Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

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

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

The US healthcare paradox: we like the Affordable Care Act but fear Obamacare | Harry J Enten

No wonder Republicans can campaign against the ACA when a plurality of Americans still believes it includes ‘death panels’

President Obama’s healthcare law is hated and loved by some so much that they are willing to shut down the government over it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much passion over an issue about which so few (myself included) know as much as we should.

I wrote about this divide when Obamacare was in front of the US supreme court. Americans were opposed to “Obamacare”, or the Affordable Care Act, yet they were in favor of many of its provisions. Not surprisingly, Americans lacked knowledge of what exactly the law did.

So, as the political fight has intensified, on the eve of implementation of one of the ACA’s key provisions, the creation of new health insurance pools, how much has changed? Does the noisy debate on the ACA mean Americans are better-informed than before about Obamacare? Here are five ways Americans’ opinions about Obamacare have and have not evolved over the past year.

1. Americans have grown more negative in their views

The HuffPollster chart tells the story fairly well. It includes polls that ask about Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Last June, the split was about 47% opposed to, and 40% in favor of, Obamacare. That gap narrowed, after the supreme court upheld the law’s constitutionality. The difference between those for and against the law dropped to only 2pt by the election.

Since the election, however, US public opinion has changed drastically: 52% of Americans now oppose Obamacare – that’s tied at the record high. A little less than 38% are in favor of it, according to the HuffPollster aggregate.

2. The Obamacare v the Affordable Care Act difference still exists, though may be overblown

A few weeks ago, a CNBC poll purported to show major differences when asked about the law in different manners: 46% were against Obamacare, while only 37% were opposed to the ACA. Importantly, support for the healthcare law also dropped from 29% to 22%. What’s happening is that Americans have heard a lot about “Obamacare”, but not much about the ACA. The key is the difference between those who favor and those who oppose for each question, which is about 15pt.

Most of the polls that show the best numbers for Obamacare (that is, the margin of opposition at 10pt or less) don’t mention Obama’s name. These include the Kaiser and ABC/Washington Post surveys. A Fox News poll found the gap was slightly wider, with the margin between favorable and unfavorable towards Obamacare at 26pt, and just 16pt for the ACA. Some, such as the UConn/Hartford Courant poll, use similar wording and find the largest gaps.

The bottom line is that many Americans oppose Obamacare no matter the wording. But Obama’s name probably makes them even less likely to like it.

3. There is a percentage of Americans who oppose the law for not going far enough, though this, too, is likely overblown

Democrats like to point out that even as a majority opposes Obamacare, a certain percentage of Americans think it’s because the law is “not liberal enough”. A new CNN poll puts that percentage at 11%. When you add those who favor Obamacare to those who regard it as “not liberal enough”, you have a near-majority.

The problem with this finding is that I don’t believe that Americans necessarily know what “too liberal” means in this context. My evidence for that is that the group with the highest percentage of those who say they are against the law because it is “too liberal” are, in fact, Republicans.

The actual percentage who don’t like Obamacare because it’s not liberal enough is probably closer to 7%, if not lower. That’s the percentage Kaiser found when they asked if Obamacare went “far enough” in changing the healthcare system. I caution, however, that some of that may be those who want radical conservative change – such as yearning for government to get completely out of healthcare.

4. Americans continue to like the individual provisions, except for the individual mandate

While only 37% of Americans viewed the ACA favorably in a March 2013 Kaiser poll, most liked what the healthcare bill is scheduled to do. Over 55%, and up to 88%, of Americans regard the following facets of Obamacare at least somewhat favorably: tax credits to small businesses to buy insurance, closing the Medicare “doughnut hole”, creating insurance exchanges, giving rebates to customers of insurance customers that spend too much on administrative costs, and the employer mandate. Even Republicans like all of them except the Medicaid expansion, increase in Medicare tax, employer mandate, and individual mandate.

Indeed, the only requirement of Obamacare most people didn’t like was the mandate for all people to join it.

5. Americans still don’t seem to know what Obamacare means for them

Given the discordance between Americans’ feelings on the individual parts of Obamacare and the law as a whole, it’s not that surprising that a striking 41% of Americans don’t feel they have enough information about the ACA, per the UConn/Hartford survey. Only 19% say they are very familiar with the law.

The individual provision questions strike the same chord. More than a third of people are unaware of the health insurance exchanges, subsidy assistance to individuals, or the Medicaid expansion. The latter two provisions of the law have actually seen a decrease in the percentage of people who knew these policies were in the bill, since it first passed. The only part of Obamacare that Americans seem to know really well is the individual mandate, which has also seen the largest percentage-point increase in awareness.

More worryingly, more people than not thought that Obamacare includes a public option, undocumented immigrant insurance, “death panels”, and cuts to Medicare. The Affordable Care Act contains none of these.

The fact is most of Obamacare is liked by the public. The issue is that the provision that is not liked is the best-known.

Conclusion: Americans are confused on Obamacare

There are lots of confused and confusing data here, and it’s difficult to say anything definitive about how Americans feel about the healthcare law signed by President Obama in 2010. As I found more than a year ago, they don’t like the law overall, even while they approve many of its measures.

Some Democrats may say that this points in their favor, but the same dynamic of a differential between the backing people will give for a broad proposition as opposed to their support for individual policies could be said to operate in the case of gun control. Thus two Colorado state senators were recently recalled over a gun control law whose individual provisions many said they liked.

Overall, Americans clearly don’t know enough about Obamacare. Of course, they know just as little about the Affordable Care Act – but to the extent that they are less hostile to a law that doesn’t bear President Obama’s name, it does appear that the embrace of the term “Obamacare” by Democrats and the White House was a tactic that has not worked out. © 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

Facing government shutdown, Obama’s party can’t bank on 1996 mythology | Harry J Enten

Convention says Republicans got blamed for the last shutdowns, helping Clinton win in 1996. In reality, it was the economy, stupid

We are less than a week from a possible government shutdown, thanks to the inability of congressional Republicans and President Obama to reach a budget compromise. Much of the disagreement stems from the determination of some Republicans use the budget bill to defund Obamacare. Given the imminence of the threat, much reference has been made to the previous government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996.

For those who don’t remember, 1995-96 featured congressional Republicans led by Newt Gingrich taking on Democratic President Bill Clinton. The conventional wisdom now is that Clinton won the political battle over the shutdowns. Some have taken that a step further and believe Gingrich’s “defeat” cost Republicans in the 1996 election.

The former is definitely true. Republicans clearly took more blame for the shutdowns 17 years ago. Today, though, the “margin of blame” is 16pt smaller – with Americans surveyed only 3pt more likely to blame congressional Republicans than the president (the margin was 19pt in 1995-96). That suggests that Republicans are much in better shape now than they were then.

But even if the polling today did look like 1995-96, I would argue that this looming shutdown will offer nowhere such a clear win for Obama and the Democrats as it did for Clinton. The 1996 elections didn’t differ at all from what you’d expect – given the state of the economy and the outcomes of congressional elections in presidential years when there is split government.

Take a look at presidential and congressional approval from 1995-1996. This allows us to see what impact the budget had on the different parties’ overall stature because of the shutdowns.

You would have expected Congress to see a steep decline in 1995-1996 because of the budget shutdown, but that simply didn’t happen. Check out this graph from Charles Franklin, with the key points of budget shutdown included.

As now, congressional approval was already in the can back in 1995. There was perhaps a slight decline in congressional approval going into 1996, but it’s a point or two at most.

The same pattern held with President Clinton. Here’s a chart from the same time period, created by the Monkey Cage‘s John Sides.

Clinton’s approval rating just after the shutdowns was, if anything, slightly lower than before it. In other words, he really didn’t win much in terms of his standing. He didn’t gain ground in his approval rating, and didn’t lose less than Congress.

Clinton’s major increase in presidential approval occurred in the months after the shutdown. Those ratings corresponded very well with a major increase, also, in congressional approval. That’s not surprising, given that both approval ratings tend to move in unison with one another. Congressional and presidential approval in this case moved up – because the economy was improving.

Perhaps counterintuitively, both Clinton and congressional Republicans actually saw their standing improve in the ballot test for the November 1996 elections. Clinton opened up about a 6pt edge on Republican Bob Dole in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, when he had been tied prior to it. Congressional Republicans closed a 5pt deficit, to a 1pt deficit, in the national House vote ballot.

Both of those margins pretty much held through the election. Congressional Republicans would gain a little bit on congressional Democrats. Both Clinton and Dole ran away from Reform party candidate Ross Perot (Clinton slightly more so). It looks as though most people did not determine their vote based on their view of the government shutdown.

Indeed, only 10% of Americans said the government shutdown was their greatest reservation about Republicans, following the 1996 vote, per a post-election poll. The exit polls didn’t even ask about it.

There just isn’t much sign that 1996 differed from what you’d expect, given the fundamentals. Clinton won the national vote by a little less than 9pt over Dole. One would think that if the shutdown had really hurt Republicans over the long term, then Clinton would have done far better than the economy would suggest. That simply didn’t happen.

Of the seven economic fundamental models displayed by Brendan Nyhan, two underestimated Clinton’s vote, three overestimated it, and two pretty much nailed it. That’s what you would expect to happen if there were no big event that overrode the 1996 election.

The same holds for the House. House Democrats gained two seats over their 1994 showing, but that’s well within expectations. The result was less of a loss than Republicans went on to suffer in 2008 or 2012, or then Democrats sustained in 1992, for instance. It’s equal to the loss Republicans took in 2000. Only once since 1952 has the majority party gained more than three seats in a presidential election year, when the other party controlled the White House.

In short, there’s just no clear evidence that House Republicans suffered, even if they were largely blamed for the shutdown.

In fact, Senate Republicans actually picked up two seats in 1996. Some might say that Democrats would gladly settle for a two-seat Republican gain in 2014. While that’s true, you have to know the baseline going into the 1996 elections: Republicans controlled 56% of the class up for re-election; they ended up winning 62% of the class thanks to wins in the south.

The reverse will be true in 2014. Democrats will control 60% of the seats up for election in 2014. Republicans have a lot more opportunity to pick up seats. They are playing offense mostly in the south, as they were in 1996. If Republicans were to win 62% of the seats in play in 2014, they’d pick up eight seats.

Now, I don’t think Republicans will gain eight seats in 2014. To me, one would be wise not to project too much correlation between the 1995-96 shutdown and a possible one in 2013. This is a midterm election, not a presidential election year. Congressional and presidential approvals are both in worse shape now than they were then. And polling puts Obama in worse shape than Clinton was at this point, as he faces a possible shutdown.

For those who look to the 1995-96 shutdown as a sign that it will have major electoral implications, look again. © 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

Obama’s approval takes a hit over NSA leaks | Harry J Enten

Declining public trust in his administration over the surveillance revelations should worry the president, but not based on one poll

President Obama’s approval rating is down in the aftermath of the NSA leaks. The median of five surveys taken before and after the leaks has his net approval off 4pt. The current HuffPollster aggregate has his net approval standing at -1.3pt, which is its lowest point (in this aggregation) since last November’s election. This decline coincides with falling trust both in government and in Obama himself.

Indeed, the biggest sign of trouble for Obama is not that his approval has fallen, but that it’s been accompanied by a similar collapse in trust – even as consumer sentiment is rising. That’s unusual because, as I noted here, a very good predictor of changes in a president’s approval and trust in government is changes in consumer sentiment. Historically, the only times consumer sentiment hasn’t correlated with these two factors is during war or scandal. That suggests that the NSA surveillance revelations are regarded, by some Americans at least, as “a scandal”.

It’s important, however, to note exactly how much damage has been done. A 4pt drop in net approval is significant, but it’s not as if the dam has broken. It’s nowhere near the 17pt drop in net approval than CNN/ORC showed in their poll released on Monday. That survey showed Obama’s worst net approval rating in two and a half months. It’s fair to say, as Mark Blumenthal did, that the CNN poll “exaggerates” Obama’s decline.

Responsible commentators like Blumenthal and Nate Cohn both mentioned what was likely an outlier result, but cited the average as the more reliable guide. Not all pundits followed their judicious example.

At CNN, one would be hard-pressed to find any mention of another poll. Instead, readers just have “political analyst” Gloria Borger declaring that Obama needs to execute a twist on the “Green Lantern” political play to get the public back on side. Despite what Aaron Sorkin or Drew Westen would have you believe, presidents rarely have some magical power to sell the public on a policy that people don’t agree with.

CNN, of course, is simply doing what all news organizations do when they sponsor a poll: they want to sell their “exclusive” findings for all they’re worth. That’s not much of an excuse, though: political analysts on the network should be telling the people how it is, using all the datapoints available, not solely citing the company’s own poll. This is what the Huffington Post did after their initial survey on the NSA controversy conflicted with a Pew/Washington Post poll.

Some of the polls being debated in the media also do not meet reputable polling firms’ technical criteria, though both the Gallup and Time magazine polls conducted during the same period certainly do. These called cellphones and used live interviewers. Both polls gave Obama positive net approvals. Why wouldn’t those polls be cited?

The same goes for news organizations that didn’t sponsor any poll. Take, for example, this National Journal article on Obama’s trust problem. I understand that when polls conflict with each other, there’s a belief that citing more than one poll can distract from an argument. The thing that’s so frustrating in this circumstance is that a wider look at the polling does support the belief that Obama has paid an approvals price over the NSA leaks – even if it isn’t to the same degree as CNN discovered. But if the one poll doesn’t agree with the majority, perhaps you shouldn’t be building a thesis around it.

This is especially the case when you’re dealing with crosstabs (the more detailed breakdowns within individual polls). I saw a lot of articles citing CNN’s finding that young voters’ support had “plummeted” to 48%. The margin of error on that crosstab was 7.5%. Meaning that Obama’s approval might well have been 55.5% – or equal to Gallup’s relatively stable weekly number, which has a far smaller margin of error. Add on the fact that younger voters are especially hard to reach thanks to low response rates, and you see the need to be careful.

Also the case is that we could already see a small drop in Obama’s approval rating late last week, when I wrote about that in the context of many polls. So we knew that the president had a trust problem developing before the CNN/ORC poll came out.

Finally, the advantages of sticking to a polling average, median, or some form an aggregate, have already proved their worth – notably, during the 2012 campaign. Anyone relying solely on Gallup (which has subsequently taken solid steps to improve accuracy) and Rasmussen to predict the 2012 result would have been embarrassed. Whether it be the CNN/ORC survey now or an outlier Quinnipiac poll last month, the lesson is: go to the polling average, even if the story isn’t as sexy.

That said, Obama should be concerned about his approval rating – especially the trust factor that appears to underpin its slide. © 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

NSA surveillance fears give Republicans a great in with young Americans | Harry J Enten

Young people are more Democratic and pro-Obama – but they’re even more pro-liberty. The GOP should seize this chance

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the Republican party has a problem with the millennial generation. Americans born after 1980 voted by some 25pt for President Obama over Mitt Romney, while the rest of the electorate narrowly supported the Republican candidate. It’s my view that Republicans can do little to attract most Millennials – but privacy may be the exception.

Our Guardian poll conducted by Public Policy Polling indicated that Democrats were more supportive of President Obama’s position on the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks than other parts of the electorate:

• 58% of Democrats were OK with the government collecting data on internet or phone data, compared with 44% of voters overall

• By a 4pt margin, Democrats were more fearful of putting national security at risk than of infringing civil liberties. That compares with a 22pt margin going the other way among the overall sample

• Only 28% of Democrats said that the information learned made them less likely to support President Obama against 48% of the electorate overall

These results aren’t too surprising given that a political base usually support its leader. That’s why you saw far more Democrats supporting Obama’s actions on collection and access of phone and internet records than for a somewhat similar policy under President Bush, while Republicans were far more receptive of the policies under Bush than under Obama.

You’d expect, therefore, that young voters – who are the bedrock of the Democratic base – to be receptive to President Obama’s actions. You’d be wrong. Young voters are overwhelmingly against the NSA’s access to internet and phone records.

• A meager 27% said the government should be accessing internet or phone records – 31pt lower than Democrats overall

• 73% were more fearful of an infringement of their civil liberties, compared to 15% who were more afraid of putting national security at risk. This 58pt margin is a reversal of the 4pt margin of Democrats who were more scared of a terrorist attack than abridgement of civil liberties

• 69% of young voters said that what they learned from the NSA leaks made them less likely to support President Obama – 41pt greater than Democrats. Exactly zero young voters in our sample said what they learned made them more likely to support Obama

To me, this indicates a tremendous opening for Republicans: 69% of young voters think that this country needs a fresh conversation about privacy versus security – and they are not with President Obama or the Democrats on this issue. If Republicans don’t at least discuss it, it will be an opportunity lost. © 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

Polls show Obama’s real worry: NSA leaks erode trust in government | Harry J Enten

With the NSA revelations doubling down on the IRS and AP scandals, the president’s approval rating is hitting new lows

Thursday, the Guardian released a poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday nights by Public Policy Polling looking at America’s reaction to the National Security Agency (NSA) controversy. The public appears to be reacting negatively to the revelations – and it seems to be hurting President Obama.

We found 50% of American voters believe the NSA should not be collecting telephone or internet records, compared to the 44% who think they should. The results hold even when respondents were told that the data the government is collecting is “metadata” (and not necessarily actual content of communications).

These results are consistent with a CBS News poll, Fox News poll, and YouGov survey that showed only 38%, 32%, and 35% of Americans respectively approved of phone record collection in order to reduce the chance of a terrorist attack. A Gallup poll was consistent with these, showing only 37% approved monitoring of Americans’ phone and internet use.

The results conflict with a Pew Research/Washington Post survey, which showed 56% of Americans found the NSA’s tracking of phone records to be acceptable. Why the difference?

As Mark Blumenthal pointed out Wednesday, the difference could well have to do with the Pew Research/Washington Post poll pointing out that the government had a “court order”. A court order would, to most, probably imply something less sinister; other pollsters had not made this distinction.

That said, the Guardian survey confirms the Pew survey in another important way. Nate Cohn recognized Wednesday that only 45% of Americans approved of the government monitoring of Americans’ emails and computer information. The Guardian survey discovered a very similar 41% of Americans who feel this way.

It’s fair to say the majority of Americans are, at the very least, unhappy with one or more aspects of the NSA data-mining revelations. The question is, though, whether or not President Obama will suffer political fallout from the leaks. The answer seems to be that he very well may.

First, Americans are increasingly catching up with the details of the controversy. Only 27% of Americans Pew/Washington Post said they were paying attention close attention to the NSA leaks. In fact, a full third said they weren’t following the news closely at all. That number, however, was only through 9 June. The YouGov poll conducted through the 10 June has the percentage who had not heard any news at all about the leaks at 10%. The Guardian survey, taken through 11 June, has it down to 8%. So, by now, most Americans have heard about the NSA leaks.

Second, Americans claim they are less likely to back Obama because of the information released to the public: 48% of American voters in our poll say they are less likely to support him because of the recent disclosures, while only 17% says they are more likely to support him. Fifty-two percent of voters who identify as independent said they were less likely to support the president, versus 8% who were more likely. Even Democrats, who are the most likely to think the leaks aren’t a big deal, are by a margin of 3pt less likely, rather than more, to back Obama because of the controversy.

Third, while it can be misleading to compare between pollsters to detect a trend, Obama’s approval rating does seem to be sliding (when controlling for pollster). Obama’s rating among registered voters in the YouGov survey (pdf) is only 46% (only 44% among adults). These are two-month lows.

Among all adults, the 44% number is Obama’s lowest since the November election. Obama’s net approval of -2pt in the Gallup daily tracker is also the lowest since his re-election. The same is true in the Fox poll, where his 44% approval is the lowest in over a year.

More worrisome for Obama is that his approval may be going down even as Americans think the economy is approving. Consumer sentiment rose to its highest level in six years in May at 84.5 in that index. Research by political scientists Robert Erikson, Michael Mackuen and James Stimson in Macro Polity shows that the No 1 predictor of changes in presidential approval is changes in consumer sentiment. In fact, it predicts over 90% of the changes.

Check out this chart from Republican strategist Adrian Gray published before we learned about the NSA leaks:

Obama’s three-month average approval rating had been tracking nicely with consumer sentiment through most of his presidency. It did rise above where one would expect, during his re-election honeymoon, but it’s continued to fall even further below where we would expect, post-honeymoon.

The overall Huffpollster aggregate, even without the trackers, shows his approval dropping to an all-time low level since re-election. Some surveys such as the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll show no movement in Obama’s approval. Even if there were no movement, this still isn’t a good sign for the president.

The point is, Obama’s approval should be rising given higher consumer sentiment. But it isn’t.

When the IRS and Associated Press scandals first broke, I pointed out that the one factor that predicts election results better than consumer sentiment is trust in government. Consumer sentiment and trust usually track together – except in times of government controversy. It’s one of the reasons the Democrats lost so many seats in 1994 during the first Clinton administration, even as consumer sentiment was decently high.

Trust in government after these scandals has been falling. In the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 55% of Americans said the IRS targeting made them doubt the “overall honesty and integrity” of the Obama administration. Only 48% of voters in Fox News poll taken after the release of the NSA information said Obama was “honest and trustworthy” – the lowest level the poll ever recorded. More than a third (35%) of voters believe the administration has been less open than previous administrations – a record high.

In light of the public’s negative reaction to the NSA leaks, trust in government could fall further. This would likely lead to a drop in the president’s approval. At this point, these controversies about government overreach, including the NSA revelations, look to be hurting Obama, even if his approval ratings are just sliding rather than crashing. The question going forward is whether fallout from the NSA revelations accelerates that decline.

• Editor’s note: this article was updated with new material at 10.15am on 13 June © 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

The reality is Americans aren’t that concerned about drones | Harry J Enten

Few Americans pay attention to the drone program, and the few who have largely support targeted killings abroad

President Obama is expected to discuss the use of drone strikes today in a speech on national security. For those who read this website, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to take out suspected terrorists is a hot topic, but what exactly do Americans think of the practice? Frankly, most don’t seem to care. Those that do have an opinion approve, in principle.

Following Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster aimed at shining light on the drone program, interest in the media peaked. Yet most Americans yawned – only 14% in a Gallup poll said they were following the news very closely, and 35% said they were following the news somewhat closely. Combined, the percentage of Americans following news stories about drones “closely” was below 50% (and equal to the percentage who were not following the news closely). The percentage following closely was over 10pts lower than the average percentage who follow a “big news story” closely.

You might expect that the percentage of Americans following the drone news would largely oppose the use of drones, but you’d be wrong. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans, who are most likely to support drone strikes, were following drone news at least somewhat closely, compare with only 45% of Democrats following the story. That’s in line with other data that suggests Republicans generally follow news more closely when it could possibly trouble the Obama administration. Either way, most Americans against drone strikes don’t seem to care much about it.

Indeed, most Americans at least partially favor drone strikes. Although differences in the wording of questions reveals different results, the median result falls along the lines of an April CBS News report, which found that 70% favored “the US using unmanned aircraft or ‘drones’ to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists in foreign countries”.

Even the least favorable response, a Pew poll in February, found majority support for the the use of drones: 56% favoured, while only 26% opposed “conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia”.

Support for the drone program varies across demographic and political groups about like you’d expect. Across pretty much all polling, Republicans, by about 10pts, are more likely to support drone use in general than Democrats, though majorities of both parties support it. Men are more likely to favor it than women, by anywhere from 7pts to 20pts. Again, however, more women favor the drone program in general than oppose it.

Why are Democrats and women more likely to oppose drone usage? It’s not because of the program’s murky legality. Among both groups, only 35% or less are “very concerned” about legality. With regard to the drones, Americans’ number one worry is that the program endangers civilian lives. It’s the only concern that garners a majority among the American people and among either Democrats or women.

Of course, striking non-American citizens on foreign soil is only part of the picture. The polling is less conclusive when the pollster specifically mentions killing Americans citizens via drone attack. The aforementioned Gallup poll found that a tiny majority, 51%, were opposed to using drones to kill US citizens overseas, per the following question: “Do you think the US government should or should not use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against US citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists?”

A Fox News poll found a majority, 60%, approved of this question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the United States using unmanned aircraft called drones to kill a suspected terrorist in a foreign country if the suspect is a US citizen?”

What accounts for the difference? The Gallup poll was taken after Rand Paul’s filibuster, so that could be part of it. However, CBS News showed no changed before or after Paul’s polemic, and used consistent question wording. It’s more likely that more proactive words, like “airstrikes” and “launch”, might have raised the hackles of respondents and made a few more people oppose the program. As usual, truth probably lies between the surveys. A February CBS News poll discovered that 49%, a plurality, but not a majority, favored “the US targeting and killing American citizens in foreign countries who are suspected of carrying out terrorist activities against the US”.

The one thing all the polling agrees is that Americans are opposed to using drones to kill Americans in the United States. According to both Fox and Gallup, the majority is against this practice. Wording, again, makes a difference on the exact percentages, but Americans are strongly against this fantastical scenario.

The fact remains, however, that on drones writ large, most Americans just don’t seem to care, and aren’t paying attention to the news. Those who are paying attention mostly favor the program, which fits with the overall public support of using drones to kill non-US citizens overseas. The polling is more split on killing citizens in other counties, but it seems that more American support than oppose the policy. © 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 the Millennial generation ‘overwhelmed’ the electorate? | Harry J Enten

Though they’ve drawn comparisons with the Greatest Generation for their liberal leanings, young people haven’t taken over yet

The Millennials are the most Democratic cohort in a generation. Some believe attribute their liberal inclinations to the racially diverse demographics within their generation, and while that may be partially true, I prescribe the Millennials’ (born after 1980 through the mid-90s) Democratic leanings to the fact they grew up during a strong Clinton administration and a weak Bush one. The Millennials today have mostly replaced the very white, very Democratic voters of the Greatest Generation (who were born 1910-1927) who came of age during the weak years under Hoover and a Roosevelt administration so strong it won FDR a third term.

In both the 2004 and 2012 election, almost all age cohorts voted the same relative to other cohorts, and the Millennials were as Democratic relative to the nation in 2004 and 2012. The Greatest Generation was too small a percentage of the electorate in 2012 to collect poll data, but they voted as Democratic as the Millennnials did in 2004.

Proving the cohort point further, the then +60-year-old Greatest Generation has been the most Democratic cohort all the way back in 1988, when age cohorts didn’t differ all that much in how they voted – despite even some members of the Lost Generation still voting. The Greatest Generation crowd was the most Democratic in the 1992 election, as well.

Even the most ardent critics of the cohort theory will admit that a person’s views of the presidential administration he or she grew up with will shape their political views going forward. The real question is whether or not the Millennials have a a large enough portion of the electorate to “overwhelm” the rest: would Bush have still won in 2004 with 2012 demographics, and would Obama have still won with 2004 demographics? With the release of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) voter supplement, we can find out.

The CPS is a geographically defined sample that seeks to fully represents each type of voter. Respondents are asked simple questions such as race, registration, and whether or not they voted. It is generally seen as a more comprehensive survey than network exit polls to determine the exact composition of the electorate.

There are, however, reasons to be cautious about making too much of the CPS report. The CPS doesn’t have a perfect response rate, and as my friend Sean Trende points out, there are more people who claimed to the CPS to have voted than actually did. The CPS tabulators assume that those who didn’t respond didn’t vote, which is likely not true, but there’s no perfect way to account for the discrepancies. Preliminary examination of board of election data from different states shows that fewer African Americans, for instance, voted than the numbers that the CPS finds.

Either way, the CPS is a very solid starting point, and we can still take a preliminary step in answering whether or not Obama would have won without the Millennials. We can determine this by multiplying the percent of what Obama won among Millennials by the percentage they made up of the electorate. In other words, the percentage of vote the Millennials contributed to Obama’s margin of victory. Then we compare this with the percentage of the vote the Greatest Generation contributed in prior years, and we’ll have a solid answer.

The Millennials now make up 18% of the electorate, per the CPS. That’s less than the exit poll data reports, but exits have been known to count too many young voters. Meanwhile, the CPS data is backed quite well by Pew Research, which most would agree is one of the finest pollsters out there, if not the best.

Those born between 1910 and 1927 were just 2% of the 2012 electorate. In 1996, the election before the Millennials began voting, the Greatest made up 15% of everyone who cast a ballot. By the time 2004 rolled around, Millennials were 8% of the electorate, while the Greatest was down to 7%. Thus, as a percentage of the total electorate, there was a 5pt gain in the Democratic coalition of the Greatest Generation and Millennials from 1996 to 2012, and from 2004 to 2012.

Given Obama’s +20pt win among Millennials, what percentage of the vote is that 5pt difference worth? With the 2004 electorate, Obama would have won by 2.6pt instead of 3.85pt last year. Meanwhile, if the 2004 electorate had looked like the 2012 one, George W Bush would have won by 1.2pt instead of 2.45pt. So yes, the Democratic candidate would have done slightly better with the demographic boost, but neither election would have turned out any differently.

Further comparisons to 1996 and 2004 undersell the Greatest Generation’s impact. The Greatest were 17% of the electorate in 1992, 21% in 1988, 24% in 1984, and 27% in 1980, but have dropped steeply as more of their members pass away. The Millennials, meanwhile, are still far away from 24%, let alone 27%. If other age cohorts had voted the same relative to the national vote, Obama might have actually won by more in prior years.

To me, the evidence does not suggest the Millennials have “overwhelmed” the Greatest. They are, if anything, a new “Greatest Generation” both in terms of voting patterns and, to a lesser extent, size – though we can still expect the Millennials to grow somewhat as a percentage of the electorate, since people are more likely to vote as they get older. The question going forward is whether Generation Z (born in the mid-90s and later) will follow the voting patterns of the Millennials.

His small re-election margin and his projected historic ratings mean that the Obama administration has largely been seen as mediocre, which in turn suggests that the next age cohort will walk the middle of the road. The polling data agrees that Generation Z will be less Democratic, than the Millenials, but if one believes the racial diversity theory, then the next generation should actually be more liberal, as it will have fewer white voters.

We don’t know whether the age cohort or racial diversity theory will end up being more correct in the long run. If it’s the diversity one, Republicans are in a lot of trouble. If it’s the age cohort theory, then it will be politics as usual. I’d bet on age. © 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

No Patriot Act II: Americans choose civil liberties over security laws | Harry J Enten

Unlike 9/11, the Boston attack will not lead to new anti-terror law. But Democrats are now less civil libertarian than Republicans

Terrorist attacks offer lawmakers an ability to react. After 9/11, the American government decided to go to war in Afghanistan and to enact new laws aimed at curbing future attacks. The Patriot Act, for instance, has been regarded by some as a necessary step for safety and by others as an infringement on civil liberties.

Following the Boston Marathon attack, we’ve heard Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain, among others, push for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be handled in a way that many believe would be a violation of his civil liberties. So, has the Boston bombing opened up an avenue for lawmakers to pursue controversial new anti-terrorism measures that may limit civil liberties?

Almost certainly not. The latest CNN/Time/ORC poll finds that 49% of Americans are not willing to give up civil liberties in order curb terrorism, while only 40% are. In fact, 61% of Americans are more fearful that the government will overreact to the Boston bombing, compared to 31% who are worried that the government won’t act strongly enough.

Other polls confirm these findings. Just after the attacks, Fox News found that 43% of Americans were willing to give up “some personal freedom” to reduce the threat of an attack, while 45% were not. A Washington Post poll, from before the bombers were caught, reported that only 41% of Americans were most worried that the government wouldn’t go far enough because of constitutional concerns. Almost half of Americans, 48%, were worried the government would go too far and compromise constitutional rights.

The reaction to Boston has been monumentally different to the polling results after 9/11. Immediately following the attacks on the WTC, 66% of Americans were willing to give up “civil liberties” to stop terrorism – 26pt higher than today. And 39% of Americans were concerned that strong laws wouldn’t be enacted, while 34% were more concerned about restricting civil liberties. That 4pt lead for enacting stronger laws is now a 30pt lead in favor of protecting civil liberties, per the ORC poll. After 9/11, 71% of Americans were willing to give up “personal freedom” to reduce the threat of a terrorist attack per Fox – 28pt higher than today.

Indeed, the party breakdown of new polling means that Graham and McCain have even less chance of getting their way. Democrats at large – who are unlikely to agree with hawkish senators – are now more willing to give up personal freedoms than Republicans. In the CNN/Time/ORC survey, 51% of Democrats were were willing to give up some civil liberties to curb terrorism, while only 41% of Republicans were. Fox found an identical 51% of Democrats were willing to give up “personal freedom”, against just 43% of Republicans. The Washington Post poll found the same 8pt spread between Democrats and Republicans on the question of whether the government might compromise constitutional rights.

Republicans, it seems, have become the standard-bearers of civil liberties due to two factors: who’s in the White House and shifting currents inside each party.

The executive branch, the government’s chief, is currently a Democrat – one who many Republicans believe, for instance, is out to take their guns. After 9/11, a Republican president held office, which likely accounts for the parties switching positions. We already know that a respondent or a politician will often oppose an issue or policy just because of who’s in charge.

Second, the Republican party is increasingly becoming the party of Rand Paul and civil libertarians. You would expect exactly these respondents to be against an intrusion on civil liberties. Many Paulites tend to call themselves independents, which would also explain why, in the CNN/Time/ORC and Fox News, independents were the least likely to give up personal freedoms, at 32% and 29%, respectively.

This puts hawkish Republicans like Graham and McCain in an awkward position within their own party. If there were a Republican in the White House, I think more Republicans would be willing to sacrifice civil liberties to prevent terrorism. At the same time, though, the Republican party simply is in a different place than it was a decade ago.

Overall, the chances of any major, hawkish changes in terrorist policy are significantly hampered by public opinion. Americans did not react to the Boston bombings with anything near the willingness to sacrifice civil liberties they showed after 9/11. That Republicans – usually hawkish on national security issues – are wary of giving power to the Democratic-run executive branch only further weakens the chances that any new law might pass. © 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