Saturday, April 18, 2009

Presidential Approval Update, Tea Parties, Foreign Relations & An Update on the Ambitioius Presidential Agenda

Presidential Approval: Holding Steady, But Some Interesting Footnotes

In my aggregated composite of polls, President Obama's approval rating has been very stable for the past week, moving upward 0.4%, a statistically insignificant margin. This stability is significant only in that I previously reported how the President had been slowly shedding approval, at a rate of about 6% a month through the month of March, but he now appears to have stabilized -- at least for the time being.

The lack of movement may be attributable to the slow political news: the Easter holiday, congress on recess, etc.

Below is the latest chart:
Since the numbers didn't move much, I took some time to look at the internals of the polling data and it is interesting. There is one poll that has consistently been lower than our avearge, by 15 to 18% almost all the time and that is the Rassmussen poll. Rassmussen is a non-partisan poll (I only use non-partisan polls in any of my projections and averages) and is well-respected with a strong history of good results. So why is it such an outlier?

I have two theories. The first relates to polling questions. The Rassmussen polls uses a different format from the other major polls in that it uses a four-choice question rather than a simple approve or disapprove. The availability of intermediate choices can change how some people make judgements versus a binary choice. For instance, a liberal activist who isn't happy that the President is beefing up troops in Afghanistan might choose a "slightly disapprove" choice if given it but may not pick "disapprove" if only given two choices.

My second theory, and I believe that this is probably the greater contributing factor, lies in sample selection. There are three major sample types that one can pick in a political poll:
Adult Americans -- basically a random sample of all people in the country
Registered Voters -- a sample of people who are actually registered to vote
Likely Voters -- a sample of people, who, based on previous history are likely to vote in future elections
Come election time, polls almost universally use a likely voter model. In Presidential approval polls, the methods vary. Here are the methodologies for some of the polls that input into my composite model:
Adult Americans: Gallup, Ipos/McClatchy, Pew Research, CNN, CBS News, Newsweek
Registered Voters: Marist, Fox News
Likely Voters: Rasmussen

You can see that only Rasmussen is using a likely voter model and most are polling all adult Americans. Historically the more selective the criteria, the more conservative the response, because past election history shows greater turnout among core conservative groups (Evangelicals, for instance) versus core liberal groups (African-Americans, for instance.)

Viewed through this filter, I separated out recent polling by methodolgy to come up with the averages for each:
Adult Americans: Obama +35%
Registered Voters: Obama +26%
Likely Voters: Obama +12%

There is definitely something to this and President Obama should be cautious. Even though he is fairly widely popular with the country right now, in terms of likely voters, he is a mere 5% ahead of where he was on election day, when he won the popular vote by just over 7%.

This is probably just another sign of a deeply, but closely divided electorate, as we have seen in ever race since Ronald Reagan's landslide in 1984.

I plan to continue to track the average, but I will also periodically publish a breakout of the methodologies so that we can continue to understand the differences.

The Tea Parties
April 15th tax protests across the country have rekindled some interesting questions around public outrage and media bias.

First, I have to admit a little confusion. Whose federal taxes have gone up? Not the rich -- their taxes won't go up before 2011 at the earliest when the Bush tax cuts expire and let's not forget that those were always passed as temporary law and the rates will only go back up to their levels in the 1990s. Certainly not the middle class -- and nobody is proposing hiking taxes on the middle class. In fact, both Democrats and Republicans have a stated intent to cut middle class taxes and the stimulus reductions just took effect April 1st. Certainly not the poor, many of whom pay zero or negative federal taxes.

The only people I can figure out whose taxes have gone up are smokers, who saw a 200% hike in the federal tax on cigarettes April 1st. But something tells me these protests weren't angry smokers.

So I watched the coverage of the events to learn. It sounded like most protesters were either just anti-Obama or upset that rising federal spending would increase future taxes.

I'll just dismiss the anti-Obama sentiment as typical of the partisan divide. But the rising federal spending meaning higher future taxes is actually a fair argument. We have to pay our bills sometime, some way and certainly the stimulus bill, the proposed Obama budget and universal healthcare reform will cost a ton of money.

On the one hand, if spending is your concern, I wonder a little bit about where you were for the past 8 years, which was a dramatic expansion in the size of government as huge amounts of money were spent on two wars, perscription drug benefits, etc. It seems a little silly to be up in arms now about things that might happen when you were silent on things that did happen.

On the other hand, President Obama hasn't come clean with us on univeral healthcare yet. The stimulus bill is temporary and deficits will fall if the economy recovers. But there is simply no way to pay for healthcare for all Americans without raising taxes on the middle class. That's why the 10-year Obama budget shows big deficits as far as the eye can see, yet only sets aside approximately 50% of what it would cost to do universal healthcare. Canada and Europe had to implement either large federal VAT or Sales taxes to fund health care. We will have to either do that, hike income taxes rates, or require people to pay in in some other way. Be prepared for that debate.

The media coverage rekindled the age-old questions around media bias. Fox News essentially sponsored the debates, providing advance coverage, even calling them "Fox News Tax Day Tea Parties", all while chiding the "main stream" media for lack of coverage of these "grassroots" events. The New York Times all but ignored the protests. The only coverage that I would call fair was CNN's, which gave the protests air time and interviews and presented both sides of the debate.

Let's face it -- Fox News and the New York Times have essentially become commentary outlets. They don't report the news, they just report their opinions about it. Don't get me wrong, I love reading Maureen Down and Paul Krugman. I enjoy watching Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke. But I look at those outlets for interesting points of view -- they have no credibility in the unbiased news coverage business.

But quite crying Fox News, you have the highest ratings of any news outlet -- so it's hard to say people aren't getting the right-wing perspective or that the "mainstream" media is liberal. You ARE the mainstream media and you don't even attempt to be "fair and balanced".

Foreign Relations in Latin America
Things appear to be warming a lot between the U.S. and Cuba and warming slightly between the U.S. and Venezuela.

The U.S./Cuba thaw is long overdue. I could never morally reconcile how we trade aggressively with brutal dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and China under the pretense that increased trade will bring about freedom there, but isolate Cuba because somehow isolating them is the way to bring about democracy. Our current policy is a 1950s relic that has failed for over 50 years. It's time to open up trade and normalize relations. I don't like the Castro regime, but that isn't the point. What's good for the Saudis and the Chinese is good for the Cubans as well.

I'm less excited about the seeming warming with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. First of all, we already trade with them -- ever been to a Citgo station? So this isn't an economic question. But Chavez is a nut and his anti-American railings are almost as repugnant as the way he has damaged the economy of his own country. I have no problem with President Obama talking to him, but let's tred lightly -- this guy is not our friend.

The Ambitious Obama Agenda, Part 2
If President Obama's previously articulated priorities for year 1 weren't daunting enough, he's adding to them. Recall that he had previously stated 4 focus areas:
(1) The Economy
(2) Univeral Healthcare
(3) The Environment and Green Energy
and (4) Education

My year 1 scorecard for President Obama was going to be based on his ability to impact significant movement in those four, huge policy areas.

Now, President Obama is also going after immigration reform in year 1. The timing seems all wrong -- people are a lot less accepting of illegal immigrants when the unemployment rate is 8.5% than when it is under 5.0%. It is an issue that divides his own party and one that is actually less pressing than it was a year ago, because the rate of illegal immigration has slowed with the slowing economy.

Yet, the President continues on his full court press to do everything while he has the wind of public approval and a Democratically-controlled congress at his back.

Immigration will be an interesting issue in that Obama will find enemies in his own party, but allies on the other side of the aisle -- such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

It's Day 88 of the Obama Administration, 6% of the way through his first term and 12 days before the end of his First 100 Days. Watch for my scorecard of his first 100 days in a couple of weeks.

Site Update
Site traffic has been a little slow this month, with only 113 visits so far in the month of April, which would put us on a pace to have less than 200 visits for the entire month, the first full month to fall in that category.

I assume traffic has been in part slow because of the holidays, but I'm asking for your help. Please tell you friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who might be interested about this site and get them to visit.

I put this together all for your benefit and enjoyment and have never and will never charge for content, so please support us by visiting and reading often.

No comments: