Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

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

Republicans take note: Americans are embracing immigration reform | Harry J Enten

As with gay marriage, voter views on immigrants and immigration have ‘evolved’. The GOP can only lose by blocking reform

The electoral analysis of the immigration debate these days almost exclusively focuses on Latinos, which makes sense, but also misses the point. Not only do I personally think that most Latino voters won’t change their voting allegiance in response to any new immigration reform, but also let’s note that all Americans are shifting their views on immigration.

Back in 2010, politicians on both sides of the aisle were worried that they could be knocked out of office by people who wanted “build up a fence”. Immigration, for instance, was a major rallying cry for insurgent Tea Party activists. A New York Times report at the time noted:

“Enforcement would be more far-reaching than anything in place now – or anything proposed by the administration of President George W Bush.”

Now, however, Americans of all stripes have become increasingly progressive on almost all the issues around illegal immigration.

An overwhelmingly majority of Americans now believe that people who came to this country illegally should not be forced to leave it. In the latest CBS News poll, 74% of Americans – a record high – believe that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship or stay as guest workers. That’s up from 57% in mid-2011. Per a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey, there isn’t a single demographic group opposed to this proposal, and that includes Tea Partiers, Republicans and white people without a college degree.

More amazingly, more Americans now believe in a pathway to citizenship, rather than a guest worker program. CBS News found that a majority of Americans, 53%, are now in favor of letting citizens stay and apply for citizenship. That percentage is way up from 37% in 2011, while the percentage of Americans who support a guest worker program has stayed steady, at about 20%.

While Americans are pretty evenly split on offering outright citizenship to undocumented immigrants, they see young people differently. Well over 60% of Americans, and as many as 74% in a CBS News survey, are in favor of a pathway to citizenship for children who came here under the age of 30 – so long as they meet certain conditions. In the CBS News survey, this includes 60% of Republicans. This support is emphatically up from 2010, when only 54% of Americans would vote for a similar policy, per Gallup.

Perhaps more important than any one immigration policy is the motive behind the policy. A slim majority of Americans now believes that an immigration plan should focus on providing legal residency to people here, rather than on stopping the flow of immigrants into the country. Per CNN/ORC, the generational divide is wide. Over 60% of those under 50 put priority on integration, while those 50 and older are far more evenly split. Majorities of Democrats, independents and white people prioritize residency.

Since May 2010, there has been a 15pt increase in the percentage of Americans who want to concentrate on how best to let undocumented immigrants stay. The percentage of those who want to increase attention on policing the border has dropped from 60% to only 43%.

Indeed, the attitude towards immigrants themselves has changed tremendously over the past few years. Today, 49% of Americans believe that the hard work of immigrants strengthens the country, and only 41% believe they are a burden, according to Pew. In 2006, the margin was reversed with 52% saying immigrants were a burden and 41% disagreeing. We should only expect the margin to rise in the future, as 59% of 18-29 year-olds say immigrants strengthen society, while only 37% of people 65 and older agree.

So what does this all mean for the immigration debate going forward?

Whatever policy the GOP espouses, immigration, in and of itself, isn’t likely to cost Republicans many votes. The issue ranks very low for most voters, and most Latino voters are Democratic for other reasons.

The real problem for the Republican party is that its brand is currently in the can. With favorable numbers in the low 30s, the GOP is seen as out-of-step with Americans on many issues.

That’s why you’re seeing Democrats jumping out to a large lead on the House ballot for 2014. The latest Quinnipiac poll puts Democrats up by 8pt, more than enough for them to take back the House. Voters are, at this point, not willing to vote for the party that opposes what they believe in. What Republicans don’t need, then, is another issue – that is, immigration – that contributes to notion that they’re out-of-touch with the way most Americans feel.

Opposing immigration reform would be yet another instance of GOP “obstructionism”, which is what most people see as the Republicans’ biggest fault. Unlike certain issues on which Americans agree with Democratic positions but trust Republicans to handle better – gun control, for example – voters are connecting immigration position with political party. More voters trust the Democrats on immigration; voters trust Obama over congressional Republicans on immigration reform by a 17pt margin.

Whether or not voters will still think Republicans clueless in the run-up to the midterm elections is another question. Right now, though, we can only say that progressive immigration reform has become popular – and opposing change won’t help Republicans at all. © 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 the bully pulpit is Obama’s only hope for gun control | Harry J Enten

With public will waning, the president’s paradox is that making gun control his issue is divisive but nothing gets done otherwise

President Obama tried to breathe new life into his stalled gun control agenda on Thursday, but will he have any impact? He may not have a choice: it looks like some kind of action on his part is the only hope for reform.

Over the past few weeks, the percentage of Americans favoring new gun control regulations have dropped across the board. Fox News polling saw support for background checks with new gun purchases fall by 6pt, to 85%; mental health checks by 11pt, to 72%; new ammunition limits by 10pt, to 70%; high-capacity magazines bans by 2pt, to 54%; armed guards in schools by 9pt, to 51%; and assault weapons bans by 3pt, to 51%. 

The good news for those favoring tighter gun control is that most of the specific proposals still have majority support. Background checks, the center of the White House’s gun control package, still have 85%, per Fox News; and 90%, per CBS News. Even the long-doomed ban on assault weapons is at 51% and 49%, per Fox and CBS, respectively.

Of course, the issue has always been that any gun control package presented by the president would ultimately become polarized along party lines. That is, people may support specific measures in theory, but they’ll disagree as soon as it becomes “President Obama’s gun control plan”.

We haven’t had any polls attach Obama’s name to gun control questions in the past few weeks. We have had broader gun control questions, though, that generally matched Obama’s past proposals. I also feel these broader questions do a better job measuring the public will on gun control legislation.

The drops in support for strong, broad gun control measures have been dramatic. CBS found the percentage of Americans who want stricter regulations fell from 57%, immediately following Newtown, to 47% now. And 50% of Americans saw no need for stricter regulations, or preferred, in fact, loosening gun restrictions.

Only 43% of Americans said that they wanted to put major restrictions on gun ownership or make them illegal, in the latest CNN/ORC poll. That’s down from 52% post Newtown. Meanwhile, the percentage who wants only minor or no restrictions is at 55% – the highest percentage ever measured by CNN/ORC.

What happened here?

Part of it, no doubt, is that President Obama’s overall popularity has dropped off in recent weeks. I noted previously that his overall approval was highly correlated with support for his gun control package. That’s why you see red state Democrats hesitant to get behind background checks, even as they poll at astronomical levels.

The other cause is that gun control has left the news. As I spoke about previously, the spike in support for tighter gun control after Newtown was reminiscent of trends after the Columbine massacre. These two gun tragedies were unlike others, such as the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, because they became remained top news stories  or some time, and were thus able to enter the public consciousness.

Eventually, however, Columbine received less and less news coverage, and the polling bump faded. We can check for the same pattern with the Newtown shootings by searching the News Library archive, which tracks newspapers and television transcripts.

In the month following the Newtown tragedy, the phrase “gun control” was mentioned 23,484 times. In the second month, it actually climbed slightly to 23,506. During March, through Wednesday, the number dropped to only 9,238. Now, that’s still much higher than the 1,243 mentions in the month prior to Newtown, but you don’t have to be a statistician to see the downward trajectory.

The president can help gun control reenter the news, and thus the minds of Americans. Danny Hayes found that in the week following the president’s initial announcement of his plans, the press mentioned gun control twice as much as previously. During that same period, the percentage of Americans who wanted tighter gun control barely strayed from the post-Newtown high. 

One might expect that a similar news spike and rebounding of support for stricter gun control can happen, given President Obama’s new push. 

This not to say that the president can convince the American public of something that they don’t believe. What he can do, according to research by Brandice Canes-Wrone on budget issues, is take stalled, popular proposals, and create a campaign issue out of them, thus convincing Congress to act. Background checks are, as Mark Blumenthal pointed out, the perfect example of a policy that is massively popular – and going nowhere in Congress.

We already see Democratic donors and grassroots organizations following Obama’s lead, and trying to turn background checks into a campaign issue. As reported by Greg Sargent, top Democratic donor Kenneth Lerer won’t give money to Democrats who don’t back gun control. The Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas followed up this report by hoping:

“It is a start of a trend. Too many big liberal voters have given to the party and candidates uncritically in the past.”

Of course, this could all easily fail. The president could simply polarize the debate even more. This campaign may make red state Democrats even more squeamish, and will almost certainly make the Republican-controlled House even less likely to move towards more regulation.

But right now, the issue is already polarized. Gun control has gone nowhere in Congress, while the president was saying little. Nationally, public will on the issue is fading. The situation for gun control advocates could hardly be worse, in fact.

The flipside, though, is that by speaking, Obama can engage and activate a public that is still firmly in favor of background checks. He just might be able to change the dynamic and make politicians recognize that, politically, they are on the wrong side of the issue. Thursday’s speech was a start, but it’s all uphill from here on. © 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

If the US held a referendum today, gay marriage would win | Harry J Enten

Even allowing for polling overestimating support for same-sex marriage, a majority of Americans would now vote for equality

Much hangs on how the nine US supreme court justices rule later this year on the two same-sex marriage cases they’ve heard this week, but if given the chance would Americans vote in favor of marriage equality?

Would they have done so last year, or, more importantly, today? I think the answer to all those questions is likely yes – but that differs from Nate Silver’s more equivocal judgment and what Chris Stirewalt believes.

Let’s start with the fact that the aggregate of all the same-sex marriage polling had support from about 50% of the population and opposition from 43% in 2012. Since then, we’ve seen about 1-2pt increase in the percentage favoring marriage. So, in order to believe that gay marriage wouldn’t pass a nationwide referendum, you’d have to think that this polling data is unrepresentative of an election’s results.

One reason you might believe that is because actual voters tend to be more conservative than adults at large. That’s why Obama was winning handily among all adults, but was in a tight race with Romney among likely voters. Is this gap apparent with regard to same-sex marriage? As it turns out, not really.

On the eve of the 2012 election, Pew saw a minimal difference between how adults as a whole and likely voters viewed same-sex marriage. All adults were in favor of same-sex marriage, 49% to 40%, while likely voters were in favor by 49% to 42%.

The other argument against these national polls posits some sort of “gay Bradley effect“. That is, polls for same-sex marriage state ballot measures have had a tendency to underestimate voters who wanted to ban same-sex marriage. Some, like Stirewalt, argue that a social desirability bias makes people not want to admit voting against perceived civil rights.

Either way, Patrick Egan found that the anti-gay marriage side (pdf) did 7pt better than polls suggested, while the pro-gay marriage side did about as well. California’s Prop 8, for instance, trailed in the polls before passing.

When I ran my own data back in 2009, however, it was fairly clear that the “gay Bradley effect” was lessening over time. Polls taken closer to 2009 were more accurate than ones taken further back.

Since 2009, there have been five same-sex marriage ballots with polling conducted within 10 days of the election. The 10 days are key because ballot wording can be very confusing, and voters only really tune into campaigns in the final weeks. Gregory Lewis and Charles Gossett showed that confusing ballot wording is a likely part of the reason why polling on Prop 8 was inaccurate.

When we look at the ballot measures polls taken within 10 days of the elections, from 2009 onward, the pro same-sex marriage side didn’t suffer anywhere close to the 7pt penalty that Egan had discovered. Maine’s 2009 Question 1 had one poll taken within 10 days of the election. Public Policy Polling (pdf) (PPP) had voters “vetoing” same-sex marriage by a 4pt margin, and it was vetoed by a 6pt margin. That’s only a difference of 2pt, not 7pt.

North Carolina’s May 2012 Amendment 1 had two polls taken within 10 days of the election. An average of PPP’s and SurveyUSA’s polls, with undecideds allocated proportionally to decided voters, had North Carolinians banning gay marriage by a 19pt margin. They ended up banning it by a 22pt margin, a difference of 3pt.

Maine’s November 2012 Question 1 had three polls taken within 10 days of the election. The median result of the polls from Critical Insights, Maine’s People Resource Center and PPP had voters approving of same-sex marriage by 7.2pt. It passed by 5.4pt. A difference of a little less than 2pt.

Minnesota’s Amendment 1 had three polls taken within 10 days of the election. The median result of two SurveyUSA polls and PPP’s survey, which allocated undecideds, had the amendment to ban same-sex marriage failing by 1pt. The actual voters were against the amendment by 3.8pt. In this case, the polls overstated those favoring the ban by about 3pt.

Finally, Washington’s Referendum 74 had two relevant polls. The average result of the PPP and SurveyUSA, with undecideds allocated, had same-sex marriage passing by 10pt. It passed by 7.4pt, for a difference of 2.6pt.

In four of the five instances, the opposition to the same-sex marriage side did better than polling predicted – but that difference was not particularly significant; certainly not of the order of 7pt, as previously found. The largest difference was just 3pt, and the median error in margin was only 2pt.

Applying this 2pt penalty to the 7pt edge that the pro-same-sex marriage crowd had over the opposition in 2012 national polling still gives the pro side a 5pt edge. If we apply an additional 2pt penalty (see Pew above), because most national polls question adults, and not likely voters, the pro same-sex marriage side still had a 3pt edge going into the 2012 election. Already, now, that lead would be closer to 4-5pt.

We can check my work by looking at the 2012 national exit polls. These polls are weighted to the actual results of the November elections. Voters cast their ballots anonymously, away from any interviewers, and drop their ballots in a box. There’s no reason to think voters would fear giving an “undesirable” answer, as nobody’s around to judge.

The exit poll asked: “Should your state legally recognize same-sex marriage?” “Yes” beat “no” by the exact 3pt that our adjustment of national surveys would suggest. The fact that the exit polls and national polls matched up makes me even more confident in the finding.

So, yes, I think Americans would have voted in favor of same-sex marriage, had they been given the opportunity in 2012-13. The national polls may be overstating support right now, but any error is not enough to erase the majority in favor of gay marriage.

In the end, though, I don’t think there’s much disagreement about the road going forward. Same-sex marriage support is increasing every day. A national same-sex marriage ballot measure would likely win by a huge margin in 2016. The tide has turned. It’s tough to imagine it receding. © 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 Secretly Oppose Gay Marriage

If you’ve struggled to find humor in politics recently, rejoice. At least the skewed-polls people are still around.

Yesterday, Chris Stirewalt blogged for Fox News that polls overstate support for gay marriage. Voicing a similar belief, leading social conservative Gary Bauer showed little concern over public opinion, telling Fox’s Chris Wallace:

“No, I’m not worried about it because the polls are skewed, Chris. Just this past November, four states, very liberal states, voted on this issue. And my side lost all four of those votes. But my side had 45, 46 percent of the vote in all four of those liberal states.”

As with many fallacies, there’s an iota of truth here. Stirewalt draws on work by New York University political scientist Patrick Egan that shows that late-season polls typically overestimate support for gay marriage compared with the election returns.

I don’t really have a problem so far. A Pollster article by Harry back in 2009 made a similar point and explored some ways to improve predictive models. The gap between pre-election polls and election returns, in other words, is well documented.

So, the polls are skewed…

Here’s where I depart from most interpretations of this observation. The poll-vote gap does not necessarily imply that the polls are “skewed.” Could it? Yes. But it doesn’t need to. I suspect a good bit of the bias comes from who votes not how they vote.

Stirewalt argues that the polls are skewed and mainly blames social desirability bias. In this line of reasoning,  respondents do not want to admit opposition to gay rights for fear of social judgement; instead, they act supportive but cast their secret ballot against. In other words, the “true” level of support is systematically lower than the polls show.

What’s crazy to me is that Stirewalt, even after basing his entire argument on Egan’s research, ignores the part where Egan dismisses social desirability as the primary cause of the polls’ inaccuracy. And Egan couldn’t be much plainer about it: “On the whole, these analyses fail to pin the blame for the inaccuracy of polling on same‐sex marriage bans on social desirability bias” (p. 7)1.

What seems most likely is that pollsters haven’t figured out how to calibrate their samples to match the turnout. Ballot measures only attract at least moderately engaged observers. On an issue like gay marriage, it’s not surprising that some who ostensibly support gay rights aren’t nearly as motivated as those who have social, cultural or religious objections to it. The polls may decently represent the “true” proportion of citizens who support gay marriage, but not the class of voters who cast a ballot on the issue.

We’re Missing the Point

But far, far more importantly, any potential skew in the polls misses the true point here. Let’s assume that the polls are skewed, and that “true” support for gay marriage is actually seven points (best guess from the Egan research) lower than the polls say.

So what?

Those who invoke public opinion aren’t really that worried about crossing 50 percent. Even if the polls exaggerate support for gay marriage, the trend favors the equal rights argument. The above figure2 shows general sentiment (“thermometer” scores) toward gays and lesbians in the American National Election Study3This figure by Nate Silver shows a similar rise in support for gay marriage. And this figure from Gallup shows a widening gap favoring general rights for gays and lesbians.

In this light, even yelling “Skewed Polling!” doesn’t change the fact that support for gays and their ability to marry is rising steadily.
Now I know that race and sexual orientation are not the same, but there are some similarities between the above kernel density plot and the one at the top of the post. In general, support for rights and general sentiment co-evolve. Sentiment toward black Americans has increased even in the post-Civil Rights era. We see a smaller but similar “swell” in sentiment for homosexuals, with every reason to think it will continue on its current trajectory.

Even if support today is really say, 51 percent instead of 58 percent, it’s much higher than it used to be.

Could we just be getting more politically correct, instead of more ‘liberal’, on gay rights? Sure, but the green line in the time series doesn’t show any real change in the rate of respondents opting out. No, young people are coming of age with a more permissive view on this issue.

Skew or no, the trend speaks for itself.

[1] Now, as a brief aside, Egan’s first test for social desirability bias makes no sense to me. I can imagine plenty of reasons why a state’s gay population wouldn’t predict the poll-election gap. But the second test is much stronger: despite the social acceptance of LGBTs growing, the gap has become smaller. All in all, I’m sure social desirability is part of the story, but it’s most likely not the primary factor.

[2] The figure shows thermometers scaled on the interval [0, 1], as well as the proportion of respondents who respond to gays warmly (therm > 0.5), cooly (therm < 0.5), and those who opt to not answer. Confidence bands are generated using 1,000 bootstraps from the survey margin of error. The margin around “skip” seems odd, but for convenience I’m treating “skip” as an expression of a desire to not answer, and thus as a random variable in its own right.

[3] The ANES, funded by the National Science Foundation, could be at risk thanks to recent Congressional targeting of political science. Contact your representatives in Congress because (I promise!) most scholars use the study for more consequential research than I.

President Obama is about to lose the PR battle on the sequester | Harry J Enten

The president’s numbers on the sequester are falling. He risks losing his edge if he doesn’t change tactics soon

The sequester talks drone on while congressional Republicans and President Obama cannot reach an agreement to stop it. Obama hopes that the public will force congress’s hand by dint of their unpopularity, but Republicans seem content to muddle the field enough so that neither side holds a public relations edge. I think the Republicans are right, even though the president may have the power to turn it around.

More Americans trust Obama on the sequester than Republicans, but the margin between the two seems to be down. Obama held a 26pt lead over congressional Republicans in December per Pew Research, which dropped to 18pt in mid-February and 13pt by the end of the month. After the sequester took effect on 1 March, CBS, which has generally found better numbers for Obama than other pollsters, had the margin down to 5pt.

Interestingly, a lot of this movement isn’t because more people are blaming Obama alone – more people are blaming both parties equally. The percentage of Americans blaming Obama was at its lowest 27%, and now rests at 33%. The percentage blaming just the Republicans has dropped from 53% in December to just 38% in March. The percentage blaming both sides or neither equally has risen from 20% in December to 29% now.

We see this split reflected in the approval ratings for Congress and the president. Congress continues to have approval ratings matched only by those for Lance Armstrong. The president’s approval ratings have, however, slid down from their post-election high; they’re now below 50% in the Real Clear Politics average, the first time since his re-election.

What’s happening?

First, it was unlikely that Americans would continue to blame just Congress. The president is, rightly or wrongly, going to get some flak when things go wrong. That’s why the president’s party loses when the economy is bad and wins when it’s good, even though the president really doesn’t have too much control over the economy.

Second, since congress is still massively unpopular, we can’t expect the public to only blame Obama. If you ask someone whether you can blame a snow storm on cold weather or the precipitation, chances are they will blame both.

Third, Americans are actually split between Obama’s and the Republicans’ general positions. Obama wants a “balanced” approach of new tax revenue and spending cuts. Republicans just want to cut taxes. Most polls indicate that Americans do want a compromised approached, but few of these polls break down what “balanced” means, exactly. The only poll to do so is a recent Fox News poll.

The percentage of Americans who want an equal mix of tax increases and spending cuts is 36%, which is statistically equal to the 33% who only want cuts. The true middle ground are the 19% who want mostly spending cuts with a small number of tax increases.

So how does President Obama get the public back on his side? He needs to make this debate about specifics. When Pew tested different policies on reducing the deficit, people only agreed on cuts to foreign aid. Americans wanted to increase or keep funding the same for all other specific policy programs or proposals.

The president could reach this goal in two ways. He could try something dramatic, like a government shutdown, as suggested by my friend Nate Cohn. This tactic would force the public to look very closely at the specifics.

The president could also try to use the bully pulpit. As the president knows, he cannot magically persuade the public to agree with his positions. Studies do show, however, that the president can highlight positions that are already popular with the public, and thus force the public’s will upon Congress.

Get that? Broad generalities on cutting spending do very well with the public. Specific ones do poorly. Every time the president talks about generalities like a “balanced” budget, he’s playing on turf far more favorable to Republicans.

You might say though that the president is still “playing to tie”. The truth, though, is that presidential approval seems to be more predictive of midterm elections outcomes than congressional approval. If the president’s approval rating drops, then congressional Democrats will end up paying the price. We saw this in 2010 midterm blowout: the public actually blamed Republicans more than Democrats, but the president’s approval rating was low and Republican winners stormed Congress.

Now, this isn’t to say that using specifics will immediately turn the fight in favor of Obama and the Democrats. I will say, though, that the president’s current strategy isn’t working. Even if congressional Republicans aren’t “winning”, they will be more than happy to see the president “not “winning”. © 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

Establishment v insurgent: the Capitol’s new political dynamic | Harry J Enten

The old left-right ideological model for how Congress votes has lost explanatory power. Something different is afoot in US politics

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a lot about ideology and polarization. Most of that has focused on the left-right differences. But there’s another shaping theme in politics that is also present: establishment v insurgent.

Presidential campaigns, for example, usually come down to those who are backed by the establishment and those who are not. The candidates backed by the establishment usually win, and the outsiders almost always lose. It’s the main thesis of the great book The Party Decides.

That’s why many political scientists thought that Mitt Romney winning the bulk of congressional endorsements for the Republican nomination in 2012 meant that he would almost certainly capture the nomination. His establishment support came from both left and right of the party, and was actually slightly more conservative than either Gingrich’s or Santorum’s, despite Romney donor profiles indicating that his public was moderate.

Twelve years prior, George W Bush triumphed over the moderate John McCain on the back of establishment support. Likewise, Hillary Clinton saw her 2008 hopes fade because of her inability to lock up support from establishment congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

No one can doubt that this establishment v insurgent dynamic has been present in Congress for a while, but “DW-nominate” scores indicate that this dichotomy is becoming increasingly important. These scores seek to rank congressional members’ ideology in two dimensions, based on their rollcall voting record. In my previous analyses of polarization, I’ve used the first dimension, which usually does a good job at placing members on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum. The second dimension has rarely been used in recent years because it hasn’t seemed to stand for anything.

In the past Congress, however, the second dimension has begun to have more explanatory power – among Republicans, especially. That is, something beyond just being conservative or liberal is beginning to predict voting patterns of congressmen and women. The vote-view folks and I think that this dimension is along an establishment v anti-establishment axis, though one might also argue that it is geographically based – since many insurgent Tea Party members are from the American south.

Consider the debt ceiling debate of 2011. People on both the liberal and conservative side of the aisle supported the bill. Oddly, House Democrats and Senate Republicans were the two groups most likely to oppose the bill.

If the voting had been strictly along partisan lines, we’d expect the best fit line to be straight up and down. That is, the vote could easily be determined as being to the left or to the right. Instead, we have more of a diagonal line that goes from upper left to lower right in the House and upper right to lower left in the Senate. What that means is that there are liberal and conservative elements behind the voting, but there is also something else happening. You might call it a rather strange vote in which the Tea Party caucus, progressive caucus, and black caucus voted all together – though, arguably, it could be explained as establishment House Democrats and establishment House Republicans voting together. In other words, how many times can we expect John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer, Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz all to vote the same way on a relatively divided debate?

The coalition was slightly different with the recent fiscal cliff vote, yet it displayed a similar pattern. Again, there was a left-to-right element, with more Democrats voting in favor this time. But there was also a “second dimension” element.

The lines are, again, diagonal. The differences among Democrats largely disappeared, but they were as present as ever among Republicans. The “establishment” Republicans largely voted in lockstep with one another, while the anti-establishment folks also banded together, voting the other way. The fit is certainly not perfect, with establishment figures like Cantor and McCarthy voting no – thought that actually matches well with the press coverage afterward declaring that Cantor’s vote indicated a break with the establishment leadership, rather than the fact that he’d newly discovered a conservative soul.

This divide between establishment v anti-establishment was present throughout the 112th Congress. Whether it was the 2012 omnibus bill, or the highway and student loan funding bill of 2012, outsiders such as blue-staters Michele Bachmann and Marco Rubio voted alongside southerner Rand Paul and westerner Mike Lee. Others with similar left-to-right rankings, but who were closer to the establishment, such as Senator John Barasso, Representative Cantor, Representative Billy Long of Missouri, and, yes, even very conservative Mitt Romney-backed Representative Steve King of Iowa often voted the opposite way.

It’s necessary to note that while the insurgents seem to be rising, it was the establishment that won in all the situations. My guess is that they will continue to win, even if they need to adjust. That’s why I’m skeptical about whether we’re really likely to see a “Republican civil war” in the coming years, or even the 2016 presidential nomination season.

In practise, the establishment tends to line up behind the eventual winner of the nomination before a war breaks out. That’s why even the hard-fought 2008 Democratic and 2012 Republican nomination winners became quite clear by the end of February in the nomination seasons. Further, if Republicans do well in 2014, which they should given the midterm landscape, then this should placate those currently calling for heads.

The ability of the party establishment to hold onto power might explain why Paul Ryan voted for the fiscal cliff package. Ryan is pretty far to the right in the left-to-right ideological rankings. He’s even been seen as fairly anti-establishment over the long term. Yet, he voted for each and every one of the “establishment” positions on the four key financial bills discussed here. Ryan may be looking to capitalize on the establishment credentials he built up during his run as vice-presidential nominee. We’ll have to see if his future voting record also supports the idea that he’s shifted toward the establishment.

In the meantime, it looks likely that this establishment v insurgent divide will continue through to the next Congress. The votes for and against John Boehner for house speaker did not split according to the liberal-to-conservative spectrum for Republicans, but rather among the second dimension: between establishment v anti-establishment forces. In short, this should looks set to be yet another unproductive and unwieldy Congress. © 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