Free Markets, Free People

There are polls and then there are polls

As I’ve said repeatedly over the years, candidate vs. candidate polls are virtually useless this far out from an election (9 months).

There’s little reason to pay attention to them.  So when you see these:

Obama 49.0%
Romney 43.3%

Obama 50.0%
Santorum 42.5%

Obama 53.0%
Gingrich 39.1%

Obama 48.6 %
Paul 40.4%

Remember this:

[I]n January 1980, the Gallup Poll showed:

Carter 63%
Reagan 32%

And, of course, there are plenty of other examples of those sorts of polls to be found if you look.

That said, there are polls that are indicators because they provide a history that lends itself to identifying whether or not an incumbent is actually in trouble or not.  The candidate v. candidate polls above really don’t.  We’re still in the early stages of nominating a candidate for one party and the focus has yet to really turn on the incumbent.  Numbers will change, I suspect fairly dramatically, when that happens.  And, to this point, I’d suggest that most of the country isn’t yet engaged in the presidential race.  That will happen 6 months from now when you can begin to pay attention to those polls pitting candidate against candidate.

But to those polls that matter, or at least point to historical trends, etc.  Here’s one:

It’s February, nine months before a presidential election, and only 22 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the way things are going.  Voters haven’t been this unhappy with the country since George H.W. Bush’s presidency, when only 21 percent of Americans reported being happy with the country’s direction. And before that, the lowest approval rating was 19 percent during Jimmy Carter’s first term.

What do the two presidencies have in common? Neither of them won re-election. And, if the trends holds true, Obama looks to be in an equally precarious situation.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research released its 2012 campaign outlook, and it’s clear Obama’s sitting in the same position George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were in during the February before their election losses—voters don’t feel good about the country.

So when I hear Democratic strategists like James Carville saying things like this …

The only way the president will lose according to Carville is if some event takes place and changes things.  He maintained it wouldn’t be the result of the GOP nominee outshining Obama.

“Right now, things are starting to perk up a little bit,” he said. “Who knows? This is the — no Republican can beat Obama. Events can beat Obama. He’s not going to get beat by a Republican. Now events could come in and cause him to lose the election. But that’s it right now. That was not the case three months ago.”

… I laugh.  This is pure “whistling past the graveyard” and political spin.  Carville is engaged in psychological warfare here.  He wants everyone to believe the worm has turned and it is all sunlight and roses for his candidate.

If dissatisfaction can be called an “event”, then that’s the event which should put Obama exactly where he belongs in November  – planning for his presidential library in 2013.

Carville knows as well as anyone that at this point in the process, his choice for re-election has gone almost unscathed and his record mostly unscrutinized.   But that will change and it will change dramatically in a few months.  And about that time, the focus of the nation will begin to turn to national politics. 

The fact remains that the American public is not happy and when it is not happy it tends to not reelect its president.  That is the “event” this president faces.   And my guess is, when the GOP finally settles on its candidate, OMG (Obama Must Go) will be the driving “event” which determines the election.

Carville says “no Republican” can beat Obama?  I disagree.  In the end, any Republican can beat Obama.  Some by larger margins than others, certainly.  But that’s my prediction.  The Democrats really haven’t a clue about the level of dissatisfaction that exists with this president.

Even the president most demonized by the left had better numbers than Obama does.  At the January SOTU prior to his 2004 re-election run, George W. Bush enjoyed a 41% satisfaction rate (as did Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton).  As noted, Obama is at 22%, 3 points above the president almost universally identified as our worst modern president.

Let’s see if James Carville is still laughing after the “event” it November.  My guess would be “no”.


Twitter: @McQandO

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13 Responses to There are polls and then there are polls

  • I don’t think Carville is wrong. Reagan out shined Carter by a lot. Clinton was much more charismatic than Bush Sr (who had terrible problems with his base that lead to a 3rd party candidate being a spoiler). Not a one of the GOP candidates can claim this.
    Let’s not kid ourselves that the MSM is going to get behind any sort of ‘anybody but Obama’ movement. I’ll wager they’ll label such sentiment as racist.
    It is still a long ways out but I’ll still go with the idea that the best chance Obama has for re-election is the poor quality of the GOP candidates.

    • @tkc882 The flaw in Carville’s argument is that he’s making it this far out. He is correct that the GOP field isn’t impressive. On the other hand, Obama has lots of problems.

      • @Don S @tkc882 It’s not so much a flaw as a reality, pundits are asked to make calls, he’s making a call. Anyone that pays attention to this stuff knows that the world coud change dramatically between now and then, so while not a worthless prognostication, it’s likelihood of accuracy is far than less than it could be when we are much closer to the general. I would be more inclined to look at Intrade’s figures which show Obama at a 60% likelihood of re-election. That will change, but I’ll be looking at which direction it’s going as the most accurate predictor.

  • Romney could beat Obama, that’s it. Gingrich and Santorum would be annihilated in the general capturing their base and little else. I think some folks delude themselves about the political nature of Americans. While a plurality of Americans consider themselves to be conservatives, on an issue by issue basis, a solid majority of Americans support policies that the conservative candidates are diametrically opposed to. This election, like every other election, won’t be decided by people saying, “I’m a conservative, candidate X is a conservative, I’ll vote for candidate X. People may self-indentify any way they want, but on an issue by issue basis, Americans prefer the more liberal policies (go look it up). When push comes to shove, Romney is far enough to the left to capture the middle, his biggest problem in the primaries has been his attempt to speak past the base with an eye on the general. The other guys are battling to see who can go farthest to the right, and while that works with the base, it would destroy them in the general. Romney vs. Obama will be a contest, anyone else vs. Obama will be a landslide for Obama.

    • Oh yeah, and you sir Mr. Romney, and you sir Mr. Santorum, and you sir, Mr. Gingrich, are no Ronald Reagan.

    • Oh yeah, and you sir Mr. Romney, and you sir Mr. Santorum, and you sir, Mr. Gingrich, are no Ronald Reagan.

    • @CaptinSarcastic Americans don’t prefer Obama’s policies, including Obamacare and bail outs. Obama is still liked personally, but almost everything he does is opposed. Obama also has the MSM on his side. The GOP candidates all have serious flaws, so at this point it could go either way. It will be competative if the economy improves, if that doesn’t happen Obama will likely lose.

      • @Don S Actually Don, while a slim majority does oppose the Affordable Care Act, that majority is split between about 40% conservatives who oppose it on conservative grounds, and a little over 10% who oppose it because it does not go far enough. That would be like arguing that a majority oppose the death penalty when some portion of that majority opposes it on the grounds that they want people tortured before killing them. More importantly, when each major component of the Affordable Care Act is polled, a majority are in favor it.

  • That Obama doesn’t crack 50 against 3 of the 4 is troubling for him. That only one of our candidates is within the MoE is troubling for us.

    Eh. Lots will happen between now and Nov including $5 gas and some sort of hijinks w/ Iran

  • Obama’s approval rating has decreased among all six partisan/ideology groups Gallup tracks on a regular basis since January, but it has dropped the most — 10 percentage points, from 40% to 30% — among pure independents. These are the roughly 14% of national adults who neither identify with one of the two major parties nor indicate a leaning. Obama’s approval rating has declined by nearly as much — eight points — among moderate/liberal Republicans, from 29% to 21%.

    Yeah. Obama is a lock for re-election. Among the stupid…otherwise known as his base.

  • McQ writes, “Carville says “no Republican” can beat Obama? I disagree. In the end, any Republican can beat Obama. Some by larger margins than others, certainly. But that’s my prediction.”

    But that’s not really a prediction, is it?
    Can “any Republican” beat Obama? Any generic republican, Maybe.
    Will a Republican beat Obama? Or more accurately, (Romney, Santorum, Paul, or Gingrich) will beat Obama. Now that’s a prediction. Care to make one of those?

    Of course, to do that, you must put them together side by side. And even if you ignore current polling that suggest no, you still have to weigh personality, policy, public perception, organization, money, etc. etc.

    And it doesn’t look good for the Republicans. But you laugh all you want – enjoy it for now. Because in November, my money is on Carville keeping his grin.