Monday, May 9, 2011

Breaking Down the Polls: The Limited "Bin Laden Bump"

Last week, as every person who has not spent the last six days under a rock is aware, the U.S. military captured Osama Bin Laden. Since then, many Liberal pundits have been preaching about an expected bump in approval ratings for Barrack Obama. Never one to jump the gun without solid evidence, I wanted to wait until the two polls who are widely agreed to be the most accurate, Rasmussen and Gallup, to complete their polling samples after Bin Laden's death. Since one of the things that makes these two polls so reliable is the fact that they take samples each day but publish a 3-day average. So on a Monday you're seeing the average of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, on Tuesday the averages of Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and so on. Thus Friday's polls were the first samples of the three days after Bin Laden's death.

There is a very important distinction between these two polls which reflects their totals. Rasmussen uses a poll of likely voters only, while Gallup uses a poll of adults. It's an important difference. Only approximately 50% of those who are eligible to vote are actually registered to vote. In terms of judging potential electoral outcome, the opinions of those who couldn't vote if they showed up at the polls is as useless as asking people from Italy or Neptune if they approve of the job Obama is doing as President. Why then, you may ask, would Gallup be considered one of the best judges? Simple: Gallup isn't claiming otherwise. They are clear that their approval rating polls are of Americans, regardless of voter registration.  Also, this gives us a good comparision of the polls between all adults vs. likely voters.

When you dive into the less reliable polls you find out that these polls are asking "adults" regardless of whether or not they vote (see CNN, Washington Post, New York Times) or they are polls that are limited to a handful of states (see Quinnipiac) so they cannot be considered reliable samples of Obama's approval rating. The difference between them and Gallup is the other aforementioned polls are included in stories intended to show a boost for Obama and even celebrating Obama's success.

Now that the groundwork is laid, let us look about the comparisons between the Gallup poll Friday (American adults) and the Rasmussen poll Friday (likely voters).

Gallup (1)

In their final 3-day rolling poll average prior to the death of Osama Bin Laden from Sunday, May 1st, the President had an approval rating of 46% and a disapproval rating of 45%. Friday, in the first poll after the death of Bin Laden, the President has an approval rating of 52% and a disapproval rating of 40%.

On the surface, it might seem that Obama had a nice boost (a 6 point swing) from the death of Bin Laden. Yet because it is a poll of adults, many of whom are not registered to vote. Absolutely nothing can be ascertained with regards to Obama's ability to be reelected. Let's compare that to Rasmussen, which polls likely voters.

Rasmussen Data (2)

Since Rasmussen polls those who say they are likely voters, one can consider this a more accurate snapshot of how Obama would do in an election today. According to the last sample prior to the capture of Bin Laden, Rasmussen gave Obama an approval rating of 50% approval and 49% disapproval. Friday, in the first poll that was after the death of Bin Laden, Rasmussen gave Obama an approval rating of 50% approval and 49% disapproval. NO CHANGE in total approval rating. There were slight moves from from strongly disapprove to somewhat disapprove and so on, but there is no sign that the capture of Bin Laden has effected the likely voters opinion of the President.

So What Does it Mean?

First and foremost, even if we accept the “adults” polls, the bump Obama has received is relatively negligible. 6 points in the scope of approval poll bumps is not very much. To give you a comparison, after the Gulf War President George H. W. Bush saw approval ratings as high as 89%. George W. Bush saw approval ratings as high as 90% after the 9/11 attacks. Historically, such military victories lead to tremendous and nearly unanimous approval for Presidents. To go from 46% to 52% is not a bump in the polls, it’s an ant hill in the polls.

Secondly, by comparing these two polls we find that the capture of Bin Laden really only boosted Obama’s approval ratings in any tangible way with people who don’t vote. This has absolutely real effect on Obama’s reelection prospects. As I said before, in terms of electoral politics you might as well poll Martians and Kodiak Bears to find out Obama’s approval rating if you're going to just poll generalized adults. The opinion of Martians has absolutely the same amount of effect on the President’s prospects in 2012 as the opinion Americans who are not registered to vote. (For those of you from Palm Beach County, FL, Martians are aliens from the planet Mars. Kodiak Bears are fur-bearing mammals. Neither are legally allowed to vote in America, despite widespread campaigning by both Michael Moore and Al Gore.)

Thirdly, just because an individual approves of the job a President is doing does not equal voting for that President in the next election. This is generally true with all executive level elected officials. (For those of you from Palm Beach, that’d be Presidents, Governors, Mayors, etc.) I’ll give you a personal example. Right now, the Governor of New York State, where I live, is Andrew Cuomo. I voted against Cuomo in the 2010 election. My decision wasn't remotely hard. I strongly supported the Tea Party candidate, Carl Paladino. Since taking office this January, however, Governor Cuomo has begun to implement many policies I agree with. He has recognized that raising taxes causes businesses to leave the state, thus refusing to do so, and has called for cuts in benefits to powerful unions.

If I were to be called for a polling sample today on Governor Cuomo’s job performance, I would say that I at least somewhat approve of the job he is doing. If he were to turn back into a pumpkin (that is, a Liberal) my opinion would certainly change. More importantly, however, is the fact that while I approve of the job Cuomo is currently doing, if he Republican party runs a dyed in the wool Conservative against Cuomo in 2014, I will absolutely vote for that person over Cuomo. I will simply be less frustrated if Cuomo is reelected. The reality is approving of a politician is not the same thing as feeling they are undeniably the best person for the job, regardless of competition.  It means you feel the executive is doing an acceptable job for the time being.

While I doubt there are many Conservatives like me who are saying they approve of the job Obama’s doing, I suspect there may be some Republicans whose politics are approximately a foot to the right of center who feel Obama is doing an acceptable job right now, largely because he hasn’t been able to accomplish his usual uber-Liberal policies right now. That doesn’t mean that person will vote for Obama. As a matter of fact, given a decent option to the other side, that person will most likely vote for that Republican opponent.

Finally, as the first Fox News debate on Thursday showed, Obama is not at all unbeatable on foreign policy after Bin Laden’s capture. Obama has a far longer record on Foreign Policy than one tactical success. It’s a lousy record at that. Especially on foreign policy. As former Governor Tim Pawlenty pointed out in that debate, Obama’s successes in foreign policy are entirely consisting of continuing Bush’s policies. Not pulling out of Iraq but staying to finish the job, keeping Guantanamo Bay open as a holding area for terrorists, using Bush’s Surge strategy from Iraq in Afghanistan. Even the capture of Bin Laden required the enhanced interrogation practices that the Bush Administration used. The places where Obama’s strategies have been in place have been utter failures. Look at Libya. Or how about Iran and North Korea? He’s been really super-duper nice to them…have they stopped their nuclear weapon programs?

Herein lies my point: It’s eighteen months away from the election. Remember how well George H.W. Bush’s 89% approval ratings did for him in his next election? If 89% could be overcome, how hard do you think 52% will be? And remember, those numbers are with adults (and maybe a few Kodiak Bears), not likely voters or even registered voters. Among likely voters, Obama’s approve/disapprove numbers are just about even. They swung one point after the killing of Bin Laden. That’s when the campaign has barely started.

Remember, the Drive-By Media is doing their best to bury every flaw of Obama’s and highlight ever success, not to mention presenting minor successes as unbelievable huge ones. The American people won’t be able to ignore them once Republican candidates are traveling across the country speaking about those failures.

At the end of the day, by the time the Election of 2012 rolls around, the capture of Bin Laden under Obama’s watch will mean just about as the stock market recommendations of a small mouth bass. Don’t believe the Media hype. It means absolutely nothing.


(1) Gallup Daily Tracking Poll

(2) Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll

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