Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

Don’t rule out the Democrats winning back the House in 2014 | Harry J Enten

The party in the White House usually struggles in midterms, but the Republicans could lose their majority without a huge swing

I don’t believe the Democrats will win back the House of Representatives in 2014. President Obama’s low approval rating, combined with the usual midterm loss and normal movement away (pdf) from the White House party on the national House ballot, should keep Republicans in control. Yet, there’s a difference between thinking whether the Democrats “will” win back the House or whether they “can” win it back.

Right now, the Democrats hold a lead of about 4-5pt per the HuffPollster and Real Clear Politics average. Many have concluded that this lead would not be enough to take back the House, if the election were held today. However, I believe that it quite likely would be enough.

How so? Let’s address a bunch of reasons people expect that a 4-5pt Democratic lead on the national House ballot would result in Republicans still holding the House – and then show why I think those could be wrong.

1. A uniform shift of 4-5pt on all House seats would still leave Republicans winning a majority of seats

North Carolina Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger was the “median” representative in 2012. Half the races were decided by more than his 6.1pt margin and half were decided by less. Given that Democrats won the national House vote by 1.4pt, a uniform swing across all districts would imply that Democrats would need to win the national House vote by 7.5pt to take back the House.

Count me as one of the people who does not believe in uniform swings. It’s not that the uniform swing is uninformative; it’s that it is very inexact. There are many factors that go into House races, including challenger quality, money spent, and whether or not the incumbent is running for re-election. Most of those are unknown at this point for key races.

You only need to look at the 2006 election to get an idea. Back in 2004, Republicans won the national House vote by 2.6pt. They won the median district by a little over 10pt. In other words, there was that same 7.5pt pro-Republican bias between the national House vote and the median district in 2004 as there was last year.

When we examine 2006, we see the bias simply didn’t hold. Democrats only won the national House vote by 8pt, which should have given them the thinnest of majorities per a uniform swing. Instead, they took 233, or 13 more, seats than a uniform swing implied.

The 218th seat won by the Democrats belonged to Leonard Boswell, who had actually taken the seat easily in 2004. He had health problems, which led to a closer than expected re-election campaign. Boswell, with a winning margin of 5.4pt, might have survived even if the national Democratic margin had been closer to 3pt.

My own math, taking into account redistricting in 2011, says a 3pt Democratic win in the national vote and a takeover of the House would not be nearly as likely as in 2006; but a 4 or 5pt victory would probably do the trick.

2. The experts say there are very few seats up for grabs

The indispensable Cook Political Report has only has 13 Democratic-held seats listed in the relatively competitive tossup or “lean” category. Of course, Democrats need to take 17 seats to win the House. The ratings reflect, among other things, a lack of strong challengers for the Democrats and lack of retirements by Republicans.

The thing is that expert ratings (like most polling) are not all that predictive a year out from an election. At this point in the 2006 cycle, there were 17 Republican seats in the lean or tossup categories (pdf). That’s well short of the 30 seats that Democrats would ultimately take from Republicans. At this point in the 2010 cycle, there were 28 Democratic seats in the lean or tossup category. Republicans, of course, went onto gain 63 seats in 2010.

It’s not until later in the cycle when individual seat rankings become quite useful. That’s when potential challengers and incumbents read the national environment and decide to run or not. Chances are that if the 4-5pt Democratic lead holds, the individual seat rankings will reflect that edge. For now, individual seat ratings probably aren’t all that helpful to understanding which way and how hard the wind is blowing.

3. The Abramowitz model says Democrats need something like a 13pt margin on the national House ballot

Alan Abramowitz’s national House ballot to seats model seems to have unusual sway among some. The model is elegant in the sense that it does a good job of trying to map the midterm penalty and how much exposure the majority party has, in a minimalistic fashion. The problem is that some don’t seem to quite understand how the model should work.

It’s not a straight national vote-to-seat equation. It’s built for early September of a midterm year. Abramowitz isn’t saying that a 13pt Democratic margin in the national House ballot on election day is what Democrats need to take over the House. What he is saying is that a 13pt lead in September is likely to shrink because of the natural movement away from the White House party on the national House ballot during the course of the election year.

Moreover, the model is inexact. It would be within the margin of error of the model for Democrats to take back the House with a 2pt September lead on the national House ballot. In 2010, the model forecasted a Republican gain of 45 seats per my calculation. That was 18 seats off the final Republican gain of 63 seats.

Abramowitz’s forecast is a good starting-point for understanding how uphill is the Democrats’ task in taking back the House, but it is far from perfect.

4. The final national House ballot surveys are biased against Republicans

Charlie Cook has a rule that you subtract 2pt from the Democratic margin on the final national House ballot to know how the national House vote is actually going to pan out. That may have worked over five years ago, though it doesn’t seem to work anymore. In 2008, 2010, and 2012, the Real Clear Politics average of the national House ballot underestimated the actual Democratic standing in the national House vote. So, there’s no reason to think the final national House ballot will overstate the Democrats’ standing in 2014.


There are plenty of reasons the Democrats won’t win back the House. But it’s not impossible that they will. If the same national environment that is producing a 4-5pt on the national House ballot still exists in a year’s time, Democrats may very well win back the House. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

You can trust Gallup’s numbers … for now | Harry J Enten

Method changes last year have substantially improved Gallup’s polling accuracy. That’s good news for early trend spotting

Gallup screwed up in 2010 and 2012. They called for a much wider Republican House victory in the former than what actually occurred, and they polled a Mitt Romney victory in the latter. That put them on a blacklist of sorts with some polling analysts. And while I am just one person, I want to say that I trust Gallup’s presidential approval numbers as much as any mainstream pollster at this point.

Why? The main question when looking at a poll is whether or not the numbers accurately reflect the current state of the country. Methodology is important, but without accuracy, methodology is rather useless. In Gallup’s case, solid technique has led to Gallup’s approval track being reliable since last October.

While Gallup was losing a lot of creditability in the presidential horse race, they were making adjustments to their presidential approval methodology. They added a higher percentage of cell phones, changed weights for the geographic distribution of Americans, and many other minor changes starting on 1 October 2012. These alterations made all the difference in the world (or, at least, the country).

From the beginning of August through the end of September 2012, Gallup pegged President Obama’s approval at only 47.1%. All other pollsters who also used live interviews and called all adults found an average presidential approval of 49.7%. Given undecideds, the difference between the two percentages is that of a president who is in major re-election trouble and one who is probably going to win a tight race.

From 1 October 2012 through the election in early November, Gallup all of a sudden was projecting Obama’s approval at 50.8%. We’re talking over 17,000 interviews in October and nearly 30,000 in the eight weeks prior, so that movement in Gallup’s Obama’s approval rating was outside any margin of error.

The change was not seen by other polling outfits. Although most pollsters switched to a “likely voter electorate”, the ones that continued to poll all adults discovered an average Obama approval of 49.7% – exactly the same as they had produced in the two months prior.

Thus, the movement seen in Gallup’s weekly numbers can only be ascribed to its change in methodology. A change that produced an approval rating indicating President Obama’s re-relection, unlike horserace numbers. The anti-Obama house effect in approval rating essentially disappeared overnight.

Since the election, Gallup has continued to keep the reliable work up. HuffPollster aggregates approval ratings from all pollsters and allows the ability to sort by population (adults, registered, and likely voters) and mode (live telephone, automated telephone, and internet). I have selected adults and live telephone, like Gallup, from all non-Gallup pollsters and compared this plot of local regression to Gallup’s trend* since October 2012.

What we see is what we’d want to see from a trusted pollster. Gallup’s numbers have tracked very well with the aggregate of the other pollsters. Both groups gave Obama post-re-election boosts. Both have shown Obama’s approval rating dropping since January. Both have Obama’s approval fall accelerating since the NSA story broke in early June.

The only difference you’ll notice is that Obama’s approval and disapproval ratings are slightly higher in the overall group. The disparity is only about a point for both. All it means is that other pollsters have designed questionnaires that end up pushing undecideds a little harder. The net approval of both pollster groups is the same.

So what’s this all mean? It means we have the ability to catch trends more quickly thanks to Gallup’s daily and weekly tracking data. Gallup also has very good crosstabs, which thanks to high sample sizes, have relatively small margins of error.

Of course, the major question going forward is whether or not Gallup can translate this success with all adults to registered and likely voters for elections. If they can’t, Gallup will continue to earn a bad rap. If they can, then Gallup’s reputation may be restored.

*Note: An average may produce slightly different results from the averaging technique spoken about earlier. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Cory Booker: set to be the next senator from New Jersey | Harry J Enten

Any idea that Booker’s Republican rival, Steve Lonegan, has momentum is wishful. Polling says the Democrat is a banker

There seems a belief in some quarters that Republican Steve Lonegan has gained momentum against Democrat Cory Booker in the US Senate special election in New Jersey this Wednesday. Beyond the fact that a Tea Party candidate stands little chance of defeating a Democrat in a state that went for President Obama by nearly 18pt in the last election, the numbers really don’t suggest any trouble for Booker.

Booker holds a 12pt lead per the Real Clear Politics average, with a little over two days to go. I can’t think of a single campaign polled this extensively in the past decade, in a non-primary, major statewide election, that had a greater than 12pt error. That’s hundreds and hundreds of races. But this is a special election, you might say, where turnout is going to be low.

We can look back to the 2013 Senate special election race in Massachusetts, just a few months ago, for a similar example. Turnout in Massachusetts was low. The polls, however, remained accurate. Democrat Ed Markey led by 12.3pt in the Real Clear Politics average and went on to win by a little over 10pt.

It’s not that low turnout doesn’t increase the chance of a polling error; it’s that any error is not likely to be large enough to allow a Lonegan victory.

The reason is that any good pollster (pdf) is already accounting for the low turnout typical of an election taking place on a Wednesday in the middle of October. They are projecting who is going to vote and who isn’t. That’s potentially a part of the reason why Booker is leading by 12pt, instead of 15 or 20pt.

Isn’t there a chance the pollsters are way-off? But even when pollsters don’t do a good job modeling the electorate, 12pt is still too big a hill to climb. Consider the 2010 Nevada Senate race, where it was clear pollsters simply couldn’t figure out what was going on with Latino voters. The final polls had Harry Reid down by a little less than 3pt. He won by 5.5pt – an 8pt polling error. That’s still far short of 12pt.

What about pollster accuracy when a candidate is cutting the lead, as Lonegan has (from 16pt to 13pt, to 10pt, in the last three Monmouth surveys)? We can look to the case of Scott Brown in 2010. That was also a special election taking place at an odd time (the middle of January) and in which the Republican candidate in a blue state came up dramatically from behind.

The problem for Lonegan is that the late movement for Scott Brown had already occurred by this point. Every poll conducted by a legitimate pollster in the final week of that campaign had Brown leading. There hasn’t been a single poll in the 2013 New Jersey Senate race that has had anything but a Booker margin of at least 10pt.

The biggest obstacle for the Lonegan comeback story, though, is that any “momentum” he has gained isn’t coming at the expense of support for Booker. The last four Monmouth surveys have Booker holding steady at 53%, 54%, 53%, and 52% respectively. There is no statistically significant difference between these percentages. The last two Quinnipiac polls of likely voters also have Booker at 53%.

The only percentage that has changed is Lonegan’s, which is nice and all for him, but it doesn’t cut it when your opponent is over 50%. Even if Lonegan picked up every undecided voter (and my guess is many won’t vote), he would lose by half-a-dozen points. Chances are, however, that Steve Lonegan is not going to pick up every undecided voter.

The smart bet here is to average the Monmouth and Quinnipiac surveys to project an 11pt Booker win. That’s certainly disappointing to some Booker supporters, as is a campaign that has revealed Booker as more neoliberal and less accomplished than some of his supporters like to believe.

Yet, a win is a win. And Cory Booker is poised to win a spot as the next United States senator from New Jersey. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Has gerrymandering made politics more partisan? Ted Cruz argues not | Harry J Enten

Redistricting is blamed for polarising Congress. But Ted Cruz shows the cause is red-state voters’ choice of strict conservatives

I have written about gerrymandering before, but the issue is back to the fore because numerous commentators have posited a link between gerrymandering and the shutdown. Gerrymandering is now commonly given as the reason why congressional districts appear to be producing more conservative and/or Tea Party-allied Republican representatives.

I still believe the supposed effects of gerrymandering on political polarization in the House of Representatives are being overstated. And fine work from Nate Cohn and Sean Trende explains the point very well. I just have one more thing to add to the argument: what about Ted Cruz?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is seen as a figurehead for Tea Party conservatives. It’s even been reported that House Republicans have been taking directions from him in refusing to pass a clean continuing resolution without defunding or delaying Obamacare. So did gerrymandering create Ted Cruz, too?

The answer, of course, is no. Ted Cruz was elected to the United States Senate; he has never served in the House. Senators are voted for in state-wide elections, which means that redistricting and gerrymandering logically can’t apply. Yet, Cruz is as conservative as, if not more conservative than, the House GOP members who, many believe, are keeping the government shut down and flirting with debt default.

Admittedly, Ted Cruz is just one elected official, but he’s played a larger-than-life role in the current crisis. And, more importantly perhaps, he is part of a larger trend in the United States Senate, in three ways.

First, Cruz is from the state of Texas. And Texas is a deep red state, which makes it characteristic of a pattern of states becoming more polarized. As I’ve noted before, there used to be a great many states that were very competitive in national elections. In 1976, almost half the states in the union came within 3pt of the nationwide vote in the presidential election. A more impressive 30-plus states were within 5pt. Today, the numbers aren’t even close to that.

There were only eight states that came within 3pt of the national vote in the 2012 presidential race. That number only rises to ten when we include states where the margin was within 5pt of the nationwide margin – only a third of the number there were in 1976. Even if you expanded the list to include those within 10pt, you’d still only get to 14 states.

It’s fairly clear, then, that people are “self-sorting” on the state level. As Sean Trende shows, this filters down to the congressional district level rather well. The number of districts that most would call “competitive” under even the Democratic-written district lines of the 1990s would have been about the same.

Second, Cruz’s election was one of many where voters decided that they wanted their senatorial vote to reflect their presidential vote. Just 20 years ago, a similar party allocation in the Senate featured many more blue state Republicans and red state Democrats. In 1993, 49% of the Democrats’ Senate caucus came from states that had voted more Republican than the nation as a whole in the prior presidential election. That percentage has been cut in half, to only 25% in 2013.

It’s the same story with the Republican Senate caucus. Republicans from blue states were 28% of the Senate Republicans in 1993. Today, the percentage is only 16%.

So, what we have is increased polarization in the voting patterns of states on the presidential level, which has translated down to the senatorial level. Note, as Nate Silver has shown, this is the same phenomenon that is occurring on the congressional district level – even when controlling for changing districting lines.

The third factor is that the increased polarization of the states seems to be reflected in the senators’ voting records. The Senate (as well as the House) is now more polarized than it’s been in the past 135 years. How do we know?

The people over at Voteview score each roll-call vote: -1 is most liberal, while +1 is most conservative, per Voteview’s “DW nominate” score. They then were kind enough to map the average difference between the Senate’s Democratic and Republican caucus. This shows that there have been increasing differences in the average voting scores of the Republican and Democratic Senate caucuses, respectively, since the 1976 election. The polarization accelerated after the 1992 election.

It’s simply not possible that gerrymandering was the sole cause of this trend. It’s not as though anyone can, all of a sudden, start moving around state lines.

Now, none of this is to say that gerrymandering isn’t responsible for some part of the polarization in Washington. The median Democratic and Republican House district is more polarized than the median Democratic and Republican Senate seat. The House caucuses have more extreme voting records than the Senate’s. Some of that is, again, due to self-sorting on the state level more locally, but not all of it can be accounted for that way.

The Senate shows, however, that the sharp upswing in polarization we see today is largely the product of natural voting patterns. And these manifest themselves on the state level without any gerrymandering. Texas put Ted Cruz in the Senate not because someone redrew Texas’ state lines, but because Texas voters became, on average, more conservative. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

What the Virginia governor’s race tells us about the 2014 midterms | Harry J Enten

Against trend, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is set to win. After running a strong conservative, Republicans should take a hint

I’m hesitant to read too much into elections that don’t occur during the midterms or presidential election years. If off-year elections were all that predictive, Democrats would have done well in the 2002 midterms. Still, Republicans should pay attention to what’s looking increasingly like a Democratic win in the making in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election; that ought to make them at least a little worried for the 2014 midterms.

Historically, whichever party is in the White House loses the Virginia gubernatorial election, just as the White House’s party loses House seats in midterm elections. The last time this did not happen was 40 years ago, in 1973.

Moreover, Virginia’s voting patterns these days mirror the nation’s nearly perfectly. President Obama won nationally and in Virginia by 3.9pt. Democrat Tim Kaine won his 2012 senatorial race with 53% of the vote, while Democrats nationally took 54% of the senatorial vote. Both elections featured electorates in which whites now make up 70%, or a little more, during presidential years, and closer to 75% in non-presidential years.

That’s why we’d expect, all other things being equal, the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, to win Virginia’s gubernatorial election. And voters in Virginia did appear, at first, likely to follow the historical pattern. The first two polls which accounted for the higher white turnout in off-year and midterm elections had Cuccinelli leading Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 3pt and 10pt, respectively.

Then, something started to happen at the end of spring: voters got to know Ken Cuccinelli. Groups supporting McAuliffe and McAuliffe himself, aided by his background as a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee and for Bill and Hillary Clinton, pounded the airwaves – pointing out Cuccinelli’s very conservative positions on contraception, gay rights, and now, the government shutdown.

The result is that McAuliffe has jumped ahead to a mid single-digit lead with a little less than a month to go before the election. Polling at this point has generally been reliably predictive of who will win.

Now, it would be one thing if McAuliffe were winning because of some factor or factors unique to the state of Virginia, but I don’t think we can claim that. The incumbent Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has faced criticism on grounds of ethics, yet his approval rating is relatively high. McDonnell also led McAuliffe in a pollsters’ hypothetical matchup, if he could have run again.

McAuliffe himself isn’t exactly Mr Popularity. His net favorable ratings are, at best, even, though most polls have his favorable rating below his net favorable rating. In other words, he’s not exactly the type of candidate you’d expect to break an election history pattern in a positive way for his party.

No, the real problem for Republicans in Virginia is Cuccinelli. While McAuliffe may rank slightly below a net positive favorable rating, Cuccinelli’s net favorable is 15-20pt in the red.

Voters simply think Cuccinelli is too rightwing: 43% of voters believe he is too conservative, which is up significantly from when he led in the polls in spring. That compares with only only 35% who believe McAuliffe is too liberal (and that’s more or less where it had been earlier in the campaign).

Therein lies the issue for Republicans nationwide, Cuccinelli embodies their present identity in many ways. Both are becoming deeply unpopular for conservative positions, and both are partying with Ted Cruz – even though they probably know that it doesn’t look good from the general electorate’s point of view.

Meanwhile, McAuliffe looks a lot like Democrats nationally. Both are not well-liked (you could even say, disliked), but they’re not seen as extremist – and, crucially, they look great when compared to the other guy.

None is this is to say a McAuliffe win means Democrats in the 2014 midterms are going to break the historical loss trend – as McAuliffe looks as though he’s going to do in Virginia. In fact, I don’t think Democrats will win seats in the House and will almost certainly lose some in the Senate. It would be a victory of sorts, though, if they can keep any losses to a minimum.

So, Republicans should have a bit of a sinking feeling when looking at Virginia. When presented with the choice between ugly and uglier, Virginians seem to have decided to go with ugly. This may not end up being predictive of next year’s midterms, but it should be unsettling, to say the least, to Republicans nationally. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Move On poll tries to make people believe Republicans are vulnerable | Harry J Enten

Most experts, and Move On’s own pollster, don’t believe the surveys are predictive, but media reported them anyway

Outside a few diehards, no analyst gives Democrats much of a chance to take back the House of Representatives. It would take at least 17 seats for the House to change hands.

Public Policy Polling (PPP) sought to push back against that conventional wisdom when it released polls sponsored by looking at 24 competitive Republican held seats. The results showed generic Democrats leading named Republicans in the 17 necessary to win back the House.

Mark Blumenthal and Nate Cohn have done a good job showing why those polls are unlikely to be predictive, yet I would argue the polls did what they were designed to do. What’s that exactly?

The point of any release from an internal poll is to prove a point. That is, you’re trying to relay a message that is positive to your side. It doesn’t mean the poll is inaccurate, but it’s very unlikely you’ll see an internal poll that is bad for the side who sponsored the survey.

In this case, the point they’re trying to make is that Republican incumbents are vulnerable. This wouldn’t be a big deal, if the election were around the corner. At that point, candidates are already determined, and the races are all but decided.

But right now the Democratic candidates are not determined. In fact, most of the Republicans in districts that leaned to the left of the national vote in the 2012 presidential race lack credible Democratic challengers. It’s the reason, as Cohn points out, that most expert ratings have the Republicans PPP polled doing fairly well. In other words, these Republicans don’t have any real opposition in sight.

What’s the type of thing that can get good challengers to enter? The thought that they can win. The belief that there is blood in the water, and money can be raised to take on an incumbent. Potential candidates for political office want to enter at a moment of strength. Campaigns and fundraising are grueling, and most candidates get one crack at the chance to win.

Tom Jensen of PPP pretty much admitted as much to Blumenthal:

What the Move On polls show is that voters are extremely unhappy with their incumbent Congressmen and open for a change, and now Democrats need to recruit strong enough candidates to take advantage of that anger and vulnerability.

Jensen also acknowledged that there is these surveys are not meant to be too predictive. He noted “Often times a generic opponent is stronger than who actually ends up being the candidate.” In other words, no big deal if the polls overstate Democratic support, as a similar set of polling did for 2012.

This “generic” bias might have been balanced in vulnerable seats for Democrats, except PPP didn’t poll any. If PPP and MoveOn had any real interest in seeing what the state of the House was, they’d poll Democratic controlled seats too. After all, the Rothenberg Political Report finds a nearly equal number of Democratic and Republican seats in play.

I would think no Democratic incumbents in districts won by Mitt Romney were surveyed because it would tip off strong Republican challengers in these districts that the incumbents could be beaten. It’s highly unlikely that MoveOn wants to alert readers and Republicans living in these the districts they can take them away from Democrats.

Despite these caveats, news outlets ran with the PPP polls. The very well read Huffington Post went with the headline “GOP In Grave Danger Of Losing House In 2014, PPP Polls Show”, and the piece got over 35,000 Facebook likes. The more Washington insider publication National Journal, which many donors read, went with “Poll: Shutdown Hurting Republicans in Battleground Districts”.

In other words, Move On got the the press to report that Republican incumbents and only Republicans are in trouble. Whether or not that actually persuades strong Democratic challengers to declare candidacies for 2014 can’t be known. It certainly doesn’t hurt with fundraising. Thus, Public Policy Polling’s surveys might be more predictive than most might think, as it creates a bandwagon effect.

One can only give credit to for their ability to push a message that Republican incumbents can lose in 2014, while the press might be wise to point out the surveys’ potential faults in the future. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Democrats won’t win a ‘blame the GOP’ game on the shutdown and debt ceiling | Harry J Enten

Consumer confidence is crashing. If the economy goes south because of default fears, President Obama will be the big loser

So, people currently blame the Republicans more than anyone else for the government shutdown, but predicting the long-term political fallout is not as easy as that suggests. For one thing, the latest CBS News poll shows that while slightly more people believe the Republicans are at fault, a majority of them are upset with both sides for the inability to avert this crisis.

The real story is not revealed by people’s view of the politicians; it’s contained in the indices of economic sentiment. Gallup finds that Americans’ confidence in the economy has dropped like a rock, from -20pt just before the shutdown, to -35pt now. And it would not be surprising to see that measure continue to fall over coming days, with the deadline for raising the debt ceiling looming in ten days’ time.

What we’re seeing is a time-lag in consequences for the politicians. Gallup has President Obama’s approval rating still within its normal range of 45%, plus or minus a few points.

But remember the debt ceiling battle of April to July 2011: the politicians solved that crisis without the US actually defaulting, yet the mere idea of a default hurt tremendously. S&P downgraded the United States’ credit rating, while Gallup’s economic confidence rating fellby 30pt, to -55.

Regardless of whom the public blamed for the 2011 crisis, President Obama’s net approval rating did drop, by up to -4.3pt, per the Real Clear Politics average. True, that was not a catastrophic fall, but consumer confidence tends to be a leading economic indicator; it moves before the rest of the economy does.

Sure enough, Obama’s net approval rating didn’t bottom out until the end of August 2011 – a month after he, House Speaker John Boehner, and congressional leaders had reached a deal. Obama’s net approval stayed at about -10pt through early October, and was still lower at 1 November than it had been on 1 August. And it stayed depressed even though consumer confidence recovered slightly during the same period.

In fact, the political arguments over the shutdown and debt ceiling fight may not matter that much at all. As University of North Carolina political scientist Jim Stimson found (via Mark Blumenthal of the Huffington Post), it’s consumer sentiment that tends to have the greatest impact on approval ratings and hence elections.

After the last go-round on the debt ceiling, the economy had started to pick up by the end of October 2011, and Obama’s approval rating followed. But the lesson for Democrats who may be thinking smugly that the Republicans will take the biggest hit for the federal shutdown and government default angst is that if the economy goes south as a result, then it’ll likely be the Democratic president who sustains the most damage. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Wendy Davis and Texas are a problem for Democrats | Harry J Enten

The Lone Star state isn’t blue yet. A big push for Wendy Davis’ guv race takes resources from more winnable red-leaning states

Those who have followed my writing know that I don’t think Wendy Davis has a very good chance of being elected governor of Texas. She trails in early polling, there hasn’t been a major Texas Democratic statewide officer holder in 20 years, and the state’s demographic changes indicate a landscape that is much further away from being competitive than many Democrats argue. But there’s more to it than that: Davis’ campaign could have bad ramifications for Democrats outside of Texas.

Many Democrats want to argue that even if Davis doesn’t win, it’s worth competing in the state. I don’t disagree. You never know what’s going to happen in any election, and any organizing efforts are likely to hasten (even if not greatly) the chance of a Democrat winning down the road.

The issue is that resources are always limited. Sure, there are mega donors who will donate to every candidate they can. There are also volunteers who will hit the ground in Texas. There are, however, plenty of donors who will pick and choose their campaigns. There are folks who might go down to Texas to help Davis, when they could be somewhere else.

The dollars and volunteers spent for Davis lessens the opportunity that they be spent in other places. That’s a problem for Democrats given that they have a real opportunity to make major gubernatorial gains in 2014.

Democrats are far better positioned to regain control of the governor’s mansions in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. All these states have had at least one poll come out over the past year indicating that a Democrat led in the race for governor, which cannot be said about Texas.

Florida and Pennsylvania are major swing states in presidential elections. Democrats in Florida could use the governor’s powers to block some very conservative legislation passed by the state’s legislation, while Democrats in Pennsylvania won’t have to listen to their governor’s homophobic remarks. Democrats hold large early leads in both states with very unpopular governors.

Maine’s Governor Paul LePage has made comments that you’d expect from a deeply red state, not one from the blue state of Maine. He only won last time because of a three-way contest, which will again be the case this year. The Democrats are favored, yet will need to ensure the independent candidate Eliot Cutler doesn’t give LePage a second term.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is well below 50% against an unknown opponent in this bluish state. His approval rating is well below 50%. I know Democrats would love to take out the governor who signed right to work into law in the ultimate labor state of Michigan.

South Carolina is most intriguing because there it’s the ultimate southern state. There aren’t any major demographic changes happening in South Carolina, though Republican Governor Nikki Haley has struggled to keep approval rating above water. She only won by 5pt in 2010, even as Republicans won big time nationally.

Democrats also want to hold seats in Arkansas, Connecticut, and Illinois. Polls indicate that those races won’t be easy to won, but they are all more competitive than Texas is.

Republicans would absolutely love the effort and money that would have gone to any one of the eight states above go to Texas. They know that Texas won’t be competitive for at least 10-20 years, if demographic voting patterns hold. No amount of money will change that significantly, while money could alter one of the states mentioned here.

Indeed, Democrats seem to have sort of fantasy on Texas that I can only describe as a naive childhood crush on a pinup when the nice girl next door yearns for attention. Democrats continuously pledge to make Texas blue, though the math just isn’t there. They do when there are other states that are far more for the taking.

The gap between how Georgia and the country votes is shrinking by the day, as the percentage white people make up in Georgia is dropping fast. It’s the reason why Michelle Nunn is competitive in a Senate race in the Peach State. President Obama lost the state by only single digits, unlike Texas.

Arizona is a state where the growing Latino population has at least made it possible for Democrats to win statewide. There has actually been a Democratic governor in the past ten years. Richard Carmona only lost a Senate race there by 3pt in 2012, and Democrats actually control a majority of the state’s House’s seats. None of this can be said for Texas.

Overall, Texas and Wendy Davis’ efforts in the state are not just the fun type of tease for Democrats, but one that are probably taking resources out from other states. Making an effort in every state is important, though when Twitter hashtags like “Stand with Wendy” are dominating it may be too much of a good thing.

Democrats have a real chance to win back the majority of governorships in 2014, and they have the ability to take advantage of the changing demographic tides in Arizona and Georgia. The question is whether or not Wendy Davis and Democrats in Texas will get in the way. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Yes, Americans do blame Republicans most for the government shutdown | Harry J Enten

But it’s very relative: practically everyone thinks Congress, the Democrats and President Obama all stink, too

Many analysts and pundits are trying to figure out who the public is blaming for the shutdown. All the pre-shutdown polling indicated that people were more likely to hold Republicans accountable than Democrats, but it also shows a majority of Americans think both sides are doing a bad job. Put another way: no side is winning, one side is just losing by less.

More Americans disapprove than approve of the job being done by all three actors in the dispute over the federal budget. President Obama comes out “ahead” in the ABC News/Washington Post poll with a -9pt approval rating. Both parties in Congress are much lower. Democrats in Congress manage to maintain a net approval of -22pt, while Republicans in Congress fall to a -37pt approval rating. These are all awful.

CNN/ORC tries to get at the question slightly differently, yet their data yield a similar result. When given the opportunity, Americans don’t like either side. Of Americans who would blame either President Obama, or Republicans in Congress, or both, in the event of a shutdown, 62% blame Republicans. President Obama is on slightly better ground, but still 52% afford him some blame.

This extends to the overall political atmosphere in Washington, DC these days. Just a quarter of Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction per a recent Bloomberg poll – the lowest recorded by Bloomberg’s pollster since the company’s first poll in 2009. With both parties holding sway in at least part of a branch of elected government, it’s no wonder that Americans seem at a loss for which side to chastise. Now, with the shutdown, both parties are spiraling to new lows in the minds of the public.

A new CNN/ORC poll puts the net favorability rating of the Democratic party at -9pt: its lowest since CNN started asking the question in 2006. Republicans, too, are at their lowest level since 2006 as well, with -30pt favorability. A large portion of the difference between the parties’ favorability is that Tea Party supporters are less likely to hold a favorable view of Republicans than Tea Party opponents are of Democrats.

The numbers are much worse for members of Congress. A new Quinnipiac survey has the Democrats in Congress sporting a -28pt approval rating. Republicans are even worse, at a -57pt net approval rating. Again, much of the difference between the two parties’ ratings is that much of the conservative base doesn’t think that congressional Republicans are conservative enough.

Putting together the disapprovals of both sides, it leads to a congressional net approval rating of -77pt in the latest CNN survey. That’s down 19pt since the beginning of the month, and it’s the worst CNN has recorded since 2006.

The executive branch is in a somewhat better position, though only because the White House’s disapprovals don’t stink quite as much. President Obama has a -9pt net approval rating per CNN. That’s tied with his worst levels during the debt ceiling debate in 2011, and marks a continuation of his year-long decline.

So, our hypothetical voters are left with a choice between undesirables. It’s possible that these unwanted choices become even more intolerable over the course of the shutdown, though history suggests otherwise.

Even if the shutdown proves not to move public opinion significantly, the current atmosphere is far from sunny. Now, does this mean that voters will fight back and elect third-party or independent candidates? Almost certainly not. The United States is a two-party system. There have been other instances where Americans weren’t happy with one or both parties, yet the structure held.

The fact is, we have a choice between Democrats and Republicans. Voters don’t like either side, but this distaste will likely continue to manifest itself only in their opinions, and not in their underlying voting habits. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Why Jewish Americans vote Democratic | Harry J Enten

A striking aspect of the new Pew survey on Jewish Americans is how liberal Jews are. Is it good for the Democrats? You bet

Why do people vote the way to do? For swing voters, the answer is usually the state of the economy. For most, however, voting patterns are surprisingly fixed. People tend to vote for one party consistently over time. For Jewish American voters, the party of choice has been the Democratic party.

Conservatives have been trying to crack the code for a number of years on how to get Jewish voters over to their side. Based on the findings of the new “Portrait of Jewish Americans” survey from the Pew Research Center, Republicans will need to find a different key. Jews are likely going to be Democrats for the foreseeable future.

Let’s start with the fact that the most important determining factor of voting pattern is partisan affiliation. If you identify as a Democrat, you are far more likely to vote Democratic than if you identify as an independent or a Republican. In this instance, 70% of Jews self-identify as leaning to or members of the Democratic party. That compares with just 49% of the American public overall who at least lean Democratic. Only 22% of Jews consider themselves as leaning Republican, compared to 39% of the overall public. Orthodox Jews, who represent no more than 10% of the United States’ Jewish population, tend to make up the majority of Republican Jews.

Given their self-identification, it’s unlikely that Jewish Americans will break from their Democratic ways. But a closer look at why Jews are Democratic should give Republicans further pause.

US Jews are very liberal: 49% of Jewish adults identify as liberal, compared with just 19% who say they are conservative. That’s nearly a mirror-opposite of the general public, of whom 38% say they are conservative and 21% say they are liberal. That finding holds for age groups, albeit that Jews become less liberal as you look at the spectrum from Reform towards Orthodox.

The reason American Jews are liberal is because they tend to sympathize with the less fortunate and with minorities: 54% of Jews believe government should be bigger, with more services, compared to just 40% of the public at large who believe the same. And 82% of Jews think that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while just 57% of the general public believes so.

Tellingly, Jews sound a lot more like a minority when it comes to discrimination than one might expect from a group of people who are mostly white. Despite problems between Israel and its Arab (and Persian) neighbors, 72% of Jews say Muslims in America are discriminated against, versus just 47% of the public at large who say that. While 64% of Jews say there is discrimination against African Americans, only 47% of all Americans do. This gap extends to attitudes towards Latino Americans, as well.

The roots of these liberal values probably lie in Jews’ own understanding of what they went through in their history, with 73% of Jews holding the belieef that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish. Indeed, Jews say it is the most essential part of what it means to be Jewish. Third on the list, though, at 56%, is working for justice and equality.

It’s unlikely that outreach by religious Christians, who tend to be very conservative, on the issue of Israel is going to break this pattern. Jews simply don’t feel any real affinity towards Evangelical Christians. Jews, for instance, don’t buy into the idea that there is a (secularist) war against Christianity, as Rand Paul has argued. Only 16% of Jews agree there is discrimination against Evangelical Christians in the United States (a much larger 30% of all Americans think there is).

On the issue of Israel, only 40% of Jews believe God “gave them Israel”. This percentage is lower than the general public’s belief (at 44%) and far below white Evangelicals’ 82% conviction. Other data indicate that Jews wouldn’t be likely to follow anyone who tried use Israel as a wedge issue to separate Jews and their Democratic inclinations.

While it’s true that 69% of Jews, including at least 60% of all age groups, feel an attachment to Israel, the problem for Republican recruiters is that only 43% of Jews believe that caring about Israel is an essential part of being Jewish. That’s far lower than the percentage who say the same thing for remembering the Holocaust or working for justice and equality.

Perhaps most telling is that most Jews don’t feel the United States needs to be closer to Israel: nearly two-thirds (65%) of Jewish Americans feel that US support for Israel is either “about right” or too much. This holds across all age groups, and it’s matches attitudes in the population at large. In fact, Jewish voters are 19pt more likely to say they support Obama’s handling the US policy towards Israel than all Americans.

When you put it all together, Jewish voters are Democratic for a reason. They believe in the party’s liberal ideology, and identify with its core values. They will not be swayed by Republican attempts to switch allegiances, because on the key issue on which the GOP (partly under Evangelical influence) highlights – diehard support for Israel – just doesn’t impress Jews much. They don’t view Israel as essential to their political allegiances in the United States, and even if they did, they think Democratic policy is just fine. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds