Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Polling Perspectives

I received a call about ten days ago to participate in a public opinion poll. They asked a few qualifying questions including whether I worked for a political party or was in the media.  They then asked a question that I had never been asked before from a polling outfit, "Do you write a blog that has any political commentary?"

Being a man of integrity I answered "Yes".  At that point, they were no longer interested in my opinions.

Several days later the Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey was released.  I don't know that it was the telephone survey that I was called about but I think there is a good chance it was.

I enjoy taking part in polls if I am called.  I enjoy looking at poll results even more, especially digging deep in the data to look at the cross-tabs to get a better sense of the mood of the public on certain issues.

There is usually a wealth of great insights in the data.  However, at times you just want to wonder what is going through people's minds to reach the opinions they do.  What I have concluded over the years is that human beings are complex characters.  They have many different opinions on varying topics. It is not easy to put any one person in a box. Elections are different. When voting, it is an either/or proposition. Are you for or against? Do you like that person or that person?

You may be a fiscal conservative but you also support gay marriage. You may be in a government workers union but you also strongly believe in the 2nd Amendment.  How do you vote when you are unlikely to find a candidate who is totally in sync with you?

I have learned not to question or argue with poll results.  It may may not make sense to me or be logical.  However, in politics, perception is reality.  And that reality is all that matters.

To change that reality you must change perceptions and that is not often very easy.

Let's look at a few interesting things that I came across in the Reason-Rupe telephone poll of March, 2014 of 1,003 adults.

The first question was whether the country is headed in the right direction or in the wrong direction.  In total, 60% stated that they the country is generally heading in the wrong direction compared to 30% who say we are heading in the right direction.  The remaining 10% are not sure which.

However, in looking at the cross-tab data you see very stark differences in opinions.

For example, 74% of white women think the country is heading in the wrong direction compared to only 19% who think it is heading in the right direction.  However, by 47% to 42%, nonwhite women think we are heading in the right direction and nonwhite men think we are heading the right way by 54% to 35%.  Only 22% of white men think we are heading in the right direction versus 68% who think we are heading the wrong way.

Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey, March, 2014

Let's put this in perspective.  The unemployment rate for Blacks is currently 12.4% (more than 2x the rate for Whites). 35% of Blacks are in poverty. 72% of African-American babies are born out of wedlock.  We are heading in the right direction?  You see what I mean?

51% of the overall respondents in the poll disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president compared to 42% who approve.  The numbers are essentially the same for those who are employed full-time.  However, the unemployed approve of Obama 68%-27% and students 60%-33%. On the other hand, those who are retired disapprove of Obama's job performance 58%-37% and small business owners 68%-31%.

By 67% to 32% people support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.00 per hour.  However, when asked whether that will reduce the number of jobs, more than twice as many agree that it will decrease the number of jobs rather than increase jobs.  70% also think that companies that raise the minimum wage would primarily pay for it by charging higher prices or laying off workers compared to only 6% that think that companies would take it out of profits.  Why are they for this when they fully seem to understand the adverse effects?

62% of people favor changing the tax system to a flat tax where everyone pays the same percentage of his or her income compared to 33% opposed.  Interestingly, a flat tax is favored by every income group by at least 10 points.

Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey, March, 2014

I think this demonstrates the desire people have for more simplicity in their life. The Republicans would be wise to push this issue further.  Herman Cain proved this in the last Presidential cycle with his 9/9/9 tax proposal that almost singe-handedly put him in the front-runner spot until he imploded due to other issues.

When asked whether the amount of money they personally paid in income taxes in 2013 improved society more, less, or about the same compared to if they had instead invested that money in private business, 17% in total said more, 33% said less and 40% responded it was about the same.  Again, every income group believed the money was better spent with a private business as did every ethnic and race group.

In total, 31% identified themselves as Democrats and 23% as Republicans with 40% claiming to be Independents.  However, by contrast, 29% stated they were Conservatives compared to only 15% who claimed they were Liberal.  26% identified themselves as Moderates.  What was interesting in the cross-tabs was that more African-Americans called themselves Conservatives (20%) than Liberals (19%)!  However, 93% of Blacks voted for Barack Obama in the last election.

As regards Obamacare, 53% view it unfavorably compared to 36% who have a favorable view.  All age groups have an unfavorable view of the law.  Even more interesting, the unemployed view it almost as unfavorably as those that are employed full time.  Students are the only "employment" group who view it favorably.  Why not?  They can stay on their parents plan and have them pay until they are age 25!

In looking at the data I continue to see the theme I wrote about shortly after the 2012 Presidential election.  Obama and the Democrats' support comes primarily from younger voters, minorities and single women.  Their support is weakest among white men, voters 55+ and married women.

Obama won in 2008 and 2012 because his people turned out at the polls.  Obama and the Democrats lost big in the 2010 mid-terms because many of these same people did not vote.

A big part of this was the youth vote.  They showed up to vote for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  They did not defend the Democrats in 2010.

Look at this comparison of voter demographics by age in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections.

Consider the age breakdown of the electorate. Voters age 45 and over made up 53% of the total in 2008 and 54% in 2012. However, in 2010, motivated by the Obamacare issue, they made up 67% of all voters!

It is even more interesting looking at the total number of young voters (ages 18-29) compared to older voters (age 60+) for the last three elections. 30 million older voters showed up consistently at the polls in each of 2008, 2010 and 2012. However, 24 million young voters came out in 2008 to help elect Obama, only 10 million showed up in 2010, and 23 million reappeared in 2012 to save Obama.

The same turnout dynamics can be seen in looking at a comparison of the demographics of the voters in 2008, 2010 and 2012 by race.

Minority voters as a percent of the electorate declined from 26% when Obama was on the ticket to 22% when Obamacare was not on the ticket in 2010 and then increased to 28% when Obama was on the ticket again. This shows a lot of enthusiasm for Obama the symbol. Not so much for the substance behind Obama.

These percentage changes amount to millions of voters. Overall, minority voters increased by 82% between 2010 and 2012. However, these numbers were essentially unchanged from 2008 to 2012. On the other hand, white voters only increased by 27% from 2010 to 2012. There were also 9% fewer white voters in overall numbers in 2012 compared to 2008.

What happens in the 2014 mid-term elections will largely be determined by who shows up at the polls.

The Democrats need to get the young adults, minorities and single women (the Democrats like to call this group the "Rising American Electorate") energized and motivated to vote or they will have problems similar to 2010.

A recent Democratic poll shows the "enthusiasm gap" between the "Rising American Electorate" (young adults, minorities and single women) and others and its spells trouble for the Democrats as things now stand.

Less than 2/3 of RAE voters are "almost certain" they will vote in 2014. However, almost 80% of everyone else say they will be going to the polls. Those are the people that are fed up with Obama, Obamacare and countless other issues from the last five years.

You can expect to see a lot of activity by President Obama and the Democrats to try to get these groups worked up over the next few months. We will definitely hear about the minimum wage, women's rights and countless stories of how the Republicans want to cut your federal benefits, ban you from taking your birth control pills and countless other heartless, horrible results if they control Congress.

The Democrats are in trouble right now but it is a long time to November. Voters vote on emotion more than on an issue by issue analysis when they are in the voting booth. What buttons they push in November will depend on how their buttons are pushed over the next six months or how they get strung along with the same, old political rhetoric.

Credit: Roz Chast

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