Wednesday, May 22, 2013

No, Don't Wait Two Months For Public Opinion Effects

Is it worth a post over a headline? I suppose so...that's what people read, after all.

Michael Catalini writes over at National Journal today goes over the public opinion reaction to Watergate, Iran/Contra, and Lewinsky. His accounting of Iran/Contra and Lewinsky are fine, but he's a bit tripped up on Watergate. I wouldn't bother, but the headline and subhead are awful:

Wait About Two Months, Then Check the President's Approval Rating

Reagan and Nixon saw their approval ratings drop two months after Iran-Contra and Watergate. Clinton was a different story.
Actually, I wrote about this just yesterday, and it's totally wrong. The actual story on Iran/Contra was that Reagan's approval rating collapsed in the very next Gallup poll -- but it was taken several weeks after Iran/Contra broke, back in the days when Gallup polling was far less frequent. So Catalini gets that right in the body of the story, but the headline writer somehow turned that into two months -- for all we know from the Gallup number, it was instant, but at any rate it's only one month.

As for Watergate, Catalini writes:
The break-in at the Watergate occurred in June 1972, five months before Nixon rode to a landslide reelection, but the scandal did not damage his approval ratings until after two aides were convicted of conspiracy in January 1973. Between January and August, his approval rating dropped from 67 percent to 31 percent after the resignation of his top staffers, attorney general and deputy attorney general. 
However, what is important here is that the cover-up was largely effective up until early March 1973. That's why there was no effect on public opinion! People didn't actually know what "Watergate" was about yet. Specifically, things start unraveling in public with Pat Gray's Judiciary Committee hearings, which began on February 28 and continued well into March. There are plenty of news stories throughout the earlier months, including some pretty important revelations, but it's still a marginal story until then.

The point of all this is that we shouldn't expect some sort of delayed reaction to the current scandalmania.

Assuming, that is, that the basic facts stay more or less the same. But don't expect continued publicity about the same facts to change public opinion in any dramatic way, and don't expect people to mull it over for a few weeks and then decide they no longer approve of the job Barack Obama is doing. That's not what happened in those other cases, and it's not likely to happen with this one.


  1. ]Two months from now, public opinion is going to be: What scandals? They'll be essentially forgotten (except of course on FOX, but that goes without saying). Something else will come along -- another political story, a big crime or disaster, maybe something involving a celebrity -- that will wipe the current stories off the front pages and put the scandal-mongers out of their misery. They really are starting to look pathetic. Darrell Issa apparently isn't even getting good legal advice; he imagines he's a prosecutor with a right to cross-examine witnesses, but there's a long history of "selective invocation," so his fuss about that IRS official taking the Fifth is just desperate -- it will get him nothing, since no court is going to order her to testify. In fact, I said here last week that these guys were getting played, even if that wasn't Obama's original plan. Sure enough: Obama responds to Republican outrage by ordering a criminal investigation (the GOP can hardly complain about that); but this puts the IRS people in legal jeopardy; they can therefore invoke the Fifth; and that, in turn, leaves Issa with bupkus, about which he then loudly whines. Hah! Checkmate. I wish Obama was always that good.

    Meanwhile, various figures on the right, seeing that they've got nothin', have been essaying the new line that Obama's real failure is that he's a mere "bystander" who isn't in control of his own administration. Pat Buchanan wrote a column to this effect for the American Conservative, and the comments following it are a sight to behold: Readers divide between those prepared to take up the new party line, and those who insist that, no, gosh darn it, Obama's the mastermind here, orchestrating Nixonian attacks on his enemies, and don't you believe otherwise. Really..... the poor sods, as my British friends would say.

    In short, it's getting embarrassing for them. They'll be glad for whatever new story comes along to give them an excuse to just drop it.

    1. Jeff, you just don't understand. Obama is the tyrannical bystander.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?