Saturday, September 11, 2010

More mysteries of public opinion polling

All the available information seems to indicate that the foremost concern on voters' minds leading up to the midterm elections is the dismal state of the economy, especially the continuing high level of unemployment.

=> Whom do they blame for these problems?

According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, they are still most likely, by far, to place the heaviest blame on the policies followed during the Bush administration. A total of 71% said that George W. Bush deserved either "a great deal of the blame" or "a moderate amount." Less than a third of respondents said it wouldn't be fair to blame him much or at all.

To be sure, Obama didn't get off scot-free. But his numbers were sharply different. A total of 48% said he deserves "a great deal" or "a moderate amount" of the blame, which is a good deal less than 71%. And on the other hand,
51% say he's dealing with problems he inherited, not created, saying he deserves not much or none of the responsibility for economic problems that include high unemployment and a faltering housing market.
=> One major economic issue dividing the Democrats and Republicans is what to do about the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire automatically in 2011 (due mostly to the procedural tricks the Republicans used to pass those tax cuts via "reconciliation"). Obama's compromise proposal is, essentially, to extend those tax cuts for families whose taxable income is less than $250,000 per year (about 98% of families), whereas the tax cuts for families with a taxable income over $250,000 (that's about 2% of families) should be allowed to expire, bringing them back to the tax rates they paid during the Clinton administration. The Congressional Republicans, by contrast, monolithically oppose letting any of the Bush tax cuts expire.

What do voters think about this?

According to a recent CNN poll, 51% think tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 per year should be allowed to expire, while another 18% think all the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire. That adds up to 69%. Only 31% favor the Republican position.

Nor is that poll an outlier. Other polls also indicate that substantial majorities oppose the Republican position on this issue. According to a CBS poll, even Republican respondents narrowly favored letting the tax cuts for the richest 2% expire (48% vs. 46%).

=> So which party are people planning to vote for in the November midterm elections?

According to one recent Gallup tracking poll:
Republicans lead by 51% to 41% among registered voters in Gallup weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The 10-percentage-point lead is the GOP's largest so far this year and is its largest in Gallup's history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress.
Granted, that 10-point spread might turn out to be a fluke. But there's no question that all current polls show an overall Republican lead in voter preferences. And as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight pointed out:
Gallup’s survey — and some other generic ballot polls — are still polling registered rather than likely voters, whereas its polls of likely voters are generally more reliable in midterm elections. At FiveThirtyEight, we’ve found that the gap between registered and likely voter polls this year is about 4 points in the Republicans’ favor — so a 10-point lead in a registered voter poll is the equivalent of about 14 points on a likely-voter basis. Thus, even if this particular Gallup survey was an outlier, it’s not unlikely that we’ll begin to see some 8-, 9- and 10-point leads for Republicans in this poll somewhat routinely once Gallup switches over to a likely voter model at some point after Labor Day — unless Democrats do something to get the momentum back.
Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub