About That “Patriotism” Survey . . . .

Earlier this week, on the eve of the Fourth of July, Gallup released a poll that addressed how Americans feel about their country.  The provocative lead to the Gallup story, which produced a lot of equally provocative headlines around the country, was as follows:

“This Fourth of July marks a low point in U.S. patriotism. For the first time in Gallup’s 18-year history asking U.S. adults how proud they are to be Americans, fewer than a majority say they are “extremely proud.” Currently, 47% describe themselves this way, down from 51% in 2017 and well below the peak of 70% in 2003.”

83240-fullNot surprisingly, in view of the current occupant of the White House, the percentage of Democrats and liberals who describe themselves as “extremely proud” of being an American has declined.  But note that the 47% figure addresses only those people who describe themselves as at the highest pride level available on the survey.  The vast majority of the respondents still expressed significant pride in their country, with 25% saying they are “very proud” and 16% who are “moderately proud.”  That adds up to close to 90 percent of the respondents.

The first paragraph of the Gallup release also makes, in my view, a significant error in equating “extreme pride” with “patriotism.”  In my view, patriotism means you love and care about your country, not that you are blind to its issues;  patriotism is not “my country, right or wrong.”  You can be devoted to and supportive of your country without feeling “extremely proud” that you are an American at a particular point in time.  Changes in “extreme pride” say a lot more about how Americans are feeling about the course the country is on than they do about how Americans feel, deep down, about their country, its history, its freedoms, and its opportunities.

I’d be willing to be that everyone who is vigorously opposing the various initiatives of the Trump Administration is doing so because they are convinced that opposing such initiatives is the way to make America an even better place to live.  They may not be “extremely proud” of their country right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t patriotic.

Buckeye Statis

Every four years, since at least the 2000 presidential election, the people of the Buckeye State have braced themselves.  They know that, as residents of a “battleground” state, they are going to be subjected to an onslaught of campaign ads and campaign appearances,  questions from pollsters and reporters who will clog the streets, and the disruption of traffic and everyday life that naturally comes along with regular visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates and their surrogates.

unnamedAnd, as part of that process, every four years politics becomes a much larger part of the daily lives of Ohioans than it would be otherwise.  People talk about the election with their friends, debate the choices, and post yard signs and maybe even attend a rally or volunteer for their candidate.  It’s as if, with the pressure of “battleground” status, Ohioans feel a certain obligation to the rest of the country and think hard about how to cast their vote.  And good-natured discussion with your friends, family, and colleagues about the choices was a big part of the whole decisional process.

This year, though, has a decidedly different feel to it.  There’s not as much activity from the campaigns.  One night last week both President Obama and Donald Trump were in Columbus for speeches, which resurrected some of the hectic feel to which we’ve become accustomed in presidential election years, but it also reinforced how things have changed since 2012, and 2008, and 2004:  in those years, visits from the competing campaigns were virtually a daily occurrence.  This year, not so much.

And this year the vibe of the people of Ohio is different, too.  There are still some true-believer advocates for both candidates in Ohio (although in my neck of the woods you won’t see any pro-Trump signs), but for the most part the population seems to be sad and depressed.  People don’t want to talk about the election, or the candidates, or anything having to do with politics.  The only passion comes when people start talking about how deeply flawed the candidates are, and how rotten the choice is, and how the process really needs to be changed so we don’t end up with such a terrible choice, ever again.  Sometimes this feeling comes out in strong words about what a disaster it would be if one candidate, or the other, were elected — but it is always strong words against a candidate, and never strong words for a candidate.  The only real energy seems to be negative energy.

What does this mean?  It means people talk about the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Indians even more than they would otherwise.  It means you try to avoid any mention of the election at lunch or at social gatherings, for fear of loosing another eruption of that terrible negative energy.  It means you really don’t want to live in a battleground state anymore, and would rather just forget about the whole thing.

What does it mean about how Ohioans will vote come Election Day?  I don’t know, but I do think I wouldn’t really trust the polls this year.  I think we are dealing with an electorate that is deeply guarded about their feelings and trying to work through a bleak, deep reservoir of disappointment and bile about parties, processes, and candidates.  I’m skeptical about how many Ohioans are sharing their real feelings with pollsters.  Pollsters just remind us about how the system has let us down.  Who really wants to share their true feelings with walking, talking reminders of a failed process?

The Worst-Case Scenario

A presidential preference poll came out the other day.  Ho hum, right?

This one was a little different, though, because it offered respondents the option of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or a giant meteor hitting the Earth.   Thirteen percent of the respondents decided they would take their chances with the giant meteor.

create-your-own-zombie-adventure-could-you-survive-the-zombie-apocalypse-590087I think pollsters offering worst-case scenario options as an alternative to the two depressing major party candidates is an inspired concept, but I think the menu of alternatives needs to be significantly expanded.  I mean, a giant meteor hitting the Earth probably would be bad, sure — but you’d at least hold out hope that you might be able to survive it, so long as the meteor didn’t land in your neighborhood.  Other potential large-scale disasters that need to be considered as comparison points in order to truly probe the extent of our displeasure with this year’s godawful presidential choice.  I suggest the following:

  • A zombie apocalypse
  • Radioactive snakes emerging from the ocean depths
  • An invasion of flesh-eating aliens
  • Killer robots that live in your toilet
  • Being forced to sit through an unending screening of Rob Schneider movies

Only by truly and thoroughly exploring the list of worst-case scenarios can we probe the depths of our dissatisfaction.

What Bernie’s Michigan Upset Might Mean For Ohio

In a stunning upset, Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in Michigan last night, narrowly beating Hillary Clinton and delighting those unnamed members of the Webner household who have felt the Bern and are supporting the Sanders campaign.

michigan_for_bernie_sanders_poster-r8ceb6c5a3afe4dddbb80587579ecc891_wv4_8byvr_324It was a shocking victory, because the polls prior to the Michigan primary had shown that Hillary Clinton was way ahead in Michigan, by as much as 20 percentage points, and the pundits had already chalked up the state as falling into the Clinton win column.  But the polls were wrong — obviously — and now the pundits and pollsters are wondering whether there are some fundamental errors in their polling metrics and identification of likely voters.  They are uncomfortably considering whether the fact that polls were so wrong in Michigan might mean that the polling data in similar Midwestern states, like Ohio and Illinois, might also be way off base.  The polls in those states are showing Hillary Clinton currently holds big leads heading into primaries that will be held next week.

Sanders’ upset win is richly satisfying — not because I’m a Sanders supporter or Hillary hater, but because I’m sick to death of how the news media now uses polling data and know-it-all pronouncements to drive a horse race narrative and prematurely pick the winner, rather than just reporting on what the candidates are saying and doing and letting the voters decide.  The pollsters and pundits have long since declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee and have talked, talked, talked about when Sanders will be forced to get out of the race, but the voters in Michigan had something different to say about it and thumbed their noses at the Beltway crowd in the process.  Good for them!

Bernie Sanders obviously touches a chord with some voters that Hillary Clinton simply cannot reach.  Does his win in Michigan mean he might pull off an upset here in Ohio?  I don’t know, but I will say that I have personally seen a lot more excitement and activity in the Sanders campaign than I have from the Clinton campaign.  In Michigan, Sanders crushed Clinton among younger voters, made significant inroads with African-American voters, and appealed to Democrats who are fed up with their economic circumstances.  Ohio isn’t quite in the same shape as Michigan, but many of the same issues are present, and there’s no reason to believe Sanders can’t do the same thing here.

I’m hoping that Bernie Sander’s Michigan shocker means the pundits will stop with their confident pronouncements about what is going to happen, in Ohio and elsewhere, based on polling data that might just be fundamentally flawed.  Perhaps, just perhaps, they will be content to actually let the voters vote now that the race moves to the Buckeye State.

 

Strangers In A Strange Land

Do a majority of Americans really feel like “strangers in their own country”?

That’s one of the provocative conclusions of a recent Ipsos poll.  According to the poll, 53 percent of Americans surveyed — 62 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents, and 37 percent of Democrats — agreed with the statement “These days I feel like a stranger in my own country.”  An even larger percentage of respondents agreed with the statement “More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.”

arrival20usaThe poll designers believe these results expose “neo-nativist” sentiments in America and help to explain the mystifying, continuing popularity of Donald Trump.  They state:  “Simply put, Trump’s candidacy taps into a deep, visceral fear among many that America’s best days are behind it. That the land of freedom, baseball and apple pie is no longer recognizable; and that ‘the  other’—sometimes the immigrant, sometimes the Non-American, and almost always the  nonwhite—is to blame for these circumstances.” In short, they apparently view the statements posed by the poll and quoted above — which don’t explicitly refer to race or immigration — as nevertheless exposing racist and xenophobic attitudes among Americans.  (At the other end of the spectrum, they view the statement “More and more, America is a place that I can feel comfortable as myself” as exhibiting non-“nativist” sentiments.)

I’m skeptical of this kind of armchair analysis of the American psyche generally, and particularly in this instance where the two purportedly “nativist” statements seem to tap into a less sensational sentiment — the view that America is heading in the wrong direction.  For decades, pollsters have asked whether respondents think America is heading in the right direction; last week the Rasmussen poll found that only 28 percent of Americans say yes to that question.  I don’t recall reading that the right direction/wrong direction question is supposed to expose “nativist” views, and I don’t see its phrasing as materially different from the statement that “More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.”  Both statements are broad enough to encompass a wide range of dissatisfactions — with political developments, with economic issues, with cultural and social changes, with security issues, and with America’s position in the world, among many others — and therefore can’t be directly tied to “nativist” attitudes.

I have no doubt that there are racists in America and that at least some of the anti-immigrant sentiments are rooted in racist xenophobia, but I think the notion that a majority of Americans are “neo-nativists” is silly.  It is, perhaps, easier to rationalize a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with our country’s direction as rooted in ignorant, racist views, because it allows people to avoid evaluating whether there are less inflammatory, more substantive concerns underlying the sense of unease with our position in the world.  I don’t know why, for some people, the bumptious blowhard Donald Trump seems like a solution to our nation’s perceived problems, but I think the conclusion that he has tapped into a previously hidden vein of racism in America just allows people to avoid tacking the tougher question:  what is it, exactly, that is motivating people to express support for this guy?

 

 

When Everyone And Everything Seems To Suck

These days America, collectively, is like Mikey in the old TV commercial for Life cereal.  We seem to hate everything — or, more precisely, everyone, or every party, that has anything to do with national politics.

NPR had an interesting story last night about the unusual poll results we are seeing.  President Obama’s general approval numbers not only are plummeting, but public perception of his personal qualities for honesty, trustworthiness, and awareness of the concerns of ordinary Americans also is falling like a brick tossed from the roof of a skyscraper.  And he’s not alone.  Approval ratings for Congress, and for congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, are incredibly low, and their negative ratings are spiking.

I think the mood of abject disgust that these polls reflect is real, and likely to be long-lasting.  The debacle with “Obamacare” and the healthcare.gov website, coming on the heels of the government shutdown, have contributed to that mood, but the sense of fear and loathing has been brewing for some time.

President Obama’s awkward comments about the “Obamacare” rollout, which suggest his seeming disengagement with nuts and bolts decisions and bad news,  his failure to truly monitor important activities, and his apparent discovery that everyday activities like buying insurance can be complicated, aptly capture our concerns about all politicians.  Forget about being competent; are they even paying attention?  Do they feel accountable for blunders that cost taxpayers billions to fix?  Are they so insulated by a phalanx of sycophants and enablers and excuse-makers that they really don’t live in the same world the rest of us occupy?

From time to time during my adult life, people have questioned whether a viable third party could emerge, but America’s two-party system is just too engrained.  These days, however, I wonder:  are the repeated failures we are seeing fraying the ties to political parties for everyone other than the true believers?  Might a significant chunk of Americans be willing to look in a new direction?

What If They Gave A Debate And Nobody Cared?

With all of the focus on the Buckeye State in the presidential election, we Ohioans can be excused for forgetting that we will be voting on many races on November 6.  For example, we’ll be deciding whether to retain incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown or elect Republican Josh Mandel instead.

Normally a Senate race is a big deal, but this year I’m not hearing anyone talk about the Brown-Mandel contest — and I work in an office where many people, from both parties, are very interested in politics.  The candidates have had three debates, but only one was broadcast on TV and I don’t know anyone who watched it.  I’m sure that all of the debates were fully covered in the daily newspapers, but Kish and I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper any longer, and I haven’t seen any coverage of the debates when I’ve visited state news websites.  As a result, I assume that not much happened — no gaffes, no knee-buckling zingers, and probably not much of in the way of any kind of news.

I think that means lots of people will be voting on Election Day without much information.  If Ohioans know anything about the race, they know that Sherrod Brown backed the GM-Chrysler bailout.  Brown mentions that whenever he can; if he could walk around carrying a large flashing billboard advertising that fact, I think he would.  Mandel, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to politics who presents himself as a fiscal conservative tax-cutter; if most Ohioans know anything about him, it is that he served in the military post-9/11.  The campaign ads haven’t done much to address the information deficit, either.

An electorate with ADD is going to be unpredictable, and therefore the polls — which indicate that Brown is ahead by anywhere from one to nine points — probably don’t mean much.  People will get into the voting booth and make a decision, and name and party affiliation will likely tell the tale.  Fortunately for the incumbent, Brown has always been a magical name in Ohio politics.  If Mandel is going to win, he’d better hope that Mitt Romney wins and has very long coattails.

Which Way Are The Post-Debate Winds Blowing?

Was the first presidential debate a true game-changer that fundamentally reset a campaign that seemed to be trending in President Obama’s favor?  Or, is it just a bump in the road that won’t have any long-term significance?

The latest polling suggests that the first debate — widely viewed to be a big positive for Mitt Romney — has had a significant impact, in Ohio and nationally.  In Ohio, two post-debate polls show a race in which the candidates are separated by one point — and in one poll, by WeAskAmerica, Mitt Romney actually holds a one-point lead.  To my knowledge, that is the first Ohio poll that has shown Romney with a lead — and those two polls follow a series of polls that showed Obama with an increasing lead.  Nationally, the polls indicate a much tighter race, and the Rasmussen poll gives Romney a two-point edge.

I’m skeptical of the polls this election cycle, because I don’t see how pollsters can forecast turnout with any kind of accuracy.  I’ve thought all along that the race in Ohio is extremely close, regardless of what the polls have said.  But even if you credit the polls, I’m not sure this shift is the result of one debate.  Other things — such as the terrorist attack in Libya and the less-than-flattering stories about security at the American consulate there, increasing gas prices, and the lingering economic doldrums, among other facts — may have seeped into the national consciousness and changed some minds as Election Day draws near.

Whatever the reason, I think the race in Ohio right now is tight as two coats of paint, and is likely to stay that way.  That means more TV ads, more candidate visits, more fliers in the mail, and more polls until Election Day arrives.

Masters Of The Obvious

If you’ve watched many TV “news” shows lately, you know they don’t really report much traditional news anymore.  You don’t see footage of reporters on the scene interviewing witnesses or the newsmakers themselves.  Instead, you see a suit in a studio, discussing the “news” with a suit in another studio.  Virtually everything is filtered through the mouth of some talking head.

This situation becomes worse as elections near.  Then, the talking heads fall into two categories:  those with an agenda, and those who state the obvious.  As an example of the latter, consider the headline on a Gallup release yesterday:  “National Mood a Drag on Obama’s Re-Election Prospects.”  The folks at Gallup have consulted their polls, see that the polls indicate that people are unhappy with the economy, aren’t satisfied with the direction the country is heading, and lack confidence in the President’s ability to turn things around.  From this, they conclude that the President’s re-election prospects are “uncertain.”

Wait a second — you mean citizens might actually decide how to vote based on prevailing economic factors and their respective confidence in the candidates’ ability to fix the problem?  They might actually hold the incumbent accountable if they think he’s done a poor job?

What an amazing insight!  I wonder if these guys could express a view on the challenging question of whether night follows day?

Cell Phones, Land Lines, And Survey Results

Public opinion surveys have been a staple of American politics for years.  They have a proven track record — at least, they do when the pollsters figure out how to identify an appropriate sample that mirrors the people who actually will cast ballots in the election and then reach those people to learn their views.  If you can’t accurately do both, you risk results that are as misguided as the infamous 1936 Literary Digest poll that embarrassingly predicted that Alf Landon would beat FDR in a landslide when in fact the exact opposite occurred.

In the modern cell phone and smart phone world, can pollsters know with any assurance that they have reached an appropriate sample of voters?  For years, pollsters relied on land line telephones to conduct their surveys.  Recently, however, many Americans have dropped their land line phones as a nuisance and unnecessary expense.  In 2007, nearly 13 percent of American households had no land line phone.  By 2008, that number had jumped to 20 percent and it has only increased since then as millions more — including Kish and me — have gone totally wireless.

The question for pollsters is whether the demographic and political characteristics of wireless households are different from those of households that still cling (bitterly?) to their land lines.  Some pollsters think that may be the case, reasoning that cell phone-only people probably are younger, unmarried, don’t own a home, and so forth.  That may have been true initially, but my guess is that as wireless-only status has become more common, and even old farts like Kish and me have joined that segment of the population, the differences have been minimized.  The important point, in any case, is that no one really knows.

So, in these days leading up to Election Day, let’s not pay too much attention to the polls and their competing results.  The only poll that really matters is the one that will occur on November 2, and all registered voters — be they wireless Gen Xers or land line fogies — will have an equal opportunity to be counted.

A Poll For Every Perspective

I was interested in UJ’s post, below, on the AP Poll on health care.  The most recent Pew Research survey, on the other hand, shows sharply declining support for the health care reform proposals since September, and particularly a decline in the number of people who — like UJ — strongly support the reform proposals.

What does this discrepancy mean?  Who knows?  It may be as simple as how the questions were framed, or the definition and contours of the populations that were asked the questions by the two polls — or it may be that polls just aren’t a very good gauge of what people actually think, when you are talking about something complicated like health care reform.

The New “Third Rail”? (Cont.)

Richard has expressed skepticism at my post questioning whether health care reform could be the new “third rail” of American politics.  I therefore feel compelled to post links to two recent surveys that strongly suggest that the focus on health care reform is hurting the approval ratings of both President Obama and the Democratic Party.

I’ve said before that I am suspicious of public opinion polling as a true measure of a President’s performance, and I hold to that position.  It’s hard to look at the trends in the polling, however, and argue that the focus on health care reform has had any kind of benefit for either President Obama or Congress generally.  Indeed, what is interesting about the Pew Research Center poll linked above is that while the approval ratings of Democrats have fallen precipitously, the approval ratings of Republicans have stayed steady.  In effect, the Democrats are just coming back to the field.  People who voted for Democrats in hopes that we would have a new, better approach have been disappointed, and they aren’t switching to the other party — they are just saying “a pox on both their houses.”  It makes me wonder whether the turnout in the 2010 elections will be much much lower than in 2008 or even 2006, as disaffected former voters decide that choosing between equally uninspiring candidates for spots in the House and Senate just isn’t worth it.

The New “Third Rail”?

Back in the ’80s, Tip O’Neill famously observed that Social Security was the “third rail” of American politics — if you touched it, you were dead.

Is health care reform the new “third rail”? Although the specific poll results vary, the broad trends in the polls seems pretty clear. The focus on health care reform has caused President Obama’s approval ratings to decline, has caused general congressional approval ratings to decline, and has caused more Americans to conclude that America is “headed in the wrong direction.” It also is apparent that the health care reform issue has touched a raw nerve for many people who are showing up for town hall meetings, writing their Members of Congress, and taking other actions that indicate that they are engaged in the process and following the debate.

The 2010 elections are still far away. If health care reform is really the new “third rail,” we’ll know when those elections roll around. If health care reform is the subject of incessant negative television ads, that will be a good indication.

Polls

Our exchange on Friday about polling data reminded me of one of my favorite websites, Real Clear Politics. It is an unusual source of information in this polarized day and age, because it publishes articles and commentary from all parts of the political spectrum, links to blogs written from different perspectives, and provides background that helps to give useful context to metrics like poll results. RCP publishes an average of polls and also offers information on whether the polls are of all voters, or likely voters, or some other sample, which is useful in trying to figure out whether the poll results actually mean anything.

This link — http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president_obama_job_approval-1044.html#chart — is to an RCP chart which shows, in visual form, the trend lines in President Obama’s poll ratings, and then provides some of the detailed information in column form underneath. It suggests that his approval ratings have dropped somewhat, while his disapproval ratings have increased more significantly. This result is not surprising, it seems to me. Once you stop campaigning and start governing, you are bound to make decisions that will upset some people. That is likely what has happened here.

Start of a Trend?

This article — http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123690358175013837.html — indicates that President Obama’s poll numbers are falling, and that Americans may not be as happy with increased stimulus spending as some politicians might hope. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

I don’t think politicians should govern with an eye on poll numbers. Americans elect their leaders to lead, not to test the wind and make decisions based on the latest survey results. However, polling data can provide a broad indication of how the people are reacting to the decisions of their leaders. As a society, we often are attracted to what is new and different. My guess is that the latest poll numbers indicate that the new Administration is, increasingly, being viewed as no longer “new.”