Thursday, February 11, 2010

No, Really, Polling Doesn't Help

Via Seth Masket, Nate Silver has a chart showing that approval of Congressional Democrats by independents didn't change after the House and Senate passed the health care bill, but approval among Democrats ticked up a bit. 

Nate begins by saying "I don't know that I'd make too much of this" (his emphasis), and I think that's the best bet.  Color me highly unimpressed.  Look, this is based on a single poll, with seven readings over six months, not all of them timed most conveniently for nailing down this particular theory. It's easy enough to stick a couple of "event" lines into the chart and then analyze the "before" and "after," but really there's no way of knowing from these data what, if anything, is driving the numbers.  Then remember that Democratic Members of Congress don't care about the party-wide approval numbers nationwide, but about their own approval numbers within their districts -- if anything, the overall approval numbers they probably care more about are those of Barack Obama.  Moreover, they don't care nearly as much about the immediate reaction to passage (or failure) of the bill, but about how it will help or hurt them in the fall. 

As I've said, this isn't something that polling can really tell us.  What's required is good political judgment by Members of Congress and their advisers.  I do believe that the political logic of the situation calls for the Democrats to pass the bill (pass then patch) -- and, unfortunately for the Dems, it also calls for marginal Democrats to prefer that the legislation passes but without their vote, thus setting up a big collective action problem and a challenge for leadership.  But I don't really think this poll series adds anything to that. 

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