a 60% approval rating twelve years ago, which shows how lulled the Democratic Party was in 2000. Meanwhile, in terms of whether Galt For Halloween makes voters more or less likely to vote for the presidential candidate, respondents split evenly, 14-14, with 70% saying Ryan makes no difference. That’s at least ten points lower than both Biden and Palin got four years ago. Relative to previous elections—i.e., taking away how he factors into the specifics of this race—Paul Ryan is a weak choice for VP.
  • When described in the abstract, respondents favor Paul Ryan’s budget plan 46-44. When the voucherization of Medicare is described with specifics, that number drops to 30-64%, with only 11% strongly supporting the plan. Assuming that anybody who would be scared by Obamacare is already a Romney voter—which is not a certainty, but a likelihood—and the Dems have way more to gain from going after Ryan on Medicare than the GOP has bashing Obama over Medicare.

Take these factors together, and Ryan seems like nothing but a liability to me. All that could change if he gives some amazing convention speech, of course. (Still, eight percent of respondents found Ryan too liberal. Can’t win for losing with this crowd.)

More of note:

  • On the breakdowns of who handles what better, Romney bests Obama on the economy and the deficit, and Obama beats Romney on almost everything else. But more interesting is the change in all these numbers—Romney is down by three points on nearly every single issue, including the economy, from the last time the poll was taken. Romney beats Obama on the economy 46-44, but it was 49-44 seven weeks ago; he lost three points on handling small businesses, while Obama gained two. Those are not good signs for a candidate whose entire campaign is predicated on an economic argument. Combine this with Romney’s atrocious likability rating—only 27% like Romney—and you have an unlikable candidate who’s losing his only strength.
  • Romney is down on almost every other metric—down four points on the deficit, three on health care, four on abortion and gay marriage*, and TEN** on energy. The uniformity of the drop suggests that it might have more to do with the sample than a change of opinion, but still, Romney is, at the very least, making no headway against Obama on any issue.
  • Romney is beating Obama on who would handle the economy by a statistically-negligent two points, but he loses, by a lot, on economic breakdown questions. Who better understands the economic problems people are having? Obama, 49-37. Whose policies favor the middle class? Obama, 2-1. Romney presents himself with an aura of competence, so I can see why people side with him overall on the economy; but like his running mate, his image breaks down under the slightest scrutiny.
  • Romney beats Obama by five points on handling taxes. This may have been heard more as a competence question than an ideological one. If you asked me in a bar, “Who’s better at handling taxes, Romney or Obama?” I’d say, “Mitten, of course! He’s so good he won’t even release them for fear of bragging.”
  • Most important, to me: respondents still blame Bush for the economy. This explains a lot of why Obama is still doing so well, despite the high unemployment rate, slow recovery, etc. For all that we hear about the short memories of the general populace, Romney & Co. have failed to make this Obama’s economy. Since Romney doesn’t offer anything else, they haven’t given voters who don’t blame Obama for the economy enough of a reason to drop him.

* I still don’t understand why abortion and gay marriage are both grouped together under the same category.

** This seems to deserve more comment than my paltry understanding of energy policy can give it. A ten point shift is massive, especially given that nothing of note has happened in terms of energy or the environment. What happened?

The Correlation Between Unemployment And The Election Is An Illusion

by evanmcmurry

Yesterday, I discussed Jennifer Rubin’s indictment of the “media,” however she defines it, for focusing on the Bain attacks rather than the state of the economy. Rubin’s theory was that the 8.2% unemployment rate—which looks to be here to stay for a while—was 100% for sure going to tank Obama’s reelection chances, so the media was being irresponsible by actually vetting Obama’s opponent, as Romney is going to win no matter what so who cares. The problem with this is that we’ve had 8.1-8.2% unemployment for a while now, and it hasn’t impacted Obama’s numbers at all. He remains 2-3 points ahead of Romney in national polls, and 3-6 points ahead in swing states. Rubin was so convinced of a correlation between unemployment and a defeated incumbent that she wanted the media to report it even though it hadn’t shown up yet. I called that crazy.

Jamelle Bouie at the Prospect goes me one further, using data from Nate Silver that the correlation itself may be an illusion:

Pace almost all election coverage, unemployment doesn’t actually tell you much about the final outcome of an election…There’s almost no relationship between the unemployment rate on Election Day and the fate of the candidates. It’s fun trivia to note that Obama is running with the highest unemployment rate since 1936, but alone, it doesn’t say anything about Obama’s position with the electorate.

(He has a chart, so if you’re a visual learner click over. )

So what can haz correlation?

By contrast, there is a significant relationship between final election outcomes and either GDP growth or growth in personal income. Indeed, if you’re trying to explain Obama’s continued strength in the polls—despite a sluggish economy—look no further than the fact that growth is positive on both counts. This isn’t to say that it’s good—the economy is predicted to have grown by 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and income is up by only 0.3 percent—but that it’s unusual for incumbents to lose when there’s any growth at all.

This really does explain it all. High unemployment is often coincident with lack of growth, and is a more visible symptom of a stagnant economy, so it’s no wonder that it’s been the focus of warnings for Obama. But our economy is growing. It’s not growing as quickly or as strongly as we want it to, which is why Obama’s not running away with the election, but if you want an explanation as to why he’s still ahead of Generic Candidate R, look no further than the fact that the economy is in forward motion.

Bouie and Silver both think Romney is overreacting to the Bain attacks, as Romney’s national polling numbers haven’t moved in the last three months either. I’d disagree with this. Romney’s behind, not just in national polling numbers, but in favorability ratings, in swing states, in whom voters trust, etc. Stagnation for Romney is defeat. All the Bain attacks need to do is keep him where he’s at, which is precisely what they’re doing.