Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wild and Irresponsible Speculation of the Day

From me, that is.  In response to this great post by Brendan Nyhan, Matt Yglesias remarks in passing:

For my part, it strikes me that Obama’s ratings are a bit oddly high given the bleak conditions in the country. It’s clear that a very large number of people are still basically blaming Bush for the situation. 
OK, on to my wild and irresponsible speculation: I strongly suspect that not only is Yglesias correct (that Obama's current 49%, per Gallup today, is a bit higher than it should be), but that the biggest contributing factor is the Republican's rejectionist strategy and embrace of the crazy.  Alas, I have no idea whether that's true or not.  But I sort of think that it is. As far as the mechanism, it's about crying wolf: since the most visible opponents of the president have shown that they're going to take a maximal position against whatever he does, weak partisans and independents heavily discount everything they say.

Part of the reason that it's irresponsible is because I'm aware that there is work on presidential approval ratings, and I'm not willing to spend the time right now looking into it.  I do know, however, that they aren't purely determined by economic performance (or by scandal).  Those things matter, but there's more to it than that.  I don't think I've ever seen any research indicating that opposition strategies can matter, but then again I'm not sure that there's a lot of evidence one way or another.


  1. I'm going to side with Ygelsias on this one. Why? Well, the president is the tip of the American iceberg. All sentiments key off of the president. Thus, the president's PARTY is blamed for the economy in midterm elections.

    Given what we know about how LITTLE most people know about politics, particularly those in middle, it seems far-fetched to think that they're both a) paying attention to John Boehner and b) sophisticated enough to parse their words for truth value and remember that and apply it to future statements.

    More likely to me is that an average person paying minimal attention in fall 2008 would have heard "Great Depression 2 is coming" enough to have put it on Bush. Furthermore, at the end, Bush was SO reviled on the left and disliked in the middle that heaping blame on the idiot was no great leap to make.

    Also, it's actually a rational position to take. A vaguely intelligent person would realize that economies don't turn on a dime, and having watched their house lose 35% of its "value", they might be giving Obama a little benefit of the doubt. My guess is that rope won't be longer than another year, though.

    Finally, while I am of course biased, they're actually RIGHT in this case. Bush and the conservatives in Congress and the Fed caused this mess much more than libs did. Thus, blaming them and giving Obama a little slack is, from my biased perspective, the only intelligent position to have.

  2. I'm not sure how much of it is unpleasant memories of Bush and how much of it is Obama simply being blessed with a certain class of enemy.

    If you will recall, Clinton's approval ratings were done a world of good by the House Republican impeachment managers marching about piously spouting Constitutional absurdities about what most people thought were personal pedadillos, and taking themselves Very Seriously during the whole Clinton impeachment circus.

    That bit of history suggests that there may come a point at which the "reality" of the Right reaches such a disconnect with reality as perceived by the majority, which is made up of folks not paying a whole lot of attention, that the non-attentive start discounting all the opposition to the President.

    And perhaps we're there now, since for all the GOP's "rebranding initiatives" periodically announced with fanfare since Jan 2009 and for all the Tea Party hysterics and Fox News' ratings, the President's approval ratings seem to be holding up, the GOP is still the Party of No, and Tea Party and Palin favorables have been tanking.

  3. On the other hand, one wonders if Barton and Wilson have made big enough splashes in the last year to penetrate the normal president-only focus....

  4. Matt,

    To the first point -- not really talking about Boehner, but about Rush, Beck, Palin, and maybe Cheney. They're all pretty astonishingly unpopular, and very visible.

    Barton doesn't help though, does he. Yikes!


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