Thursday, November 14, 2013

Electoral Effects of the...Oh, C'mon, People, Really?

Sometimes, I think it helps to be a solid 1500 miles away from Washington. Or maybe it helps to have read a little history. Or maybe I'm just an old guy.

Anyway: we're at a point at which even Jonathan Chait, writing against panic, says that "the current sense of dread enveloping the Democratic Party has a very real basis. President Obama’s poll numbers are plunging to unprecedented depths."

Yes, it's all massively overstated.

Plunging? His approval (and some associated numbers) have definitely dropped. I suppose "plunge" is subjective, but HuffPollster's estimate, set for "less smoothing" and therefore (over?) sensitive to recent polls, is that he's lost maybe 2.5 percentage points over the last five or so weeks. He's been losing ground all year including, mostly likely, during the shutdown. Depending on what adjustments one does, that might have accelerated after the shutdown, or maybe not. It doesn't sound like a "plunge" to me. 

Obama's popularity is probably at the low point of his presidency (again, depending on the adjustments, he's either a bit below or a bit above his previous low. But it's not any kind of unusually low low point (he's nowhere near Truman, Carter, Nixon, W.), there's no particular reason to expect the slump to continue, and myths aside no reason to believe he won't recover if the news turns better. Granted, it's hard to know what to expect from healthcare.gov, but it's not as if it's getting worse over time. I'm not saying his numbers will go up. Just that it's more or less equally likely as further drops. 

(Actually...if I had to guess, I'd say a run of either stability or improvement is probably more likely, at least if the next budget deadlines come and go quietly. Gallup's economic confidence index has been steadily recovering from its shutdown/debt limit plunge -- yes, that one was a real plunge -- and Jamelle Bouie is right that the economy is a very big part of presidential approval, although I think he somewhat understates the ability of other events to matter).

As for electoral effects? I wrote an item dismissing direct electoral effects of the shutdown against Republicans back last month; that post pretty much works now, in reverse for effects against Democrats. I should say: it's far easier for sentiment against the president to translate into midterm electoral losses than it is for feelings against the out-party. So if Obama is unpopular in November 2014, it will hurt Democrats. But today's frenzy about the ACA is going to be mostly forgotten by then, one way or another, just as the shutdown seems forgotten today. That's probably even true, believe it or not, if the program totally collapses, although I don't think that's going to happen.

Anyway, Obama's approval ratings have in fact fallen from the mid-40s to the low-40s, and over the course of the year from around 50 to the low 40s. It's obviously not good news for him, but it seems a lot less dramatic than a lot of the chatter this week would have it be. 

8 comments:

  1. Chuckle. I think, to be fair, the best example is not Chait, but Ezra Klein. Scarcely a day goes by without another hair-on-fire story from that quarter. Now, granted, he is talking about policy, not politics, and there are indeed extreme problems with policy implementation around the ACA, and of course ongoing controversy about the policy itself. Still, it is all somewhat shrill and hysterical. Usually I have to remind myself that Ezra is, after all, very young.

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  2. Even short-term panics about a party's prospects can have long-term effects--especially when the panics are before the filing deadlines for candidates. For example, the "the shutdown dooms the GOP" narrative probably encouraged some strong Democrats to run in some races and the "Obamacare dooms the Democrats" narrative may have the same effect on potential GOP candidates.

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    1. Agree -- that's what I said in the shutdown post linked above. That's a (potentially) real effect that could matter.

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  3. Isn't this all-too-typical panic irrational? I think that it is. But I wonder if the politicos in Washington know this. Couldn't there be some competitive advantage to following the insights of political scientists and breaking out of the cycle of repeated over-reactions to the daily news cycle? Politicians put an enormous amount of resources into managing the news cycle. It seems to me that those resources could be put to better use.

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    1. There might be a competitive advantage for pols, but the incentives for the people who work for them differ. Yes you want your boss to get re-elected and to maintain good polling numbers, but what you want most is to keep your job and/or get a better one. Going against the conventional wisdom is professionally risky, and if it means the redirecting of resources, then it implies people losing their jobs. So there is significant pressure against change, even if it might yield a higher expected value for the politicians.

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  4. The panic in the Democratic party is so predictable and the media's interest in a side show is pretty well documented. FREAK OUT!!!!!

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  5. I can't find it online, but Sarah Vowell once remarked that she loved Swedish detective novels because after visiting a murder scene, the detectives would stand around the police station drinking coffee and discussing in hushed tones whether democracy was even possible.

    The panic over healthcare.gov is the same thing -- Democrats worrying that if the web site is not fixed by Thanksgiving, the welfare state is inevitably doomed to collapse. Everyone needs to relax.

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    1. Dem worries are probably the result of taking conservative concern trolling too seriously, which is probably a result of liberals' deep and mistaken intuition that most people just want to get along.

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