Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

No, Joe: even without the 2008 crash, McCain would not have beaten Obama | Harry J Enten

Vice-President Biden was probably just being kind – but the idea that Senator McCain might have won the 2008 election is bunk

US Vice-President Joe Biden says a lot of funny things. This weekend, the ever-hilarious veep said that John McCain “probably” would have defeated Barack Obama in the 2008 election – were it not for the global financial crisis following the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy on 15 September 2008. I disagree wholeheartedly with Biden’s assertion: Barack Obama would have been in a strong position to win 2008 even without the financial collapse.

Let’s start off with Obama’s most basic advantage at the time: the GOP had held the White House for the eight years before he ran. From 1952 through to 2004, there have been six instances of a party holding the White House for more than a term. In the subsequent election – after eight years with the president on their side – that party won only one of those those six elections. Whether the incumbent party held the White House for more than four years explains about 30% of the difference in vote margins in elections for over half a century, heading right into 2008.

These odds were made worse by an economy that was already lousy months before the crash. When averaging across multiple segments of the economy, growth was negative by early July. The only other year growth was negative across this many sectors was in 1980, per Nate Silver’s economic index. In that election, Jimmy Carter became the only president since the start of the 20th century to lose after taking the White House from the rival party – and he got blown out by 9pt.

This 2008 recession, combined with an increasingly disliked war in Iraq, caused President George W Bush’s approvals to plunge to almost 30% by 1 September 2008 – the lowest early September approval for any sitting president before a major election, going back all the way since modern scientific polling began in the 1930s. The only president who comes close is Truman, who had approval ratings around 32% and 33% going into the 1946 midterms and 1952 presidential election. His party lost control of both chambers of Congress and then the presidency.

Indeed, the fundamentals strongly indicate that Obama should have beaten McCain even before the financial collapse. Don’t believe me? Look at the models advanced by political scientists in August of 2008. Using a combination of economic measures, Bush’s approval ratings, Obama-McCain poll data, and a host of other factors, six of nine models written up in the journal of the American Political Science Association had Obama beating McCain. The combination models had Obama winning 80% of the time, by an average of 4pt.

Focusing only on the polling from Obama v McCain leads us to the same conclusion. From the time Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, in early June, through the announcement of his running mate, in late August, recorded 103 national polls. McCain led in six of them. Three of the polls showed a tie. That means that 91% of the polls conducted during the summer had Obama beating McCain, by an average of a slightly less than 4pt, and with the median of Obama winning by 3pt.

McCain did take the lead after the Republican National Convention, by an advantage of a little less than 2pt. A smart convention plan, along with the unexpected emergence of Sarah Palin, provided a temporary boost. But looking at the data, the boost was clearly not going to last. The aggregate (being its most sensitive in order to catch any micro-trends) already had Obama regaining the lead by 14pt in September.

The research seems to concur with a naive reading of the polls. Looking at wave studies on respondents’ choices before and after the collapse, two different studies both agree that Obama would have won without the collapse. Sunshine Hillygus and Michael Henderson (pdf) found that the collapse gave Obama a single point more. Richard Johnston, Emily Thorson, and Andrew Gooch (pdf) put the gain at 3pt. Neither gain was “decisive” in determining the winner the election (and my thanks to Nadia Hassan for sending me links to these studies).

Thus, I’m fairly confident that Obama would have won the 2008 election without the financial disaster of September 2008. Would he have won by less? Maybe, though not by much. The economy, already limping, and negative views about Iraq drove opinion on Bush down to record lows; McCain, as the candidate of Bush’s party, was hardpressed to overcome these obstacles, which gave him a deficit in the polls long before the Lehman’s collapse. McCain would almost certainly have lost to Obama even if the economy had not buckled towards the end of the election season. © 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

Martin O’Malley who? The 2016 speculation is getting nonsensical | Harry J Enten

Contrary to some reports, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley doesn’t stand a chance in the Democratic presidential field

As much of 2016 election speculation centers around Hillary Clinton, other Democrats have been trying to break through the press wall. Arguably the most successful has been Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley. If you don’t live in his state or follow these things closely, you’re probably wondering, who?

O’Malley, with the help of a Democratic state legislature, has ushered through gun control, medical marijuana, a repeal of the death penalty, and a gas tax. In other words, he appears to have plenty of liberal chops. Despite all of these accomplishments, I remain skeptical about O’Malley’s prospects. Why?

Start with the fact that O’Malley seems to be having a hard time convincing Democrats in his own state that’s he up to the task. He only gets 7% of the vote among Maryland Democrats in a 2016 primary ballot test. Beyond that, O’Malley’s approval/favorable ratings suggest that the Democratic base aren’t his biggest fans.
His latest favorable rating (with undecideds allocated) among Maryland Democrats in a Goucher Poll conducted in March is only 74%. That matches his approval among Democrats in the Washington Post pollfrom late February.

We can compare this 74% home state Democratic approval to that of other possible 2016 contenders: Joe Biden (Delaware), Hillary Clinton (New York), Andrew Cuomo (New York), Brian Schweitzer (Montana), Mark Warner (Virginia), and Liz Warren (Massachusetts). In all cases in this article, we reallocate undecideds and third party votes based upon those who have already selected either a Republican or Democrat. All the polling data is the same as in a prior article I wrote on Andrew Cuomo except for those who have more recent data.

It turns out that O’Malley’s home state Democratic favorables are the worst by a long way – 11 pts worse than any other other contender, to be exact. Consider that Andrew Cuomo, who was a moderate who has tried to move to the left with new legislation, is at 85%. The median Democrat is 16 pts ahead of O’Malley at 90%. For those wondering, O’Malley’s Democratic support is actually down from his last statewide election, despite his progressive legislation blitz, when the percentage of Democrats he won was also the lowest of any of the listed 2016 contenders.

And lest you think that O’Malley is representative of Maryland’s Democrats, thanks to crosstabs provided to me by Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and overseer of the Goucher Poll, we can see how Maryland’s other major statewide office holders are doing. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski both fall short of 90%, though are well above O’Malley with Democrats at 85% and 88% favorables, respectively, among Democrats.

Why is O’Malley’s lack of support a big deal? As I noted in my piece on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, I think it’s important to see how Democrats who know these candidates well think of them. If they don’t like them, then it’s unlikely that voters around the country will like them once they get to know them. These politicians are either passing or voting for legislation that isn’t as pleasing to the Democratic base as some might believe. That or they are doing a poor job of communicating their agenda. Neither is a good thing for someone running for president.

Some might retort to all of this that O’Malley might not be loved among Maryland’s Democrats, but he’s running to the left and is going to alienate some more moderate Democrats. The payoff is going to be that he’s going to be rewarded with financial support from national “progressives”. The flaw in that theory is that the data suggests differently.

Adam Bonica has developed a methodology that maps out the ideology of a candidate’s contributors. The most liberal politicians are closest to -2, while the most conservative are closer to +2. As I said last November, no system is perfect. This one, however, is checked against systems.

The good news for O’Malley is that his donor base is more liberal than Andrew Cuomo’s and “Nascar Democrat” Mark Warner of Virginia. The bad news is that he’s actually quite close to them with a score of -.786 to Cuomo’s -.646. That difference of 0.14 is more than double that between O’Malley and Clinton, who is at -1.109. As we would expect given her support from the netroots in 2012, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s score is far and away the most liberal at -1.664.

To put another way, O’Malley doesn’t have a history of attracting a liberal donor base. His donor base looks more moderate like Joe Biden’s. He’s very much unlike oft-cited comparison Howard Dean, who has a score nearly a deviation away of that of O’Malley’s at -1.482. Like Dean, O’Malley will likely need progressives’ money to overcome his lack of national name recognition. He’s currently polling at 0% in an Iowa caucus ballot test, even when Clinton isn’t on the poll question. He’s also currently at 0% in a New Hampshire primary ballot test. O’Malley is at a grand 1% in a national primary ballot test without Clinton. In all cases, he’s either last or tied for dead last.

All these numbers suggest that Martin O’Malley may be a current media liberal darling, but he has a long way to go to become a legitimate presidential contender. Even with a liberal agenda, Maryland Democrats have not warmed to him like one would expect. In addition, he has failed to attract a liberal donor base that will be necessary to raise his brand name.

O’Malley at this point remains unimpressive for 2016, regardless of whether Hillary Clinton runs. © 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

How the fate of gun control is tied to presidential popularity | Harry J Enten

Polling shows that Obama’s approval rating is closely correlated with opinion on gun control. That suggests trouble ahead

Want to know how people feel about President Obama’s gun control plan?

Simply ask whether they approve or disapprove of how the president and his administration are doing their job. The two questions are nearly perfectly linked, and that could have major consequences for the future of gun control legislation.

The latest ABC/Washington Post polls prove the strong relationship. Many individual gun proposals are highly popular. In fact, seven tested gun measures, including background checks and bans on assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns, have majority support ranging from 51% to 88%.

When you attach Obama’s name by calling it “Barack Obama’s proposals”, the Post discovered that 53% of Americans favor the proposals – nearly identical to Obama’s approval rating of 55% in a separate Post poll last week. Gallup found the same, with 53% in favor of Obama’s gun control plan, compared to his monthly approval rating of 52%.

Drill down to specific demographics and the link between approval of the gun plan and approval of Obama’s administration becomes even clearer. Neither the Post nor Gallup asked about the plan or Obama’s approval in the same poll. The Post did, however, enquire about Joe Biden’s favorability. Biden’s net favorable of +11 percentage points is very close to Obama’s net approval rating of +14pt from the prior poll, meaning that the two are closely correlated.

[Note: we test Biden because we are examining small sub-samples and the sampling error on margins (for example, for favorable minus unfavorable) of less than 350 people is about 10pt or greater, which makes comparing different poll sub-samples difficult. By restricting ourselves to the same sample of people, as we can with Biden's favorables and the gun package, we can compare the answers among the exact same group of respondents.]

Among the 24 subgroups tested, the correlation between a subgroup’s opinion towards Joe Biden and Obama’s gun plan is 0.98 – nearly perfect. Moreoever, 95% of the differences in subgroup net favorables on Obama’s gun plan are predicted by their respective opinions of Biden. You rarely see two variables this closely linked. That’s even higher than the strong explanatory power that evangelical voting had in forecasting the Republican primary.

The median difference between a group’s opinion towards Biden versus Obama’s gun package is 2pt, which matches the 1pt difference between favorability for Biden and Obama’s gun control package overall. That’s ridiculously small. It means that if a respondent liked Biden, who substitutes for the administration, then the person liked the gun plan. Among independent voters, Biden’s net favorable is +5pt, and the net favorable impression of Obama’s plan is +7pt. Republican responders register -51pt net favorables for both. Among region, the median difference is only 3pt. Biden, for example, had a net favorable of +12pt in the south, while Obama’s gun plan had a favorable of +10pt. In the battleground of the midwest, Biden stood at +4pt and Obama’s gun plan was at +5pt net favorable.

So much for the correlation, but what does it mean for the future of gun control legislation?

In short, it means the gun control debate is likely heading in the direction of healthcare. In that political fight, as with this one, individual proposals polled well, but attaching Obama’s name to a proposal polarized opinion.

The key difference this time is that the net approval for Obama and his administration is about 14pt higher than it was when the healthcare bill passed in March 2010. That’s at least part of the reason why Obama’s gun safety proposals are polling much higher than his healthcare reform bill did three years ago.

This is also the main explanation for why President Obama’s gun plan is doing fairly well among independents and southerners. Obama lost both groups in the 2012 election, yet his post-election bounce has temporarily endeared him to them.

The chances are that he can’t maintain this surge in popularity, as most second-term bounces don’t last as long as the first-term ones. Obama will likely maintain a positive net approval overall, but not among certain subgroups. If his subgroup approval eventually matches his election margins, then he’ll start to show negative numbers among independents and southerners.

The question, then, is whether the high correlation between support for Obama’s administration and its gun policy signals that support for gun control is also poised to drop. It makes sense that it would. I’d also anticipate that this drop will be among the same subgroups as for Obama’s overall approval. That’ll mean that the current support for the gun plan among independents and southerners goes up in smoke.

Many House representatives up for re-election in 2014 are likely aware of the relationship between Obama’s gun proposals and his approval. Right now, that’s not an issue, but a fall in Obama’s approval would make this high correlation a problem. I don’t believe that legislators from areas where Obama’s approval is negative would want to be associated with a bill whose popularity is tied directly to presidential ratings. I’m talking about senators from red states who are committed to opposition, or waffling, on gun control – like Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Tim Johnson, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and, to a lesser extent, Kay Hagan.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised by a decline in support for Obama’s gun control package, nor by more obfuscation from vulnerable Democrats, who want to tread very carefully on guns. This doesn’t mean any gun package is over before it’s begun. Universal background checks, which are supported by about 90% of the public, seem to be picking up some steam.

But gun control legislation, on the whole, will be difficult to pass – and not just on the face of the proposals, but because red state legislators facing re-election simply won’t want to be associated a bill so closely tied to the popularity of President Obama. © 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

How Senate Democrats, not just House Republicans, will block gun control | Harry J Enten

A filibuster-proof majority in Senate is already a stretch, but red state Democrats up for re-election may make it unreachable

Vice-President Biden’s group will make recommendations to President Obama this week on gun control. Majorities of Americans support numerous new gun restrictions, yet I’m pessimistic that anything will get through Congress. Why?

You might expect me to cite the Republican-controlled House, but the chances that the Democratic-controlled Senate will pass anything are not much better.

The Democrats need 60 votes to achieve “cloture” or avoid a filibuster, and that seems near-impossible. Assuming all 55 Democrats vote for a piece of gun control legislation, another five Republicans must join the coalition. I can only think of four Republicans who are gettable.

Mark Kirk, from blue state Illinois, has a lifetime F-rating from the NRA and has voiced support for an assault weapons ban. Susan Collins, from Obama-voting Maine, and Dan Coats of Indiana have each received a C+ from the NRA, and worse grades from the Gun Owners of America. Finally, John McCain of Arizona only has a B+ from the NRA and a C- from the Gun Owners.

These four Republicans, plus all the Democrats, equal only 59, which, of course, isn’t 60. Every other Republican has at least an A from either the NRA or the Gun Owners. There would have to be a major change of heart from at least one Republican in order to avoid a filibuster or make cloture.

But even if you got that magical one Republican, the openness to discuss gun control from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, isn’t likely to be shared by six red state Democrats who are set to run for re-election in 2014.

The reason is that regardless of how Americans view gun control right now, research indicates that they are likely to be at least somewhat affected by cues from their party leaders. This is especially the case if the party is out of power, as the Republicans currently are. You saw this during healthcare reform debate of 2009 when most Americans were in favor of Obamacare at first, then turned against it once it became a partisan issue and Republican leaders resisted the reforms. Americans then opposed the new law even as they still supported most of the policies contained within it. A similar outcome is possible this time, as Republicans leaders have not indicated much of any movement on gun control.

Pew Research found that Americans who prioritize gun rights over gun control, as well as gun owners, are more likely to say that the Republican party does a better job of reflecting their views on gun control, by margins of 44 percentage points and 22pt, respectively. Americans against gun control are more likely to be politically active than their pro-control counterparts: they are 17pt more likely to to contribute money, contact a public official, sign a petition, or express an opinion on a social network. I can’t imagine a senator from a red state, especially one in which there are more guns per household than the national average, wanting to go up against a barrage from pro-gun forces.

That’s why Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota all have A ratings from the NRA. They all come from states ranked third or fourth in gun ownership – at least 57% of households have a gun in the home. Baucus voted against a renewal of the assault weapons ban in 2004; Begich said he’d vote against it even after Newtown; and Johnson has seen his NRA grade go from a C+ in 2003 to an A, with an NRA endorsement, during his 2008 re-election fight.

The electoral prospects for each man adds to the unlikelihood that any will cast a vote in favor of serious gun control legislation. According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), Baucus has a net approval rating of -3pt and leads a generic Republican candidate by only 3pt. Begich won election 2008 by only 1pt and is rated as “vulnerable” by the Cook Political Report, which also pegs Johnson as the incumbent most likely to lose in 2014.

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, too, is likely a goner on serious gun control legislation, despite a C from the NRA. She voted against renewing the assault weapons ban in 2004, and pretty much every other gun control measure of the past eight years. She won re-election in 2008 by six points – against a relatively weak opponent and in a state that voted for Romney by 17pt. She is “at risk” per the Cook Political Report. In Louisiana, 44% of households have a gun, 14th most in the nation.

Only Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas could go in favor of gun control. Hagan has an F from NRA, though she voted in favor in loosening regulations across state lines and calls herself a strong supporter of the second amendment. Pryor has a C-. He also voted to renew the assault weapons ban in 2004, and has wavered only occasionally since.

Again, the issue is that the Cook Political Report puts both of them at risk, come election season. Hagan’s net approval rating of -2 per PPP means she can’t afford to lose many voters, even if her state ranks only 23rd in the nation for households with guns, at 41%.

Pryor might be in an even worse spot. In 2012, Obama lost Arkansas by 24pt, and Democrats lost their control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Democrats had three of the state’s four representatives in Congress during Pryor’s last election, but don’t have a single one now. He simply doesn’t need enemies in a state where 55% of households have a gun – sixth most in the nation.

So, I don’t think you can count on any red state Senate Democrat who is running in 2014. Taking away these six leaves the pro-control caucus with 53 votes in the Senate, at most – even with the four Republicans. Counting Hagan and Pryor only leaves the pro-control caucus with 55 votes.

Let’s also be real here. Joe Manchin has only said that “everything should be on the table”. He hasn’t actually committed to anything concrete. Neither have Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, nor Jon Tester of Montana – all red state Democratic senators given A-ratings by the NRA – committed to anything specific.

That’s why the smart analysis says that the chances of Congress passing serious gun control legislation decrease by the day. The House is a foregone conclusion. When all these numbers start getting added together, I’m not even sure you can find a simple majority of senators to agree on tougher gun control. A filibuster-proof majority, meanwhile, is likely impossible. © 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

How far can President Obama go with an executive order on gun control? | Harry J Enten

Since any gun safety law would face opposition in a Republican-controlled Congress, the president must weigh public opinion

Vice-President Joe Biden’s gun panel is set to report to President Barack Obama next Tuesday. The common view is that any legislation that is at all controversial would have a difficult time getting passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Now, Biden has raised the possibility of getting gun control measures by executive order.

My advice for the president as someone who reads polls: go for it, if it’s what you want to do. There is much discussion that acting by executive order would be seen as a “totalitarian” action and provoke a backlash. Nonsense, so long as the order is supporting a measure the public favors.

Consider that in June 2012 Obama took executive action on a “mini-Dream Act” that provided a path to avoid deportation for some undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16, had a high school education (or were attending school) or had served in the military, and had no criminal background. He did so administratively because he couldn’t get a law passed by Congress.

There was heavy public support before the order was signed. Back in late 2010, Gallup found that 54% of Americans would vote for a bill that would allow for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country in their youth to have a pathway to citizenship. A late 2011, a Fox Poll put support for such a law at 63%.

After Obama made the new policy instruction, the public held to its position. Five polls taken between the June announcement and now found that anywhere from 54% to 64% of Americans still believe that young undocumented immigrants should not be sent packing. This includes three questions that specifically mentioned Obama’s name, and that his administration had “announced” the policy change (in other words, the measure specifically didn’t pass through Congress).

You might argue that the gun debate is different because the powerful gun rights lobby would be able to convince the public otherwise. The flaw in that statement is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is just not that popular these days: only 42% of Americans have a favorable view of the NRA per Public Policy Polling, which is down from 48% just a few weeks ago.

The president is also dealing with a public that’s seen its support for gun control climb higher since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I count five pollsters (ABC/Washington Post, CBS News, Gallup, CNN/ORC, and YouGov) that asked a question about whether gun control should be stricter before and after Newtown. Before the massacre, the weaker “stay the same” position on gun control beat the stricter position by an average of 3.8 percentage points. Afterward, stricter led by 11.4pt – a 15.2pt turn-around.

Past history suggests that the president can’t wait around until he gets a Congress that is willing to cooperate. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Americans’ support for stricter gun laws jumped by 5-10pt. After a year or two, the spike had abated and appetite for stricter gun laws continued its slow decline to the minority position it held just before Newtown.

So what policies should the president consider, as long as he thinks courts will uphold his orders?

• He should end the “gun show loophole” to force people who buy guns at a gun show or through private sales and online shopping to have a background check: 92% of Americans favor this position per Gallup, while PPP puts support at 76%.

• Obama should seek to ban high-capacity ammunition clips that contain more than 10 bullets: CNN/ORC, Gallup, Pew, PPP, and YouGov all show at least 53% of Americans in favor of this policy.

• He should seek ways to ensure that people with poor mental health records do not get a gun: CNN/ORC found that 92% Americans did not want Americans with mental health problems to be in possession of a gun; PPP took it one step farther and discovered that 63% of Americans want people to be required to take a health exam before buying a gun.

• Obama should obviously prevent felons convicted of a violent crime from owning a gun: 94% and 92% approve of that measure, per PPP and CNN/ORC respectively.

• He should try to make sure that guns, even if not recently purchased, would be registered with a government or law enforcement agency: CNN/ORC finds 78% agree with that policy.

• Obama should look to ban outright bullets that explode or are designed to break through a bullet-proof vest: Pew found that 56% favor this position.

• Obama should try to make it more difficult to buy ammunition and/or guns over the internet: 69% of Americans wanted to ban these practices, according to PPP.

You’ll note I don’t include an assault weapons ban. The reason is that pollsters are split: Gallup and Pew signal that a majority is opposed to banning assault or semi-automatic weapons, while ABC/Washington Post, CNN/ORC, PPP, and YouGov show the reverse. It seems to me that, politically speaking, an executive order would be the wrong course on an issue that apparently splits the country down the middle.

Further, the president would almost certainly be better-off passing any law through Congress. It not only looks better, but it lessens the chance of any political blowback I may be underestimating. The danger, of course, is that if a bill fails to get through Congress, it would look like awfully sour grapes then to obtain gun control measures through executive orders. It’s quite possible that the public would see that as executive over-reach.

Also, I am by no means a constitutional scholar: while there are plenty of people arguing in favor of executive action, others argue that some of these proposals, if put into action by executive order, would be unconstitutional and would be ruled so.

That said, if the president is sensitive to public opinion and reading the polls, there are a number of gun control policies he can obtain by executive order without fear of a backlash. But the lesson of Columbine is that he has a narrow window of opportunity, in the wake of Newtown, in which to act. © 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

Americans on the fiscal cliff deal: meh | Harry J Enten

The polls say most expected a compromise – though not so many like what they got. But the deal-makers fare slightly better

The fiscal cliff was averted last week as both the House and Senate agreed on an imperfect package. What do Americans think of this legislation and those who passed it?

Many in Washington did not think a deal would be reached, but Americans expected Congress would hammer out an agreement on time.

In every single Gallup poll taken during the month of December, the majority of respondents guessed that Congress would reach a solution that avoided the cliff. That majority shrank to 50%, but still held as late as 22 December, despite pessimistic reports. The ability of the public to predict better than most pundits fits with research that shows Americans also do a very good job of forecasting the results of presidential elections.

But while most Americans expected a deal, they didn’t much like it. By a slim 45% to 43% plurality, Gallup found more Americans disapproved than approved of the fiscal cliff deal. This broadly concurs with Pew Research’s finding that 38% approved and 41% disapproved of the deal. The percentage of Americans who registered agreement is far less than the 68% of Americans who’d said they wanted “compromise” from their Washington leaders back in December.

Independents and Republicans, in particular, looked for agreement – just not this one. Only 27% of Republicans and 39% of independents approved of the passed fiscal cliff legislation per Gallup. That compares with the approximately 60% of each group who had wished Congress to pass “compromise” legislation in December. Meanwhile, the 67% of Democrats who approved of the fiscal cliff deal largely matches the approximately 70% of Democrats who wanted a bipartisan piece of legislation.

The reason for this before-and-after discrepancy, as Pew Research discovered, is that 57% of Americans think President Obama got more of what he wanted, while only 20% feel the same way about Republican leaders. That affirms the fiscal cliff legislative rollcall, in which, by a near 2:1 margin, House Republicans opposed the law, while House Democrats approved it by more than a 9:1 margin.

That’s not to say Republican leaders made a mistake compromising, in the eye of the public. The percentage of Americans who approved of generic congressional Republicans’ handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations had been stuck in the 20s throughout the process. This percentage reached a low of 25% per Gallup and 19% per Pew, after the deal was passed.

Yet, Republican House speaker John Boehner who, despite much protestation from his own caucus, managed to get the deal through the House, actually received a boost in his approvals: 31% of Americans approved of Boehner’s handling of the fiscal cliff deal in Gallup polling – higher than any other congressional leader.

For Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who played a leading role, with Vice-President Joe Biden, in crafting the final form of the fiscal cliff bill, approval of 28% was also higher than the generic Republican congressional approval. In both cases of these named Republican leaders, the net approval (approval minus disapproval) of about -20pt is about 20pt higher than the net approval of generic congressional Republicans, at -40pt per Gallup.

Some might say that named Republican leaders only have higher approval because it’s easier to hate a no-faced person, but I’m not sure I agree. Only 27% approved of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s performance in Gallup’s polling, which is slightly lower than the percentage of Americans who approved of named Republican leaders. It’s also lower than the 34% who approved of the generic Democratic leaders in Congress. It does seem that Americans are willing to reward both the Democratic party they saw as more compromising and the Republican leaders who showed a willingness to compromise.

The ability to compromise is also probably part of the reason that President Obama has consistently received the highest ratings on the fiscal cliff negotiations from Americans: 46% of Americans approved of Obama’s handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations, while 48% disapproved. That approval is slightly down from earlier, though the -2pt net split is about 20pt better than those of our named congressional leaders. Given that Pew Research has the split at 48-40 for the president, I’m guessing that this is mostly statistical noise. Obama, of course, had been hounded from some on his own side for being too compromising on the fiscal cliff deal. Vice-President Biden, who took the lead with McConnell on final negotiations, also had a -2pt approval/disapproval split, with approval at 40% and disapproval at 42% per Gallup.

Indeed, Americans may be split on the overall bill and may not love those who compromised – but they like the compromisers more than those who stuck to their guns. In other words, voters expect their leaders to be adults and make deals. Further, American “optimism” in avoiding the fiscal cliff was rewarded. We will have to wait to see whether Americans will be as positive when it comes to predicting the outcome of the political battle over the debt ceiling in the next few months. © 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