Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Deeds Spanks All Comers in VA Primary, Chrysler Sale Cleared, Sotomayor Hearings Set, President Obama's Political Capital

Deeds Smokes McAullife
I'll grade myself on my call yesterday on the Virginia gubernatorial primary: right theory, right order of finish, WAY off on order of magnitude. I pride myself on calling races right and I do feel that this site got it a lot more right than any other major political website, but there is definitely room for improvement.

As of this writing, with 99%+ of precincts reporting, Creigh Deeds pulled in a whopping 50% of the primary vote in the three-way race with Terry McAullife (26%) and Brian Moran (24%) a distant second and third. I believe all of the reasons why I projected a Deeds win held true (that Republican Open Primary voters overwhelmingly voted against McAullife), but in a much bigger way than I could have imagined. I envisioned maybe a 5 point Deeds win -- all of the polls showed the race more or less a dead heat. This just shows the difficulty in polling the result of an open primary, especially a very low turnout primary as this one was.

This sets up what I consider to be a true toss-up general election. Both Virginia and New Jersey appear to be very interesting races...stay tuned.

Chrysler Sale Moves Ahead Less than 24 hours after Justice Ginsberg granted a temporary stay of the Chrysler reorganization plan, the Supreme Court has reached the decision not to grant cert and take up the case. The reorganization will move ahead as planned with combined ownership by the UAW, the Federal Government and Fiat.

This is a good thing for what is left of Chrysler. It has a chance to remake itself. There is a lot of work to do. Chrysler lags badly in innovation, design and quality to its global competitors (Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and Ford are all miles ahead in all three categories) and it may yet fail, but it has a lifeline and the small-car technology from Fiat to lean into. This expedited bankruptcy also sets the precedent for the much-larger GM to follow a similar process.

Sotomayor Hearings to Begin July 13th
The Senate judiciary committee hearings for Supreme Court-Designee Sonia Sotomayor will begin July 13th. This is earlier than many Senate Republicans had wanted, arguing for hearings no earlier than late August to allow a thorough review of Judge Sotomayor's record. As I previously discussed, this argument is nonesense as we are talking about a twice-Senate confirmed nominee whose record has already been thoroughly reviewed. But it is a normal tactic for the opposition party to play a waiting game and hope something blows up. I would still be very surprised if Sotomayor doesn't pick up 70 votes and sail through her nomination. But you never know.

That the hearings are set to begin smack-dab in the middle of when congressional Democrats had hoped to be debating health care reform will spread the President's capital awfully thin. Let's take a look at home much he still has.

Holding Strong But Still Trending Down
First, for our new readers, let me explain the methodology of the poll aggregation graphs below. Unlike many sites (such as the widely reported realclearpolitics), I do not treat all polls as equal. Polls have different sample sizes and are therefore given weight based on its overall sample size, to create one "super poll". Also, polls have different methodology for treatment of "no opinion". Gallup, for instance, reports "no opinion" responses (their latest poll shows 61% approve, 34% disapprove, 5% "no opinion") whereas Rasmussen does not (their latest poll 58% approve, 41% disapprove, does not add to 100% due to rounding.) Therefore looking at just the approval percentage is not meaningful. I therefore use what I call "approve minus disapprove", that is the percentage of those surveyed who approve minus the percentage that disapprove. This gives a consistent basis for comparing the results over time. If the number is positive, President Obama generally has public approval, if negative he does not. I also show for reference the 7.2% line, the percentage by which the President won the national popular vote in November. This methodology closely replicates the polling aggregation method that I used to correctly project within 0.1% the results of the November election.

The verdict so far this month? More of the same. President Obama continues to enjoy broad approval, but the margin continues to slowly tighten. He is more popular than he was in November -- that is there appear to be McCain voters who approve of the President. But you can see from the trend why the administration is intent on getting things done now -- in politics you either use political capital or lose it.

I also look at the poll breakdowns by polling methodology. As some polls survey all adult Americans, some restrict to registered voters and some attempt to target likely voters, the numbers naturally vary.

As of today, the numbers by polling type are:
Adult Americans: +30%
Registered Voters: +26%
Likely Voters: +17%

It is worth noting that Rasmussen is consistently the only poll tracking Likely Voters. This is worth noting as the Rasmussen results have been all over the map, bouncing between +6% and +17% over just the past 4 days. I find it hard to believe that President Obama's underlying popularity is shifting that much day to day, so I wonder somewhat if Rasmussen is tinkering with the methodology. The +17% number seems more realistic, given that it would be hard to believe that there is a 20%+ spread between registered and likely voters. The Gallup polling last year that looked at both generally showed a 3-5% spread between the two (registered voters tend to be somewhat more liberal than likely voters.)

Month to month, President Obama is still off about 4% in June versus his May numbers, but still over 18% above his November vote totals.

My conclusion: the President still has a lot of capital. People are wary of large deficits and continuing high unemployment but are generally feeling better about the direction of the country and the economy than they were a few months ago (consumer confidence is at its highest level since last September, and right track/wrong track polling has gone from -48% on election day to even today.) Republicans have yet to organize a coherent attack (Rush, Newt and Dick are not helping) or present clear policy alternatives. The honeymoon will end (Republicans will eventually rebuild their party and rally around a coherent message, people will continue to feel economic pain at least for the next several months and the country as a whole is definitely to the right of the President), but for now, the President can afford to press hard.

Whether all this capital translates into being able to do Health Care, Energy Reform AND Immigration Reform in a meaningful way remains to be seen. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush accomplished NONE of those three things in 8 years each in office. President Obama is attempting to do it in one. If he pulls it off, it will be the most significant first year of a President in U.S. history. It should be interesting to watch.

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