Thursday, October 31, 2013

Oy, Fournier

This is what happens when the two parties ruling Washington lose touch with America and pander to their crazy-extreme bases: President Obama's competency and personality ratings are nose-diving, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll; barely a sliver of the public thinks highly of the Republican Party; and two-thirds of Americans want to replace their own member of Congress.  
This is what happens when a reporter is obsessed with insisting that the two parties are mirror images of each other: he manages to miss what may be a real story because he's so intent on serving up a pre-baked conclusion.

Actually Ron Fournier manages to demonstrate a whole bundle of Worst Practices in this one.

First, he treats the NBC/WSJ poll in a vacuum. Obama received his worst-ever approval here, but the 42% isn't anything special across all polls in terms of an all-time low, so highlighting it is probably misleading.

Second: It's also likely that the five point drop registered in this poll compared to one in the first week of October is flukish, as a check of the HuffPollster numbers would suggest. I'm not sure moving from 47 to 42 is a "dramatic decline" even if real, but the odds are that most of that is just random movement, not reality. HuffPollster's current approval estimate is 43%, down a small fraction of a percentage point since that earlier NBC/WSJ sounding.

Third: Fournier "explains" this "dramatic decline" purely in terms of Obama's choosing to listen to his "base" and not median voters. But if some of the drop (and over several months, there has definitely been a drop -- and perhaps the drop is really concentrated in October) is about ACA rollout, is that really about catering to his strongest supporters? I'd say it's more about mismanagement. Fournier suggests that NSA and Syria could be part of the problem (and never mind that the Syria thing and most of the NSA thing preceded that early October poll); if so, that certainly has nothing to do with being overly focused on keeping liberals happy. More likely, in my view? The long-term decline matches nicely with the long-term decline, since the end of May, of Gallup's economic confidence index -- in other words, this could be about the economy. And, if I had to guess, sequestration.

Fourth: There's also the question of whether those "crazy-extreme" bases are in fact crazy and/or extreme. It matters! It's absolutely true that strong Democratic voters have strong views on, say, health care reform and want the ACA to succeed, and that does impose constraints on a Democratic president. But that's not the same as the constraints imposed by Tea Party radicals who wanted Republicans to shut down the government until ACA was defunded, while also expecting to blame Obama for the shutdown. I'd probably also argue that the influential parts of the Democratic Party are less "extreme" than the influential parts of the Republican Party, but it's quite important to be aware that Democratic-leaning crazies have basically zero influence within their party, while GOP-leaning crazies have quite a bit. Which may well have something to do with the terrible polling Republicans are getting.

Indeed, to the extent that "Crazies are destroying your party" (the headline to the piece, so probably not his fault, but it accurately captures what he's saying), what's probably happening is that the Ted Cruz/Louie Gohmert crazies who pushed the shutdown are hurting the approval ratings of both parties.

Fifth: I don't think I got around to linking to a fun guide to anonymous Washington sources that Ryan Grim and Jason Linkins did earlier this week -- it's excellent! At any rate, it was fun to read Fournier's column, which attributes lots of weight to "a Democratic operative who works with the White House" and a "GOP operative who also requested anonymity." Let's just say that Grim and Linkins weren't exactly impressed with those credentials.

Hey: just this morning, I praised Josh Kraushaar (who I've been hard on in the past) for an excellent column. I'd much rather be doing that! I'd much rather be pointing out Best Practices columns than this Worst Practices one (maybe I should do an Oi! item for good examples). This junk, though? Oy.


  1. Why do some journalists make assertions that are patently and obviously false?

  2. Point Four is entirely rooting-interest dependent. Obama himself is likely further from the political median (recall he was scored the most liberal senator of all 100 in 2006) than is Ted Cruz.

    1. When the median is three quarters' crazy and one quarter craven, well, the further away from it you are, the better. You want a Senate full of Ted Cruz lookalikes, no wonder you're Anonymous.

    2. Obama himself is likely further from the political median (recall he was scored the most liberal senator of all 100 in 2006) than is Ted Cruz.

      Well, you've certainly made your rooting interest clear with this comment.

      Even if Obama was, in fact, 2006's most liberal senator, keep in mind - this is 2013. Obama has a governing record. And those outside the conservative feedback loop are well aware that Obama has consistently rebuked his left wing by seeking centrist common ground.

      Meanwhile, Cruz thinks that the health-care reform law conceived of by the Heritage Foundation is so liberal that it is worth shutting the federal government down over.

      Obama has made mistakes, that is for sure. Governing in an ideologically extreme manner is not one of them.

    3. Obama seems to have been the 19th most liberal Senator in the 109th Congress (2005-2006).

  3. I would assume that whatever drop Obama has gotten in October is almost 100% a result of the botched ObamaCare rollout. Democrats are supposed to be competent at running the government, and this literally has Obama's name on it.

    It also should be obvious to anyone paying attention that the NSA and (especially) Syria have approximately zero to do with Obama's approval ratings. Fournier's not alone in this, though. I heard Chuck Todd mention yesterday that Syria was one of the factors driving Obama's poll numbers.

    1. Hmmm...I predicted before the fact that the shutdown would cost him approval, so I'm inclined not to write it off so quickly.

      What I actually believe happened (but haven't done the work to show it's true) is that Obama lost ground with liberals over Syria (and perhaps NSA) pre-shutdown, and then gained them back when shutdown happened, but lost low-information folks who blamed everyone for the shutdown.

      I don't know that the ACA stuff is actually high enough profile to affect approval.

    2. The outcome of the Syrian business polled well, but pundits didn't like it. A lot of pundits are obsessed with "consistency" without regard for changing circumstances.

  4. It's clearly a pathology on Fournier's part because there are millions of more *interesting* stories that he could have written, many of which would not even have required him to drop his nonpartisan schtick, if he really felt that was crucial to him protecting himself from "bias" charges. This is what is often so confounding about so many "neutral" journalists. They don't even choose to be *interesting* nonpartisan journalists. It's misleading or vapid conventional wisdom all the way. And it's a false choice!

    People often point out that the sorts of biases that journalists have are merely "for the good story" or to keep it an exciting "horse-race." But in fact they're usually turning down plenty of really fascinating and compelling stories and "takes," actively trying to be boring.

    1. He writes for rubes, and doesn't want to mess up that gig by writing something that would only appeal to a bunch of eggheads.

  5. The week that the shutdown ended, Bob Schieffer on CBS Evening News (as a special commentator/observer) said that it was good to see the moderates of both parties triumph over the extremists.


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