Preference cascade: How solid are Obama’s favorability numbers?
I wonder about the validity of these sorts of numbers:
While rising 14 points since February, Romney still trails the president, who currently has a 56% favorable rating, with 42% saying they hold an unfavorable opinion of Obama. The president’s favorable and unfavorable ratings are unchanged from CNN polls in March and April.
“The biggest gap between Obama and Romney’s favorable ratings is among younger Americans. More than two-thirds of those under 30 have a favorable view of Obama, compared to only four-in-ten who feel that way about Romney. Romney is much stronger among senior citizens, but the gap is not nearly as big," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Romney may have a small advantage among independent voters, but that is offset by his lower favorable rating among Republicans than Obama has among Democrats."
A couple of things – how strong, really, is Obama’s favorable ratings among a demographic scared to death of being called a racist if they happen to have an unfavorable view of our first black president? That’s a legitimate question.
Old folks, for the most part, don’t give a damn about that and may more closely mirror the real feelings out in fly over land.
The reason I say that is Obama’s “favorable ratings” have continued to stay high while his job performance numbers have continued to fall. That seems somewhat unlikely. Usually the two show some movement in the same direction even if one is higher than the other.
Romney is going to grow on Republicans if he continues to attack (i.e. not be the designated place holder for the GOP and refuse to do what is necessary to win as did John McCain), keep the campaign focused on the real issues of the campaign (and Obama’s record) and not fall for the distractions that are sure to be tossed out to the media every week by the Obama campaign. Republicans are eager for someone, anyone, who will carry the political battle to the Democrats.
John Hayward talks about the Glenn Reynolds “preference cascade”, a phenomenon Reynolds notes while talking about the collapse of totalitarian regimes. Hayward describes it here:
A large population can be dominated by a small group only by persuading all dissenters that they stand alone. Most of their fellow citizens are portrayed as loyal to the regime, and everyone around the dissident is a potential informer. A huge dissident population can therefore be suppressed, by making them believe they’re all lonely voices in the wilderness… until the day they begin realizing they are not alone, and most people don’t support the regime. The process by which dissent becomes seen as commonplace, and eventually overwhelming, is the preference cascade.
This analysis doesn’t have to be confined to the study of repressive, dictatorial regimes, or even politics. Consider the phenomenon of celebrity without merit – that is, people who are famous for being famous. Their popularity tends to evaporate in a preference cascade eventually, as people in the audience begin wondering if anyone else is tired of hearing about the ersatz “celebrity,” and soon discover that everyone is.
He then applies it to the politics of this race:
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – that disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him, or at least a greedy tool of the Evil Rich, or a “Tea Party extremist.”
A negative mirror image of this narrative was installed around Mitt Romney, who is supposedly a fat-cat extremist (and, thanks to the insidious War On Mormons, a religious nut) who nobody likes… even though large numbers of people in many different states voted for him in the primaries. Of course he has his critics, and I’m not seeking to dismiss the intensity or sincerity of that criticism… but the idea was to make Romney supporters feel isolated going into the general election, particularly the people who don’t really get involved in primary elections.
Both of those convergent narratives began crumbling this week: Obama is deeply vulnerable, and his campaign has no real answer to criticism of his record – they’ve even tried floating an outright fraud, the now-infamous Rex Nutting charts that presented Obama as some kind of fiscal hawk. (Stop laughing – major media figures took this garbage seriously for a couple of days, and Team Obama did push it.) Major Democrats, beginning with Newark mayor Cory Booker, expressed criticism of the Obama campaign… and the Left reacted with shrieking hysteria and vows of personal destruction for the “traitors.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney effectively presented both substantive criticism of Obama, and a positive agenda. Attacks on his business record that were supposed to destroy him through class-warfare tactics failed to draw blood. The idea that he can win became widely accepted. That doesn’t mean he won the 2012 argument… but unlike Barack Obama, he is offering one.
What is beginning to lose its effectiveness, it’s cache, is, as Hayward notes, " … disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him …”.
But when polled, especially among younger voters, that presumption is still powerful enough I would guess, to see those voters lie to pollsters. It is a sort of social conditioning that has taught them to avoid such a label even at the cost of a lie (and even when speaking to a pollster).
So, and it is merely a guess, but based on a life long study of human nature, there is a distinct possibility that the “Tom Bradley” effect may be pumping up Obama’s popularity numbers.
And, as Hayward points out, as it becomes less and less effective or acceptable to accuse those who do not like Obama of being racists, the possibility of a preference cascade negative to Obama’s favorability is a distinct possibility.
No one who has watched the beginnings of this race can, with any credibility, claim the Obama campaign isn’t struggling. Donors are deserting him, his record is an albatross around his neck, there is strife between his administration and campaign and many of his political supporters seem luke warm at best with any number of Democrats running for reelection in Congress content not to be seen with the man. Too many indicators that point to the probability that the numbers CNN are pushing aren’t quite as solid as they may seem.
Hayward concludes with an important update:
I should add that the most powerful cascades occur when an artificially imposed sense of isolation crumbles. That’s very definitely what is happening here. Widespread popular discontent with the Obama presidency has been suppressed by making the unhappy campers feel marginalized. The failure of that strategy is akin to watching a dam burst under high pressure.
The race, once it gets into high gear, is what will cause the “dam burst” as more and more Americans discover they’re not alone in their feelings about the President and that they are not at all on the margins, but very mainstream.
Once that happens (and it will), when everyone finally realizes they’re not the only one who has noticed the emperor has no clothes, the chances of a one-term Obama presidency increase exponentially.