2012: A Democratic Wave Election?

Conventional wisdom says that this election is destined to be close, if only because so many people have already made up their mind and are unlikely to be persuaded to change it.

I think the conventional wisdom is wrong.   I’ve been keeping track of daily polls on my 2012 Polls! page, and what I’m seeing causes me to think that the electorate may be tipping to the Democratic side in a level not unlike how the GOP scored in 2010.    That would mean a Democratic wave, not only securing a second term for President Obama, but also keeping the Democrats in charge of the Senate and perhaps endangering the GOP House majority.

Why I may be right

Obama is clearly up in every swing state but Florida (and most polls show Florida at least leaning Obama), and has even taken a lead in North Carolina, a state assumed likely for Romney.    Despite tracking polls that show a close race, more major polls show Obama opening up a 5 to 8 point lead on his challenger.    The well regarded Pew poll with a sample of over 2000 likely voters showed Obama up 8.    Nate Silver notes that pollsters who use live interviews and call cell phones as well as land lines are the ones that show a larger Obama lead.  These polls are generally regarded as more reliable.

Tammy Baldwin’s turn around in the polls is not a lone event, Democrats nation wide are showing strength in US Senate races

But it’s not just Obama.   All over the country there is a surge for Democratic Senate candidates.    Democrat Elizabeth Warren went from about five points down to Scott Brown in Massachusetts to being a few points up.   Most people thought Democrat Tammy Baldwin didn’t have much of a chance in Wisconsin against the popular former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.   From being down near ten, she’s showing a consistent lead in the polls.

In states like Michigan, Ohio and Florida, where the Republicans thought they had decent shots at grabbing Democratic Senate seats the incumbents are starting to open up double digit leads.     The most likely GOP pick up earlier this year was Missouri, but thanks in part to Todd Akin’s missteps the Democrats look set to hold that seat.

The Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats and the GOP only ten. Yet current polls suggest the GOP may not pick up any net seats.

Not long ago the question about the Senate was how many seats the Democrats would lose and if they could keep control.  Now it’s possible they could gain seats.   If this is a true swing to the Democrats, this could impact House races and instead of winning the predicted 10 to 15 seats the Democrats could win 30 or more – enough seats are vulnerable that a wave could pull ones into play that people think are likely to stay Republican.

Finally, there doesn’t look to be anything that can change the dynamic, save some kind of external shock.   Mitt Romney has proven himself an extremely poor candidate, unable to arouse excitement or generate support.   He’s always been a weak candidate, the idea he’ll remake himself in the next six weeks hard to imagine.   On top of that reports today suggest that the vaunted Romney money advantage may not exist.   That’s been the one hope of the Republicans, that an ad blitz in the final month might pull their man over the top.   Now it looks like neither candidate will have a clear financial advantage, even when Super Pac money is calculated into the mix.

Why I might be wrong

The Rasmussen and Gallup tracking polls continue to show a tight race, and they may be right.   Moreover, this bump up in polling numbers for the Democrats may mean they are peaking too soon.   The Republicans have time to adjust and respond.   If this had come in the last couple weeks of the campaign, the GOP would be caught off guard.

While Obama and Romney may be tied in money, the Republicans have more to spend in Congressional races, and they’ve only begun to invest there.    Even if Obama is pulling ahead of Romney that’s just a sign of how bad a candidate Romney is; the economy and other factors still favor Republicans.    The Democrats may keep the Senate, but there is no sign that this is part of a larger wave spreading to the House.

Finally, the biggest reason I may be wrong is that the idea of a Democratic wave seems completely implausible given conditions in the country today.

Why a wave in 2012?

When unemployment is at 8.0%, the economy sluggish, and the incumbent Democratic President has a job approval rating of under 50%, how could the Democrats possibly have a good year?

Here’s how it could be playing out:  through the summer the public was willing to give the Republicans a shot.   Mitt Romney had a reputation as a moderate, and people considered breaking with Obama.   However, Romney’s been an unbelievably weak candidate, dogged by constant missteps.    He insulted the British during a trip abroad designed to show his foreign policy credibility, he couldn’t put aside controversy over his taxes, and Obama’s team engineered a successful summer ad campaign defining Romney as a secretive plutocrat.   Then the conventions juxtaposed an angry and pessimistic Republican gathering with an upbeat, optimistic and even celebratory Democratic one.

Instead of an optimistic forward looking vision, the GOP came off as extreme, angry and warned that our best days may be behind us

Side by side, the Democrats spoke to centrists and average Americans while Republicans preached to the converted.   Add to that Romney’s Libya reaction and the leaked tape, and the public developed a distaste for a Republican party that seemed angry, a bit mean spirited and pessimistic.   Meanwhile, Democrats disappointed by Obama’s inability to bring about the change they desired became enthused about the election thanks to a strong convention and a desire not to let the Republicans win.

Clinton’s speech at the Democratic national convention spoke to independents and aroused Democratic enthusiasm

And the economy?   Most people aren’t suffering.   Disposable income is rising.  People aren’t going to vote on the basis of the jobs report or unemployment rate.   They’ll vote on how things feel to them.   They also recognize how bad things were in 2008, and still blame the Republicans.   By not offering a new vision for the future, the GOP forfeited their chance to argue that they are a force for change in 2012.

The result: a possible Democratic wave, caused less by the Democrats’ success or popularity than by a Republican failure to offer a new, persuasive and optimistic vision of what America could become with their leadership.    At this point some of the most vicious attacks on Romney are coming from conservatives and Republican insiders.

In short, campaigns matter, especially if one side runs a very, very bad campaign with a weak candidate.

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  1. #1 by SShiell on September 22, 2012 - 01:18

    Lets’s start with a few givens:
    1) Obama won with 53% fo the vote in 2008. Given.
    2) McCain ran a BS campaign in 2008. Palin didn’t help. Given.
    3) Many viewed Obama’s election as historic and there were indeed historic turnouts for him, especially among blacks and for the first time the youth vote really showed itself. Also Given.

    So with those givens, lets start with the following:
    1) The shine is off the penny. Obama is no longer the “Hope & Change” candidate of 2008.
    2) It is fair to say almost none of the 46% who voted for McCain will vote for Obama today.

    The question is, will Obama still get the 53% he got in 2008?
    * Already there is a lethargy among the young – what with almost 50% of college graduates moving back in with Mon & Dad for lack of job opportunities.
    * There is a price to pay for Obama’s position on Same Sex Marriage. A council of 1800 Black pastors from across the nation are preaching aganst Obama from the pulpit – and this is not to say they are preaching support for Romney.
    * The continuing deterioration of the Israel/Iran situation will affect Jewish support for Obama.

    In each of these constituencies, and others, it is doubtful the level of support provided for Obama in 2008 will be matched today. The chances he will hit that 53% level of support today is doubtful, even with a possible increase in the latino vote.

    Add to that the following:
    1) In 2008, the party affiliation gap gave the Democrats an almost 10% advantage over Republicans.
    2) Rasmussen has been tracking party affiliation and it is currently within approximately 1-2%.
    3) Most polls, when broken down, give considerable weight to the Democrats – more than a 2% advantage.
    4) Additionally, most polls taken of “likely voters” have shown an independent edge to Romney.
    5) In 2004, Bush won with the Democrats showing an almost 2% advantage in party affiliation.
    6) Democrats have never won an election where they were the underdog in party affiliation – at least since that metric has been tracked.

    Conclusion? As far as your idea of a “Democratic Wave Election” I can only ask one question – How’s that “Hope & Change” working out for you today?!?!

    Cheers.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2012 - 01:45

      A lot of that WAS the conventional wisdom. But enthusiasm is up, the state and national polls are moving strongly Democratic. Almost all polls now focus on likely voters. I don’t think there is a Democratic bias in most polls, though Nate Silver has found some with biases either way (Rasmussen tends to have a GOP bias, especially during the campaigns). But this is an argument that will be resolved in less than fifty days, so it’s not worth us beating it to death. If you click my link on 2012 polls, every day I up date and give my analysis. I’ve been surprised by the strong movements to the Democrats, especially in Senate races and state head to head. I’ll keep watching polls, and trying to analyze what they’re saying.

      It’s hard to know for sure voter affiliation, but there are so few Presidential elections and things change so much over the years that precedent is a very poor indicator along any single factor (e.g., unemployment rate, voter affiliation, etc.) At this point, I’m going to follow the horse race – it’s fun, sort of like watching a pennant race!

    • #3 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2012 - 01:59

      Seriously SShiell, don’t you think the GOP would be doing so much better if they had a positive message that offered an alternative to the pre-2008 policies (tax cuts and de-regulation) as well to the Democrats — an optimistic alternative for the future? I was shocked by the GOP convention, so much “gloom and doom,” Romney’s line that if you voted for Obama he’d guarantee our best days are behind us, a kind of bitter, angry tone, it seemed. I was at the 1980 convention that nominated Ronald Reagan – it was upbeat, optimistic, and while it criticized Carter, the “Carter has been a disaster” theme was second to “together, a new beginning,” a positive vision of the future. THAT is what the GOP lacks this year, and if they do lose (especially in a wave), that lack of optimism/vision will be the key reason (plus Romney’s team has really ran a horrible campaign — even Republican insiders admit and bemoan that!)

      Also the “blame the media” meme has started. When that becomes a dominant argument/complaint, that’s usually a sign of defeat.

      • #4 by SShiell on September 22, 2012 - 05:25

        Sorry Erb, I never said a word about the Romney message or lack thereof. My point was to counter your pointing to the possibility of a “Democratic Wave” election. I am not saying the Dems will win or lose, just I think there is very little chance of Obama getting anywhere near the 53% he got in 2008.

        All polls rely on turnout computations to correct for the sample they are provided. Whether you use the 2004 or 2008 (or some other year) turnout for your corrections will alter the results of the poll dramatically. And as I said previously most polls give more weight to the Dems than I would suggest is reasonable. My sense is that the difference between the two parties is 1-2%, no more. In fact, show me a single poll that samples more Republicans than Democrats – good luck with that one.

        As far as you considering Rasmussen having a GOP bias, that is wishful thinking. I leave it to you to look back at who picked the 2004, 2008, and even the 2010 midterms. Rasmussen was spot on in all three. It is not a bias if you get it right.

        My own sense is that it will be one of three outcomes:
        1) Close win for Obama
        2) Close win for Romney
        3) Runaway win for Romney

        I could actually see a reverse 2000 election where Romney gets the popular vote and Obama wins the electoral college.

      • #5 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2012 - 06:08

        Rasmussen’s bias is during the campaign. In the final polls he seems to shift to being accurate. Hey, we each have our thoughts on the final results here on record — that’s cool, we’ll see what happens!

      • #6 by SShiell on September 23, 2012 - 00:23

        Tell you what, the day Rasmussen “shifts’ his methodology, give me a shout. I have been a Rasmussen watcher for over 20 years and if he changes his methodology for the “final” poll it will be a first.

      • #7 by classicliberal2 on September 24, 2012 - 06:27

        “It’s not bias if you get it right.”

        Of course the notion that Rasmussen got it right is as ludicrous as Rasmussen itself. Writing on FiveThirtyEight in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 elections, Nate Silver covered Rasmussen’s inaccuracy compared to other pollsters:

        “The 105 polls released in Senate and gubernatorial races by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, missed the final margin between the candidates by 5.8 points, a considerably higher figure than that achieved by most other pollsters. Some 13 of its polls missed by 10 or more points… Rasmussen’s polls were quite biased, overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average. In just 12 cases, Rasmussen’s polls overestimated the margin for the Democrat by 3 or more points. But it did so for the Republican candidate in 55 cases–that is, in more than half of the polls that it issued.”

        In a particularly bad example, Rasmussen, in that year’s Hawaii Senate race, had Daniel Inouye beating his Republican challenger by 13%; Inouye actually won by 51%. Silver notes that this is the single worst poll of the 2010 cycle, and the least accurate polling result in the entire FiveThirtyEight database.
        http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/04/rasmussen-polls-were-biased-and-inaccurate-quinnipiac-surveyusa-performed-strongly/

  2. #8 by Alan Scott on September 22, 2012 - 02:42

    Scott,

    Obama and the Democrats won ginormously in 2008 . You believe that will carry on in 2012 . So what exactly happened in 2010 ?

    • #9 by Norbrook on September 22, 2012 - 10:24

      Several things. First, the party in the White House generally loses seats in the mid-terms; second, there was very low voter turnout in general, and in specific, in groups that voted Democratic in 2008; and third, the Republicans were able to turn out their base much more effectively.

      None of those are applicable to this election cycle. Add in that the voter frustration with Congress which helped fuel the Tea Party didn’t change, in fact the Tea Party representatives made things worse. Add in a top ticket which is entering “death spiral” territory, and it’s quite possible that the Democrats may indeed not only keep the White House and the Senate, but also retake the House.

      • #10 by SShiell on September 22, 2012 - 14:27

        Can I get a pint of whatever it is you are drinking????

  3. #11 by Snoring Dog Studio on September 22, 2012 - 12:29

    I am much more hopeful than I was in 2010. The tide is turning. Unfortunately, when people reflect on how the economy “feels to them” a lot of them aren’t intelligent enough to realize that for 4 years, Republicans have blocked jobs bills and other remedies, and led us to the downgrade from S&P. They simply spout Fox News nonsense about Obama not doing anything.

    • #12 by SShiell on September 22, 2012 - 12:58

      Most people have a very short memory. For the better part of Obama’s first two years in office, he had a fillibuster proof legislature and, with the single exception of the Stimulus, did nothing for jobs. And the current Democrati-led Senate has blocked over 30 jobs bills passed by the house, 18 of which were passed in the lower house with huge bi-partisan support. Seems some people simply spout MSNBC nonsense.

      • #13 by Norbrook on September 22, 2012 - 15:24

        Um, no he didn’t. He had a “filibuster proof legislature,” if you call it that, for all of 3 months. Consider that Senator Franken was not seated for several months (59 senators, not “filibuster proof”), Senators Clinton and Biden had resigned their seats, and appointments to their seats took some time, and both Senator Kennedy and Senator Byrd were terminally ill. You might also want to remember that one of the remaining senators was John McCain’s good friend, Senator Lieberman.

      • #14 by SShiell on September 22, 2012 - 23:33

        So what you are saying is Obama can’t perform at all unless he has 60 Democrats in the Senate?

        What about a Blanch Lincoln – you remember the Card check holdout. 61?

        And then there was the Louisiana Senator who needed prodding (“Louisiana Purchase”) for ObamaCare. 62?

        And don’t forget Nelson of Nebraska. 63?

        And what if there are any Blue dogs out there. 64? 65?

        What kind of majority does Obama need to do any business at all? How in the world did any of the previous Presidents ever get anything done?

        /sarcasm switch off

      • #15 by classicliberal2 on September 24, 2012 - 03:27

        Obama never had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, not even for a day. Even the theoretical one only lasted 5 months (divided into two periods), not “for the better part of Obama’s first two years in office”; functionally, it never existed at all.

  4. #16 by thenewamericanlondoner on September 22, 2012 - 20:13

    And the hard truth is that politicians lose elections more than win them and Romney is his own worst enemy, shooting himself in both feet and leaving his campaign without a leg to stand on. All the Democratic party needs to be, especially in races for the House, is a better alternative than the Republicans which currently, they are. Whatever the scenario is, I think a runaway win for Romney is simply inconceivable at this point.

  5. #17 by SShiell on September 22, 2012 - 23:27

    They said the same thing in 1980 with Reagan. They said the same thing for the Republicans in the 1994 midterms. They said the same thing for the Republicans in the 2010 midterms.

    Inconceivable? Quoting from the Princess Bride – “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

    Cheers.

    • #18 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2012 - 23:59

      Romney is no Reagan, not even close! The polls, Romney’s inept management of his campaign and his inability to connect and communicate make him the anti-Reagan. The thing that impresses me are the polls in battleground states and in Senate races. But if you think Romney is likely to win, you can make lots of money – Intrade Romney shares are selling for less than $30 a piece. If Romney wins, that’s a profit of $70 per share! I think you’d be throwing away money, but if you think Romney’s a winner why not put money on it?

      • #19 by SShiell on September 23, 2012 - 00:18

        As an aside, if Romney is so inept, why is the race still close? Could it be the flawed candidate is Obama?

        But more to the point, as I said previously in response to the premise of your blog entry – the likliehood of Obama approaching the 53% he got in 2008 is slim.

        But you never know. It has been said that all things are possible given the time and space. But, given this time and this space, it is just as likely the Great Pumpkin will rise this year on Halloween night. Keep a close watch on the Pumpkin Patch.

        Cheers.

    • #20 by classicliberal2 on September 24, 2012 - 04:24

      “They said the same thing in 1980 with Reagan. They said the same thing for the Republicans in the 1994 midterms. They said the same thing for the Republicans in the 2010 midterms.”

      Actually, no, “they” didn’t.

      • #21 by SShiell on September 24, 2012 - 20:19

        So, what you are saying is that Reagan’s runaway win over Carter in 1980 and the Republican landslide wins in the midterm elections of 1994 and 2010 were, at the time, easily comprehensible and believable by the public?

        Like I stated previously regarding the word inconceivable, “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

        Note: According to the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary, inconceivable is defined as: Impossible to comprehend; unbelievable. Just saying . . .

        Cheers!

      • #22 by classicliberal2 on September 25, 2012 - 01:53

        Reagan surged ahead of Carter by the end of May 1980, and except for 2 or 3 anomalous polls, Carter never led again after that. The New Republic charted it:

        Republicans were also expected to do well in 1994, but did better than was expected as a consequence of abysmal voter turnout. The Republican gains in 2010 were also predicted well in advance–I even wrote about all the lamentation from liberal pundits at the time.
        http://lefthooktheblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/monsters-noses-what-comes-next-thoughts.html
        Republicans, in fact, didn’t do as well in that cycle as was predicted.

      • #23 by SShiell on September 25, 2012 - 06:33

        Well, as far as 1980 is concerned, the Washington Post takes exception to the New Republic:

        Source: Washington Post
        http://voices.washingtonpost.com/behind-the-numbers/2008/10/reagans_comeback.html

        But a review of the late 1980 polls shows that while Reagan soared over the final week (following the campaign’s one and only debate on Oct. 29), the contest up until that point was tightly competitive, not trending toward the incumbent Democratic president. At the time, the Associated Press reported “new polls say the race between the two men remains too close to call.”

        A post-election summary of polls by then-CBS News pollster Warren Mitofsky shows that at no point over the final two weeks did Carter have a lead bigger than three percentage points. There is a published Gallup poll not included in that report showing Carter up six among likely voters in a poll conducted Oct. 24 to 27. Whether six or the eight points cited today, Carter’s advantage in Gallup polling was offset by similarly large Reagan leads in NBC-Associated Press or DMI (Reagan’s pollsters) polls.

        The bottom line is that there was no evident momentum for either candidate as the 1980 presidential election neared its completion. That is until Reagan’s breakthrough debate performance.

      • #24 by classicliberal2 on September 25, 2012 - 07:05

        No, the Post does NOT “take exception to the New Republic.” As the part you quoted clearly inidicates, it’s dealing with “the late 1980 polls,” and only a few of them, at that. That New Republic chart was assembled from data from all of the polls over the entire course of the election cycle, including even polls conducted by the campaigns. Reagan opened up a huge lead as summer was coming on, and, though the race tightened toward the very end, never lost it.

  6. #25 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2012 - 00:23

    Oh, I’m not expecting 53%. The race is close because of the economy and the level of partisanship in the country – if Romney had run a solid campaign he’d be ahead. He can still win, but I think the odds are against him.

  7. #26 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2012 - 00:30

    Do you have access to his methodology? Polls weigh results to reflect expected voter turnout. That includes demographics, voter affiliation, and whether one thinks voters will be enthused. Last time Gallup even published different poll results to reflect different assumptions (higher than expected turn out vs. expected turnout). If a pollster suddenly sees signs of, say, increased enthusaism, they might alter the way they weigh their sample.

    As for Rasmussen vs. PEW: Rasmussen uses automated polls and primarily land lines. PEW has real interviewers, included cell phones (and had over 2000 likely voters). PEW may be high, but I don’t think it’s off as much as Rasmussen would indicate. Still, there is uncertainty, I’ll keep gathering data, watching the polls…

    • #27 by SShiell on September 23, 2012 - 02:05

      “Do you have access to his methodology?”

      Yes. Buying into his service provides that. Part of my duties as an Environmental Program Manager includes Surveys and Polls. Access to metholologies utilized by professional poll takers like Rasmussen and others is a great assist.

      • #28 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2012 - 04:11

        OK, if you tell me he doesn’t change his assumptions and weighting when it comes down to the final polls, I have no reason not to trust you. We may disagree, but I’ve no reason to think you dishonest.

      • #29 by SShiell on September 23, 2012 - 04:51

        As with all Poll takers, assumptions change as conditions on the ground change – that is a fact of life. How he weighs results to reflect voter turnout is probably the most basic tweak he and other poll takers use.

        Most poll takers transition from the general populace to registered voters to likely voters as the political season transitions. Unlike most other Poll takers in this regard, Rasmussen’s basic methodology does not change. He starts with and stays with Likely Voters throughout.

        His results have been spot on for too many election cycles for me to criticize his methololgy. It will be interesting to see how he and others fare this cycle.

  8. #30 by elizjamison on September 23, 2012 - 01:14

    I am curious if you have ever read the book “Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception” by Charles Seife. You refer to the polls often, and I was wondering how much weight and truth you think polls have. Are the numbers manipulated?

    Elizabeth
    http://dissertationgal.com

    • #31 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2012 - 02:15

      I haven’t read that book, but am going to order it. I teach political science and am constantly warning students about the conclusions the media jump to from studies and the use of statistics. On polls – if done correctly, polls are usually very good (with the limits I wrote about a couple weeks ago – on average even 1 in every 20 good polls fall outside the margin of error, for instance). Polling companies want to be accurate.

      That said, there are so many pollsters out there it’s the case that some don’t do a very good job, some try to cook the data, and some make wrong assumptions and thus have inaccurate results. In trying to look at the polls I tend to really be skeptical of outliers. I also read blogs like that from Nate Silver who really gets into the numbers. For instance, Gravis Marketing had some Florida polls that were really odd – Mack was seen as leading Nelson, when all other polls had Nelson way up. Obama was behind by something like 5 points. So I looked into them and found they were a “for hire” political communication organization that will poll for money. They were NOT clear about their methodology or open about much of anything. My conclusion is not to trust them, they are being paid by someone, perhaps to get a result. Since many websites use “polls of polls” to handicap the horserace, campaigns have incentives to get polls in there that skew the race one way or another.

      I’m also skeptical of Rasmussen who seems to have a Republican bias compared to the rest of the pollsters until just before the election when his polls suddenly seem more in line with others. I suspect he’s weighing votes on a model that has lower turnout or lower Democratic enthusiasm to get a result more in line with what Republicans want. But he is a good pollster, so I take his results seriously — but he has a “house” bias. Polls that have an admitted lean — Purple Strategies is Republican, PPP is Democrat, also arouse skepticism.

      The best polls are almost certainly those the campaigns themselves conduct. But they are usually tight lipped about the results (since they drive strategy) and if they leak or publicize something, it’s usually partial designed to help them.

      Long answer – and for this election cycle I’m following them for fun, and to see afterwards how results earlier in the campaign might compare to final results (not just final polls). Just curious! Thanks for the comment (and I’ve been reading your blog – I enjoyed your reblog of the piece about teachers and tenure!)

      • #32 by elizjamison on September 23, 2012 - 14:52

        Would you mind if I showed your blog to my AP LANG students? I want them to read the latest on polls and also the comments on this post.
        Elizabeth

      • #33 by classicliberal2 on September 24, 2012 - 05:50

        The biggest problem with polls isn’t really with the polls themselves. It’s in the misunderstanding of what they are: a 2D portrait of a 3D world. It’s true that Rasmussen is a fraud who methodologically cooks his data to get a predetermined outcome, but that’s not the norm in polling.

        Rasmussen can actually help illustrate the point. You can get differing–often wildly differeing–responses to a question based on how that question is asked, its context among other questions, and so on. Rasmussen routinely asks ludicrously biased, misleading, and/or intentionally nebulous questions, worded in such a way as to, again, elicit a predetermined response. “Do you favor or oppose prayer in public schools?” An intentionally nebulous question, asked solely for the purpose of getting a high positive response Rasmussen can sell to his reactionary clients.[*] Or “It’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.” Agree, or disagree? Or, when polling on the Obama health care plan then in congress, he describes it, in his question, as a plan that “would prohibit people from choosing insurance plans with lower premiums and higher deductibles.” (When called on that one, Rasmussen claimed his description was based on one from a New York Times article–the Times article in question contained nothing of the sort).

        Still, if Rasmussen wasn’t meth cooking, these sorts of things could still sometimes show you one aspect of that 3D world, just not in the way it’s presented by those who use the data. If you ask people if they support the “Obama health care plan,” for example, a large chunk of the responses you get will hinge on what people feel about Obama himself. That’s one result. If you, instead, poll by describing the individual aspects of the plan, you will get another. If you ask people if they approve or disapprove of Republican opposition to the plan, you will get still another. And on into infinity. Differing questions generate shifts in respondent perspective. The truth, as in RASHOMON, lies between. Pollsters understand this, but ordinary people–and, more importantly, people working in the corporate press–usually don’t.

        [*] A question that insanely vague always renders meaningless the results. So it can’t be said I’m only picking on Rasmussen, I’ll note that Gallup has conducted ideological identification polling for years that is subject to this same problem. If you ask respondents, as Gallup does, if they consider themselves “conservative” or “liberal,” there’s always a much larger number who answer “conservative.” There are many problems with this. A lot of people are politically unsophisticated, and most people don’t think of themselves as defined by their politics, and what those words mean to them is wildly different from person to person, but Gallup doesn’t try to substantiate what these labels mean to respondents. At the same time, there has been a massive, sustained campaign, extending back over 3 decades, to demonize the word “liberal.” Entire generations have grown up never knowing a time when “liberal” wasn’t used as a curse-word in political discourse. That’s going to make people much less likely to self-identify as such, regardless of their actual politics. We end up with very strange results: Gallup’s own issue-polling–like the issue polling of every major pollster–shows massive, generally overwhelming support for the liberal position on virtually every issue of public importance, yet Gallup’s ideological identification polling consistently shows a huge advantage for “conservative”; even in liberal strongholds like Massachusetts and New York, “conservative” significantly outpolls “liberal.”

    • #34 by Titfortat on September 24, 2012 - 17:50

      @Elizabeth

      I left you a comment at your blog that I think got caught in your spam. If you cant find it here is a link to some books you may find interesting.

      http://www.dangardner.ca/index.php/books

  9. #35 by Norbrook on September 23, 2012 - 01:50

    @SShiel wrote:

    So what you are saying is Obama can’t perform at all unless he has 60 Democrats in the Senate?

    No, but nice try. It was your assertion, that Obama had a, and I quote, “fillibuster proof legislature”, and then after I showed you he didn’t you go and demonstrate quite nicely that I was correct. Do you ever get cramps twisting yourself that much?

    • #36 by SShiell on September 23, 2012 - 01:54

      By the way, it is SShiell.

    • #37 by SShiell on September 23, 2012 - 01:59

      Oh, but he did have a “fillibuster proof” legislature. You said yourself, “for all of three months” at least by your reckoning. Or did I misread what you wrote?

      You just wish it had been longer. But I doubt that he would have gotten any more accomplished – but that is just my opinion.

      Cheers.

      • #38 by Norbrook on September 23, 2012 - 22:01

        He had one “on paper,” if you assume that all Democrats would march in lockstep (like Republicans have been doing), Joe Lieberman would join along, and Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd would leave their hospital beds to be on the Senate floor. Since none of the above applied even during those 3 months, there wasn’t a “filibuster proof” legislature. Except in the minds of wishful thinking liberals and idiot Republicans.

        I might also note that the President passed a number of major laws and initiatives during the 2009-2010 session, so much so, that it would be an impressive set of accomplishments for two terms. But yes, I do wish it had been longer.

      • #39 by SShiell on September 24, 2012 - 03:37

        “I do wish it had been longer.”

        Even one day seemed like an eternity to me!

  10. #40 by Snoring Dog Studio on September 23, 2012 - 13:08

    Three months? 3? Wow. Seems like an eternity.

    /sarcasm switch off

  11. #41 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2012 - 15:53

    Elizabeth, I’m honored to have you show my blog to your students!

  12. #42 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2012 - 22:26

    Norbrook has a point – Obama’s and the 111th Congress was an activist one, even if they didn’t get everything they wanted. I’ve consistently said from back in 2008 that the economy was not going to get better soon, we’d be probably about the same place no matter who won in 2008 – an economy can’t magically be fixed by a President, even if Congress was cooperating fully (and the Democrats were divided on many issues and didn’t do everything Obama wanted). I think without the stimulus and without TARP (for which credit goes to President Bush) we’d have had a full credit squeeze and unemployment much higher. But absent a time machine we can’t run an alternative history!

    • #43 by Norbrook on September 24, 2012 - 10:27

      Thanks. 😀 The other point I had is something that I spent the better part of last year hammering on to liberals, that you have to understand how government is structured and works. It’s apparent from SShiel’s comments that the same misunderstanding is rampant on the Right.

  13. #44 by Scott Erb on September 24, 2012 - 21:21

    It was definitely clear in 1980 that Reagan was building a wave. I remember that election well (I was in Detroit when Reagan was nominated). He had a positive, optimistic vision, and people liked him. In 1994 there were numerous predictions that the Republicans had a wave year, and in 2010 almost everyone realized by late August that the Democrats were doomed. Early in the year I wondered if the Republicans could take the Congress. By October it was becoming increasingly clear the question was whether there was any chance the Democrats could keep it. The biggest obstacle to a Romney comeback is that Romney isn’t liked, is a weak candidate, has extremely high unfavorability ratings, and has not shown a capacity to inspire. He is the anti-Reagan. It’s close enough that an external event could still shake things up, but team Obama is clearly in the driver’s seat right now – and people are starting to speculate that the GOP House could be vulnerable. We’ll see.

  14. #45 by Professor Moriarty on September 25, 2012 - 13:58

    Professor Erb,

    I reluctantly voted for President Obama. Usually I vote third party (Libertarian).

    How do you feel about the treatment of the man supposedly responsible for the video blamed (initially) for the riots and assassination in the Middle East? He was pulled out of his home in the middle of the night, given the perp walk in front of the cameras for a possible probation violation. Do you blame the president? Or the entire chain, down to the deputies that carried out the order?

    I feel like it was a betrayal of the Constitution at every level of the chain of command. I am pretty shaken by this still.

    As to the First Amendment, do you feel that Freedom of Religion trumps Free Speech of the other way around?

    How do you feel toward our current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calling a civilian and “leaning” on him to distance himself from involvement with the video, if he had anything to do with it in the first place?

    I ask these questions because I am a police officer and in the past we used to spitball these questions, relatively secure that we’d never be asked to do such a thing.

    • #46 by Scott Erb on September 25, 2012 - 14:06

      I haven’t read about these things so at this point I don’t know enough to have an opinion (though I think the courts will work this through). In general after 9-11 and in times of turmoil the government tends to overstep its bounds, but usually that’s short term. If it becomes systemic and pervasive, that would be a real problem.

  15. #47 by thenewamericanlondoner on September 25, 2012 - 20:51

    Impossible to comprehend would suggest beyond the human imagination, so I take your point, if the corrupt state senates trying to disenfranchise voters get their way then yes, there is one possible way that it could be a landslide for the Republicans, but that is the only imaginable method of doing so, but it’s a cheap shot that they’re trying and smacks of desperation.

  16. #48 by Scott Erb on September 26, 2012 - 02:14

    I take back my claim I don’t expect 53%. The polls are showing the gap increasing, and Romney is proving an especially inept candidate. When the “blame the media” bit is played over a month before the election, it’s sounds like panic. More telling – there is a move to discredit the polls by saying they are all skewed. When it gets so desperate that they claim a conspiracy of pollsters (or a level of mass incompetence), then they’re sinking and don’t know how to right the ship. I’m starting to think Obama will out perform 2008 (and his numbers now are actually better than they were against McCain at this time — and this was after McCain’s debacle over Lehman: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/obama_vs_romney_compared_to_obama_vs_mccain.html

    I doubt this election will be close.

    • #49 by Norbrook on September 26, 2012 - 10:49

      I think it’s notable when you see states like Florida starting to widen out – and not in Romney’s favor – along with others that were considered “in play” or “safe” Republican shifting towards Obama or tightening up.

  17. #50 by thenewamericanlondoner on September 26, 2012 - 08:58

    Reassuring all round then.

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