Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ignore Those Polls! (Scandals and the Economy Edition)

There's a new Quinnipiac poll out with findings about scandalmania that are drawing attention, including a ranking of the scandals (respondents answered that the IRS scandal is more important than Benghazi or the AP stories) and something that sounds very nice at the moment for Democrats: by a large margin, respondents say that the economy is more important than the scandals.

Ignore those polls!

First: people are notoriously terrible about predicting how events will affect their votes, or even their future opinions. People may say that the economy is more important than scandals...but if scandals are in the news constantly, people will pay attention, and they could well affect vote choice even if in some abstract sense voters don't "think" they are important. What's more, constant news coverage -- if it continues -- will strongly signal that a scandal is important, and people will respond accordingly.

Second: the polling that really tells us something about voters and the scandals so far is already out, with the president's approval ratings holding steady over the last month (actually, Pollster's average has had Obama's approval ratings on a slow decline since the beginning of the year, but setting it to "less smoothing" shows that decline has decelerated since mid-March, and certainly no apparent new movement since the IRS thing broke). Here, the Q poll has a low Obama approval number of 45%, down three ticks from May 1, but as always the polling averages are more useful, and they've already told as that nothing's happening.

Third: So we know that unlike, say, Iran-Contra, the current scandalmania is not having a significant direct effect on the president's popularity. But we also know that absent new revelations, each of these stories will be ancient and forgotten by the time voters engage in the 2014 election cycle. Really, then, what's needed is good guesses about the scandals themselves, and voters aren't in a particularly good position to make those guesses.

In other words, if it turns out that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton secretly worked with zombie bin Laden to plan and carry out Benghazi, then nothing voters say now about the IRS story being more important, or the economy trumping any of the scandals, will matter. If on the other hand Benghazi continues to be about parsing the difference between terror attacks and terrorist attacks...well, we've long known that no one apart from dedicated partisans cares about it.

All in all, other than tossing another number into the approval averages, I think we're safe ignoring this stuff. Given that scandalmania isn't doing anything significant now, the way that people rank the individual stories or how they compare them to other vote factors just isn't telling us anything.

10 comments:

  1. Judging from today's NYTimes, Lindsey Graham is walking away from the Benghazi scandal. First, he made a bizarre distinction between Victoria Nuland, who in trimming the talking points was merely engaged in "protecting your bureaucratic turf," and Susan Rice, who had no role in the trimming but was still at fault for using those same talking points. Having thus justified his past position (I guess), he then turned around and said that the choice of a national security adviser was the president's to make and that Rice had the credentials for it. "She's going to have her plate full, if she's chosen," he said. "I will not be petty. I will put my differences on Benghazi aside and work with her." He should tell Issa that the subject is now petty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2013/05/28/surprises-in-the-benghazi-e-mails/

      Delete
  2. I think it's interesting in the abstract. Does it tell us much about Obama's future or 2014? No. Does it tell us something about how the public reacts to the underlying "story" of these scandals vis-a-vis each other? Yes.

    If the Republicans were smart, they'd look at a poll like this and give up on Benghazi. They've been beating that drum relentlessly for what, 9 months? The public has never seemed to care, and this poll seems to indicate that they really won't care. The outlines of the AP and IRS stories are more troubling to people.

    So, we learn that people care more about potential abuse of authority than exaggerating to make a case. Democrats could learn from that that going after Bush on the justification for the Iraq War is also likely to be fruitless (never mind it being a decade later: I'm speaking more in generalities). This fits perfectly with schema theory: people assume politicians exaggerate, so a "scandal" about a supposed "exaggeration" doesn't move the needle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, but that depends, doesn't it, on what you think the "real" story is that's being covered up.

      Of course, it also depends on whether the goal of the people talking about these things is to bring down Obama and/or the Dems...or if it's to get on Fox News as much as possible.

      Delete
    2. I think the Benghazi story was put to rest in many people's minds when Mitt Romney was pwn'd by Obama and Candy Crowley in front of tens of millions of viewers.

      Delete
    3. You may be right, Kal. However, I wonder if there's something to the "substance" behind these. IRS is potentially abuse of power; AP is in a similar vein (albeit, it's not so much "abuse" as it is "too much executive power"). Benghazi is, as near as I can tell, about over-politicization of the executive branch. My "argument" (if one could call it that) is that maybe the first two are more problematic to citizens in a libertarian country like the US than the political is.

      I guess it goes like this: assume the worst (ie, most Obama complicity in the wildest Republican stories) about all 3 situations. In that case, I wonder if the ranking goes: IRS>AP>>Benghazi....and if the polls reflect some of that underlying reality.

      Kinda like how Monicagate was never that big a deal, because people understood lying about having an affair.

      Delete
    4. Correction: that should say "You are probably right, Kal"

      Delete
  3. What about the headline that so many people say they want a special prosecutor? I hope that there isn't anyone in the White House willing to take that bait.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I read scandalmania as scandinavia and was confused for a moment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heh. I think it works pretty well. The other one I like that I saw somewhere is "Obamagate" - implying that the true scandal here is that he's Barack Obama. But I wasn't sure that it would translate well for many readers.

      Delete

Who links to my website?