Sunday, March 27, 2011


Give me Obama's stats, not anecdotes

President Obama may or may not be re-elected in 2012 (models indicate a close vote is in store), but I have to take some issue with a recent piece by Republican pollster David Hill. He claims that "five items point to Obama loss", and I pretty much disagree with each point.

1. Hill posits that Obama is not likable. While I feel that most elections are not decided on the likability factor, I think the American public likes Obama. For one thing, 83% of the public found Obama "likable" in a January GfK poll. Hill brings up some facts about Obama's strict diet (among other things) that may or may not be true, but I think the actual polls speak for themselves.

Obama's favorables (which Hill probably believes is not the best measure of "likability") run ahead of his approval ratings. In fact, his aggregate favorable rating has never dropped below his aggregate unfavorable rating, while the same cannot be said for his approval/disapproval.

There is a good 5% (+/- a few % depending on the poll) who hold a favorable
view of Obama, but do not think he is doing a good job. That type of spread between favorability and approval is pretty much equal to what "likable" President Bush saw throughout most of his Presidency.

2. Hill submits that Obama does not have support from his base. While I could tell you anecdotally that my roommate Derek (a diehard Obama supporter) still loves Obama, you're better informed by knowing Obama's approval among Democrats is actually above what either of the last two Democratic Presidents (Carter and Clinton) had in the middle of their first term.

His current ~80% is a stunning ~10% above Clinton's and ~30% above Carter's. How is that not getting support from your base? If anything Obama's problem is that he is too polarizing to those outside of his base.

3. Hill puts forth the belief that Obama has had no "noteworthy" accomplishments. This type of question is subjective (and one I am not in a position to answer). What I can say is that I am not sure it even matters. If these big "accomplishments" matter in the end, then why can economic models do such a fine job of explaining past Presidential election results? The only error the famous Hibbs model had was in a year (2000) where the incumbent could not run for re-election. If the economy does improve (see point 5), then I am sure pollsters will begin to hear "the economic recovery" as the number 1 accomplishment for Obama.

4. Hill argues that voters do not feel "personally connected" with Obama. I have not seen any polling to suggest that voters actually feel this way, nor that it actually matters. Hill may have some insider information that he could share with us, but fact is that the aforementioned GfK also found that 61% of Americans said that Obama "in touch with ordinary Americans". That seems, to me anyway, like Americans feel they have a personal connection with the President.

5. Hill points to the famous "are you better off than you are four years" question that Carter failed and says Obama is failing it too. I actually think Hill and I agree on this point. Obama would lose based on economic performance through this point in his Presidency. Luckily for Obama, the economy should improve (see these forecasts from the Philadelphia Fed and Wells Fargo) on a number of measures (GDP, Real Disposable Income, and Unemployment) to the point that Obama is at least a 50/50 proposition to be re-elected.

To reiterate, Hill may very well end being correct: Obama may lose in 2012. However, none of the evidence he presents is very convincing.

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