Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This Election WAS an Obama Referendum

This is not a links post; I post links for evidence. Today's cool links will come in a bit.

I have criticized Obama a lot on this blog, which have led some to inaccurately see me as a conservative. If I had started the blog earlier, I would have criticized Bush even more. I'm an economist and fiscal conservative (a major source of opposition to both Bush and Obama), a social liberal (opposition to Bush) and believe foreign policy needs to be taken case by case (in this case, a strong source of opposition to both Obama and Bush, for totally different reasons for each).

That out there, this is a post on something the mainstream media is missing: yesterday's gubernatorial elections were potentially far more predictive of Obama's fortunes than the media perceives.

EDIT: a mea culpa:
A mea culpa on my last post: Those who said Mr. Obama was a factor in New Jersey divided as to whether their vote was a vote for the president (19 percent) or against him (20 percent). In Virginia, slightly fewer voters said their vote was for Mr. Obama (18 percent) than against him (24 percent).

Of course, this is just about the President, not about his policies... but this somewhat tempers (though does not change, given how decisively Obama carried these states a year ago) the conclusions
44% and 40% of voters in Virginia and New Jersey, respectively, said their vote was based on how they perceived Obama as a president.

CNN has hailed the fact that 56% and 60% of the states' residents were not influenced by Obama's presidency in their vote. Journalists, however, aren't known for their phenomenal interpretation of statistics.

You see, this ignores the fact that elections are decided on the margin, not by the majority.

According to the gallup poll above, 20% of Americans identify as Liberal - they will vote Democrat no matter what. According to the poll, ~40% identify as Conservative. The remaining 40% are moderate (moderates have shifted to conservative this year - perhaps in response to what happened with the housing crisis, or the Obama presidency, or perhaps they were disillusioned with the Bush presidency but have now come back).

The thinkprogress study (a liberal think tank) says that 34% identify as conservatives and 31% as liberals or progressives., with 35% moderate or libertarian.

I've seen a slightly different poll on voting patterns that suggests ~20%-25% of the country will vote Republican no matter what. Somewhat more (low-mid 30%s, I believe) will vote Democrat no matter what.

In any case, the exact split doesn't matter much for this analysis - in all three iterations, about 60-65% of people are a given going into a vote. The other 35-40% of voters - those "on the margin" - decide the election.

Of course, on a state by state basis, these numbers are different. New Jersey has many more liberals than that; Virginia is more representative, from what I understand.

For 44% of Virginia voters and 40% of New Jersey voters to say their vote was based on how they perceived Obama as a president, and for the conservatives to win (by a LOT in Virginia, by a little in the very Dem heavy New Jersey) indicates that a very large number of those marginal voters voted against Obama.

I understand political turnout on both extremes is a big factor, and I'm not belittling it, but here's more evidence: Independents voted Republican pretty strongly

Even more evidence comes from Rasmussen Reports (a robocalling opinion poll firm. Operator-assisted polling tends to skew liberal, while robocalling tends to be more Conservative. That said, the liberal Nate Silver of and Slate magazine have both stated that while no polling is perfect, Rasmussen's about as accurate as you'll find and was the best polling firm in predicting the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections)

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% would vote for their district's Republican congressional candidate while 38% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Voters not affiliated with either party continue to heavily favor Republicans, 39% to 23%.

Obama's approval rating seems to have dropped to 48% as of this morning. 28% strongly approve and 41% strongly disapprove. 20% mildly approve and 11% mildly disapprove. In other words, even if independent opinion seems to be reasonably split down the middle in this poll, the support he does have is much more tenuous than the support for his opposition, indicating a vulnerability to campaigns with a non-polarizing candidate on the other side (more on this in a second). Virginia and New Jersey just went through campaigns, and independents came out strongly in favor of Conservatives. This is probably illustrative of what you would see elsewhere.

The issue-specific numbers are even more strong:

Voters blame Obama (45%) almost as much as Bush (49%) for the nation's economic woes:

54% of Americans oppose the healthcare legislation floating through Congress, with 42% approving.

Only 16% think we're headed for better relations with the Muslim world. 33% say we will have worse relations in a year.

In other words, if the Republicans found candidates who don't drive away independents, and then convinced conservatives to get to the polls ("because anybody's better than Obama!"), they would very likely make very large gains if a bigger election were held today. They would probably even win the Presidency.

Of course, the key is that "if" component. While the Democrats are careening through healthcare, economy and foreign policy screwups like drunken sailors (their more socially-oriented legislation has been much less publicized and actually pretty solid, outside of the Sotomayor nomination), the Republicans are undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis. The congressional race in NY is an excellent example of that - they should have had that race locked up, and instead managed to shoot themselves in the foot. The problem is that a hardline right who is so intolerant of others that they oppose gay marriage bills that don't affect them at all is unlikely to be significantly more tolerant of moderates with more progressive social views (the fiscal conservative, socially liberal contingent into which I fall). The moment you get a candidate who appeals to independents, a lot of the hardline right will either not show up to the election or shift support to a more far-right candidate. So even if voters are becoming pretty disillusioned by the way Democrats are acting in Congress and the Presidency, there's not a unified base of opposition.

Still, while Congress can get complicated because there are so many candidates everywhere (I suspect you'll see a return to ~50/50 in congress in the next election or two, if things keep up), it only takes one strong candidate to unify a party, and that candidate could come from nowhere (how many people were talking Obama at this point in 2005?)

Of course, if Obama keeps GOING down the current rightly unpopular paths, he'll likely lose more support and then this is all academic.

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