Tell me what I think and call it news

| Polling is now ubiquitous. The percentage of people who agree or disagree with something has become the gold standard for judging virtually every issue. In some cases the polls are reasonably scientific, randomly selected from some model of a large population — think Gallup, Roper, NYTimes, CBS, Pew, etc. On the other hand, there are the "polls" of self-selected individuals who call in or click to register their response to some usually loaded question — think Lou Dobbs et al.

NPR poll

National Public Radio (NPR) recently commissioned a poll of voter sentiment that is getting wide play. Two questions, particularly caught my attention; in both cases, participants were presented with two statements and asked which statement better reflected their view.

President Obama's economic policies helped avert an even worse crisis, and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery.
President Obama's economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.

Here are the results, broken down by whether the participants were in Democrat- or Republican-held Congressional districts.

Tier 1 is the 30 Democrat-held districts considered "most competitive," while Tier 2 is the next 30 districts.

Let's start by noting that each statement is really two statements rolled into one, so there are really four statements involved. That alone renders any results suspect.

First statement. The first half is a pretty widely held conclusion, that if the Obama administration hadn't done what it did, the US and possibly the entire world economy would have fallen into a second great depression. The second half is about whether those actions will lead to economic recovery. People of good faith can and do disagree about whether that's true, so the results have a certain validity.

Second statement. The first half is quite factual: huge deficits have been created in order to stave off depression. But the second half posits something that is clearly contrary to fact — the recession is ending (albeit not as fast as some would like) and the pace of job losses has slowed. Facts are facts and are determined objectively, not based on an opinion survey.

The next pair of statements asked whom participants believe is most responsible for the state of the economy, George W or Barrack H:

Former President Bush is more responsible for the problems with the economy.
President Obama is more responsible for the problems with the economy.

Here are the results.


Lets start by noting that more participants agreed that Bush is responsible for the problems in the economy than Obama, even in Republican-held districts.

But juxtapose that finding with the findings on the previous question: voters blame Bush, but give Obama very little credit for helping solve the problems.

Unfair, I believe, but hardly surprising. Ever since Obama's inauguration, the Republican party has followed a path of obstructionism, and the right wing has waged a campaign to delegitimize Obama: he's not American (the Birthers); he's a Socialist; he's a Muslim; and on and on.

NYTimes/CBS poll

Another recent poll, this one by the New York Times and CBS, is getting a lot of play.

Do you feel things in this country are generally going in the right direction or do you feel things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?

The electorate is convinced the US is going to Hell in a handbasket.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President?

Obama has taken a hit since the early days of his administration — that was bound to happen; expectations were wildly overblown. And even though they think the country is on the wrong track, they approve of Obama. I wonder who they blame?

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?

Ouch! Congress isn't doing very well, according to the voters.

Do you think most members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve re-election, or do you think it's time to give new people a chance?

Of course, people have said similar things before, and gone ahead to reelect the incumbents anyway. But if I were a member of Congress, I think I might be getting my resumé in order.

How would you rate the financial situation in your household these days? Is it very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad?

The American people are a bundle of inconsistencies: There's wailing and gnashing of teeth over the economy; people think there's no foundation for a recovery; and yet two-thirds say their own personal situation is "very good" or "fairly good" — huh?

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



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