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The (un)popularity of Congress

So is it fair that Congress is so unpopular?  What could/should Congress do to improve its image?

Congress Less Popular than Cockroaches, Traffic Jams

Raleigh, N.C. – Facing low approval ratings after a historically unproductive 112th session and a series of last-minute showdowns over fiscal matters, Congress is now less popular than root canals, NFL replacement referees, head lice, the rock band Nickelback, colonoscopies, carnies, traffic jams, cockroaches, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used-car salesmen and Brussel sprouts.

When asked if they have a higher opinion of either Congress or a series of unpleasant or disliked things, voters said they had a higher opinion of root canals (32 for Congress and 56 for the dental procedure), NFL replacement refs (29-56), head lice (19-67), the rock band Nickelback (32-39), colonoscopies (31-58), Washington DC political pundits (34- 37), carnies (31-39), traffic jams (34-56), cockroaches (43-45), Donald Trump (42-44), France (37-46), Genghis Khan (37-41), used-car salesmen (32-57), and Brussels sprouts (23-69) than Congress.

Congress did manage to beat out telemarketers (45-35), John Edwards (45-29), the Kardashians (49-36), lobbyists (48-30), North Korea (61-26), the ebola virus (53-25), Lindsay Lohan (45-41), Fidel Castro (54-32), playground bullies (43-38), meth labs (60- 21), communism (57-23), and gonorrhea (53-28).

Congress’s overall favorability rating stands at just 9% favorable and 85% unfavorable. Women (13-81) view Congress slightly more favorably than men (6-89), as do Democrats (13-82) than Republicans (9-87), perhaps reflecting Democrats’ higher level of satisfaction with the recent fiscal cliff deal. Among ideological groups voters who describe themselves as “very liberal” have a higher than single-digit approval rating, with 36% holding a favorable view and 56% unfavorable.

“We all know Congress is unpopular,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “But the fact that voters like it even less than cockroaches, lice, and Genghis Khan really shows how far its esteem has fallen with the American public over the last few weeks.”

PPP surveyed 830 American voters from January 3rd to 6th. The margin of error is +/-3.4 percentage points. This poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews.

Nate Silver’s wisdom

So Nate Silver was on the Daily Show this week.  Watch the clip, and then comment briefly on what opinion(s) he expressed about campaigns, the media, the value of opinion polls, etc.  Each of you who comments only need to identify one of his opinions, so you can leave room for others to weigh in.



How not to connect with voters in a debate

Nate Silver today posted this video clip from the second debate in 1992 between President George H.W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton (and Ross Perot, although he does not appear on this clip).  This is a town hall-style debate, just like tonight’s format.  Check out the connection, or lack thereof, made by the candidates and the woman who poses the question.

The Gender Gap

From today’s NY Times, a timely article about Romney and the gender gap.  Keep an eye on this tonight during the debate.  Note the complaints by Democrats about polling methodology (ironic, given that two weeks ago the criticism came from Republicans).  Once you watch the debate, comment on whether Romney did anything to further close the gender gap.

October 16, 2012, 11:46 am

Debate Could Provide Romney Chance to Close Gender Gap


Mitt Romney’s second debate appearance Tuesday night will provide him another high-profile opportunity to offer an image of reasonableness and moderation that could be crucial in winning over key voting blocs, especially women, with whom President Obama has had long-standing leads.

The candidates must find ways to be both assertive and understanding during the 90-minute debate on Long Island. But Mr. Romney, in particular, has a chance to close the gender gap if he can dispel Mr. Obama’s criticism about the impact his policies would have on women.

Polling released Monday by Gallup and USA Today suggested that Mr. Obama’s double-digit edge among women has evaporated in the wake of the first debate with Mr. Romney. The survey found Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, leading slightly among women in battleground states and tied elsewhere.

That survey result was strongly contested by Mr. Obama’s top advisers, who said the poll was flawed. And the Democratic advantage among women still persists in other polls, including surveys conducted by The New York Times in several battleground states last week.

But for Mr. Romney, the challenge remains: to use the debate to try to further erode the president’s usual advantage among women.

Top aides to Mr. Romney said there would be no specific effort to tailor his message to women during the town-hall-style debate. Rather, they said they hoped Mr. Romney could continue to present himself as the best alternative to the president for all of his constituencies, including women.

“Our internal polling shows strong movement toward Governor Romney over the past two weeks,” said Rich Beeson, the campaign’s political director, in a memo released to reporters Tuesday morning. “It also shows serious movement by independent voters, women, and those who were soft supporters of President Obama toward the Romney-Ryan ticket.”

The format of the debate could provide Mr. Romney the opportunity to make further inroads with women.

The questions from voters will give both candidates an opportunity to prove that they can identify with the plight of voters. If Mr. Romney can make that connection with a female questioner, it could help his cause.

There are risks, too. An awkward exchange during the debate could set back the Republican outreach to women just as the campaign is reaching its closing days. It could be hard to recover in the time left.

Advisers to Mr. Obama have been stressing Mr. Romney’s opposition to abortion and his position on contraception in the days since the first debate, hoping to energize women. Many women had said they were disappointed that Mr. Obama did not bring the topic up during the first exchange.

That will likely change tonight. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a point of raising the issue during his debate last week with Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney’s running mate. Mr. Obama is likely to try to find a way to to do the same tonight.

Top strategists for Mr. Obama on Monday insisted that the Gallup poll was flawed and that the president retained a strong lead among female voters.

In a memorandum to reporters, Joel Benenson, the president’s lead pollster, said the poll’s findings regarding women underscored “deep flaws” in the way the survey identifies which voters are most likely to actually cast ballots in the November election.

Mr. Benenson noted that the poll showed Mr. Obama with a nine-point lead among all registered voters. That lead disappears when the poll is limited to likely voters, a result that Mr. Benenson says is evidence that Gallup is misidentifying who is likely to vote.

Other recent polls have shown little evidence of a shift among women toward the Republican ticket. A New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac University survey of Virginia last week showed Mr. Obama with a 14-point lead over Mr. Romney, essentially unchanged from before the first debate.

A similar poll in Wisconsin showed Mr. Obama with a 10-point lead. In national polls from ABC News and The Washington Post from before and after the first debate, there was no significant swing among female voters.


So here, in a very timely piece, is Jon Stewart’s take on polls.  (Many, many thanks to the student who sent me this clip.  You know who you are.)  It’s pretty clear where Stewart comes out on this topic.  But do you think that the election can be overanalyzed by statheads?  Or do you think that the more data, the better?

Polling Perspective

Here’s the latest from Nate Silver, the guru of all polling gurus.  (You’ll read more about him, and his blog, next week.)  Silver adds something missing from the breathless speculation about the meaning of the latest polls: perspective.

October 8, 2012, 6:54 pm

Amid Volatile Polling, Keep an Eye on Election Fundamentals


After a summer in which the polling in the presidential race was exceptionally stable – with Barack Obama generally holding a lead of about two percentage points in national surveys – the numbers since the party conventions have been a wild ride.

Mr. Obama got a bounce coming out of Charlotte, and it had some staying power – with his national lead appearing to peak at about five or six percentage points. But polling released immediately after the debate seemed to suggest that Mr. Romney had drawn into a rough national tie.

By the weekend, however – after the release of a favorable jobs report last Friday – Mr. Romney’s bounce seemed to be receding some. Tracking polls released on Monday by Gallup and Rasmussen Reports actually showed a shift back toward Mr. Obama, although another poll by Pew Research showed Mr. Romney with a four-point lead among likely voters.

Polling data is often very noisy, and not all polls use equally rigorous methodology. But the polls, as a whole, remain consistent with the idea that they may end up settling where they were before the conventions, with Mr. Obama ahead by about two points. Such an outcome would be in line with what history and the fundamentals of the economy would lead you to expect.

Because economic data can be as noisy as the polls, the FiveThirtyEight forecast model uses seven different economic statistics to calibrate its predictions. Some of these make a more favorable case for Mr. Obama than others. The stock market has shown very strong growth over the course of his term, especially in the past six months. Inflation has been low, although gas prices have sometimes been an exception. And the manufacturing sector of the economy has been reasonably sound.

G.D.P. growth, however, has been sluggish – and growth in take-home income has been worse, barely keeping up with population growth. Although consumer spending on some products like cars is up, a broader-based measure called personal consumption expenditures shows that Americans aren’t spending all that much.

The one measure that has been closest to the consensus of the data, however, is jobs growth, as measured by the increase in nonfarm payrolls. (This should be distinguished from the unemployment rate, which is calculated through a separate survey and which is subject to a higher degree of statistical error.)

The economy has added an average of 146,000 jobs per month so far this year, according to the government’s latest figures. That is slightly higher than the average gain in past election years. Since1956, monthly job growth has averaged 135,000 in January through September.

However, because the population and the labor force are now larger than they once were, the economy needs to add more jobs to keep pace with it. As measured on a percentage basis, jobs have grown by 1.0 percentage points since December, slightly below the election-year average of 1.4 percent.

There are four election years – 1956, 1960, 2000 and 2004 – when jobs growth was broadly similar to the trend this year. The 1956 election serves as a reminder that the economy isn’t everything:Dwight D. Eisenhower won in a landslide. But the 1960 and 2000 elections were virtual ties, whileGeorge W. Bush won by 2.5 percentage points in 2004.

A more systematic way to analyze the data is to chart the rate of jobs growth against the margin of victory or defeat for the incumbent party. If past trends hold, that analysis predicts a very narrow victory for Mr. Obama – by 2.1 percentage points over Mr. Romney, similar to Mr. Bush’s margin of victory in 2004.

But the exact math is probably not as important as the broader conclusion: that the economy is line with Mr. Obama being a very modest favorite.

Had Mr. Obama been on track to win by five or six percentage points, then we could say that Mr. Romney was underperforming the fundamentals.

In Denver, however, Mr. Romney presented himself as an acceptable and competent alternative. Challengers also generally profit from the first debate: in 8 of the 10 election cycles since 1976, the polls moved against the incumbent, and a net gain of two or three percentage points for the challenger is a reasonably typical figure.

At the same time, incumbent presidents just aren’t that easy to defeat. Mr. Obama’s approval ratings are now hovering around 50 percent and don’t seem to have been negatively affected by his performance in Denver. Although Mr. Obama’s approval ratings may be slightly lower among those most likely to vote – meaning that Mr. Romney could win with a strong turnout – historically that number has been just good enough to re-elect an incumbent. (Mr. Bush’s approval ratings were in the same range late in 2004.)

In some ways, then, the election might not be quite so unpredictable as it appears. There was reason to believe that Mr. Obama’s numbers would fade some after his convention – and the first debate has quite often been a time when the challenger drew the race closer.

Should debates matter?

The following is an excellent video from the Wall Street Journal that places this week’s debate in historical context.  Watch it, and then answer one of the questions raised by the video:  Is it fair that some people base their voting decision on which candidate is the “better debater”?



Vote now(?)

So as the following points out, as much as 35% of the votes cast in the presidential election this year will be cast BEFORE Election Day.  Why is this a good trend?  What’s the downside?   Do you think that the large number of voters casting their ballot early will have an impact on the outcome of the election?

Ryan’s speech — good or bad for the Republicans?

Those of you who watched the convention speech given by Paul Ryan, the VP nominee of the Republican Party, no doubt are aware of the good amount of controversy he stirred up by being less than entirely truthful in several of his points.  The following piece on the Fox News website (which of course is significant in and of itself) speaks to the mixed reaction to Ryan’s speech.  Read the following and offer your opinion in the survey at the end:

Paul Ryan’s speech in 3 words


Published August 30, 2012


1. Dazzling

At least a quarter of Americans still don’t know who Paul Ryan is, and only about half who know and have an opinion of him view him favorably.

So, Ryan’s primary job tonight was to introduce himself and make himself seem likeable, and he did that well. The personal parts of the speech were very personally delivered, especially the touching parts where Ryan talked about his father and mother and their roles in his life. And at the end of the speech, when Ryan cheered the crowd to its feet, he showed an energy and enthusiasm that’s what voters want in leaders and what Republicans have been desperately lacking in this campaign.

To anyone watching Ryan’s speech who hasn’t been paying much attention to the ins and outs and accusations of the campaign, I suspect Ryan came across as a smart, passionate and all-around nice guy — the sort of guy you can imagine having a friendly chat with while watching your kids play soccer together. And for a lot of voters, what matters isn’t what candidates have done or what they promise to do —it’s personality. On this measure, Mitt Romney has been catastrophically struggling and with his speech, Ryan humanized himself and presumably by extension, the top of the ticket.

2. Deceiving

On the other hand, to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was  Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.

The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth. Said fact checkers have already condemned certain arguments that Ryan still irresponsibly repeated.

Fact: While Ryan tried to pin the downgrade of the United States’ credit rating on spending under President Obama, the credit rating was actually downgraded because Republicans threatened not to raise the debt ceiling.

Fact: While Ryan blamed President Obama for the shut down of a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, the plant was actually closed under President George W. Bush. Ryan actually asked for federal spending to save the plant, while Romney has criticized the auto industry bailout that President Obama ultimately enacted to prevent other plants from closing.

Fact: Though Ryan insisted that President Obama wants to give all the credit for private sector success to government, that isn’t what the president said. Period.

Fact: Though Paul Ryan accused President Obama of taking $716 billion out of Medicare, the fact is that that amount was savings in Medicare reimbursement rates (which, incidentally, save Medicare recipients out-of-pocket costs, too) and Ryan himself embraced these savings in his budget plan.

Elections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care. Both parties should hold themselves to that standard. Republicans should be ashamed that there was even one misrepresentation in Ryan’s speech but sadly, there were many.

3. Distracting

And then there’s what Ryan didn’t talk about.

Ryan didn’t mention his extremist stance on banning all abortions with no exception for rape or incest, a stance that is out of touch with 75% of American voters.

Ryan didn’t mention his previous plan to hand over Social Security to Wall Street.

Ryan didn’t mention his numerous votes to raise spending and balloon the deficit when George W. Bush was president.

Ryan didn’t mention how his budget would eviscerate programs that help the poor and raise taxes on 95% of Americans in order to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires even further and increase — yes, increasethe deficit.

These aspects of Ryan’s resume and ideology are sticky to say the least. He would have been wise to tackle them head on and try and explain them away in his first real introduction to voters. But instead of Ryan airing his own dirty laundry, Democrats will get the chance.

At the end of his speech, Ryan quoted his dad, who used to say to him, “”Son. You have a choice: You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution.”

Ryan may have helped solve some of the likeability problems facing Romney, but ultimately by trying to deceive voters about basic facts and trying to distract voters from his own record, Ryan’s speech caused a much larger problem for himself and his running mate.