What Voters Are Saying, Part I

The NYT/CBS poll (Sept. 10-14, 2010) is just one random sample, a national telephone poll conducted a few weeks before an important Congressional election. Yet the information in it indicates what is actually on the mind of registered voters, which is reason enough to pay close attention to what voters are saying. Some of the polling questions even go back decades, which allows one to put these current responses into context over the long term. The polling responses make no predictions about the election outcomes, of course. And random factors, like the weather on Election Day, still play a significant role in election results. I looked at the entire poll and composed a two-part report for America readers, with my comments.

Most important problems: When asked to name the “most important” problem, respondents’ views clustered around only two: the economy (32%) and jobs (28%). “Other” (11%) came in a distant third. Voters are very concerned about continued unemployment. In a jobs-related question, 62% of respondents said they were very or somewhat concerned that someone “in their household” would be out of work next year.


One can extract from these responses that a host of issues now being discussed regularly by pundits in the media barely register with voters. These “problems” include politicians and government (each at 4%); the budget deficit and health care (3%); immigration, education, the president, the war (2%); moral values and taxes (1%). The importance of any of these less than “most important” issues could spike, of course, but currently they garner almost no public attention when compared with the economy and jobs. Democrats and Republicans ought to listen closely to that.

Smaller government: Respondents do favor (48%) “smaller government with fewer services” over “bigger government with more services” (41%). Yet this question has been asked since 1991 and responses in favor of bigger government, which have ranged from 30% to 43%, average out at 38.4. In other words, since 1991 the percentage of respondents in favor of big government with more services has held steady or slightly increased. Since 1991, the number of those in favor of small government has averaged 49.8%, which means that they too have held steady or slightly decreased. So, while pundits have been making “smaller government” sound like a mantra, a must-have, or a growing phenomenon among voters, the views on each side have barely budged in 19 years.

Right direction: Respondents as far back as 1991 also have been asked whether the country is going in the “right direction.” The current poll found answers averaging in the 30% range over 11 polls all year long. That range is significantly lower than in 2009, which averaged in the 40%. But the longer view adds an important perspective: Since 2003 no response has exceeded 50%. And in October 2008, just two years ago, the “right direction” was just 7%, a record low. Compared to two years ago, then, respondents are much happier about the direction of the nation.

Political Parties & Washington: While Democrats ranked low on the approval/disapproval scale (30% approve/58% disapprove), they did markedly better than Republicans (20%/68%). Both parties improved in the ratings when respondents were asked whether, in general, they found the parties favorable/unfavorable: Dems. (45%/48%); Reps. (34%/56%).

Incumbents of both parties, however, do have to worry because 55% of respondents think it is “time for a new representative” from their own district in Congress. And 54% agree that the U.S. needs a third party. That party does not seem to be the Tea Party, however (see below), at least not now.

How are things in Washington? Most respondents said less than satisfactory, but they are not angry about it. Nearly a quarter (24%) said they are “satisfied but not enthusiastic” with things in Washington; 53% are “dissatisfied but not angry”; 20% are angry. This is a small but noisy bunch, given all the talk in the media about people’s anger over politics. When the angry group was asked the reason for their anger, 17% answered “partisan politics”; 13% said “unemployment”; and 12% said “not representing the people.” At least the first two are understandable, since partisanship in Congress has paralyzed Congress in many ways for the last two years.

Since proponents of the Tea Party tend to express anger rather routinely in the media, it is interesting to note that 20% of respondents (the same percent as those who are angry) also find the Tea Party favorable. Question is: Are these the respondents? That 1 in 5 compares with 1 in 4 (25%) who find the Tea Party unfavorable, as well as 18% undecided and 36% who said they haven’t heard enough. This means that right now, voters are not engaged or convinced by the Tea Party, but that could change within the next few weeks, particularly in some areas.

On favorability rating for Sarah Palin: 46% of respondents said they found her unfavorable, compared with 21% favorable, and 32% undecided or not having heard enough. When asked who best represented the Republican Party, Palin (6%) outranked all others, including her former running mate, John McCain (5%). What Republicans should see in these numbers is that no individual Republican has much voter support at this point.


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8 years 6 months ago
You should go out and meet the Tea Party people.  They have activities in most cities.  I have.  Most are very congenial and well behaved and above average in education and income.  They are very much like a lot of your neighbors in any town you might live in.  You would then get a genuine feel for them, not one filtered through polls or media. In any movement this large, there will always be unacceptable behavior but they police it pretty well. 
They are not a party in the political sense though many have gotten organized to elect people to office.  They are more a party in the sense of a gathering is a party at your house or some place they go to meet with an agenda.  So you should not associate the term ''party''  with a political party.  The original Boston Tea Party was not a political party but it was definitely political in nature as is the current Tea Party.  They have gone after the Republican establishment so it is not just Democrats they are after so to for anyone to call them Republican is a misnomer.  Witness the senate primaries in Utah, Alaska, Florida, Kentucky and Delaware.  More than one commentator has said that if the Republicans get back in power and retreat to their spending ways, the Tea Party will come after them too.
If you are going to write something on the Tea Party then look at some of the things they do.  One place not to go is anything to do with the NY Times.  You can certainly read the NY Times if you wish but the Times is anything but a neutral source.  A place to follow a lot of their activities is on http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/.  This is a libertarian site and part of the posts there are on the Tea Party.   There are probably others but this could be a start.  That the libertarians are very associated with the Tea Party should tell you something.
ed gleason
8 years 6 months ago
If polls depend on land line interviews why not mention that land lines are being disconnected at a record rate. 22% as of 2009. Who has mobile only? ... young people..single people.. . Who has land lines  Tea Party people.. .. the day after the Nov election the story will be 'polls wrong again'.. this time big time..
Pearce Shea
8 years 6 months ago
Ed is right as to the land line bit, but the polls, regardless of the method are running around these numbers...
Tom Maher
8 years 6 months ago
One of the problem with using "all registered voters" is that most people though registered do not vote.  So the NT Times/CBS poll produces very frothy results for journalist ot write about but does not get down to real cases of what is the real powerful forces at work politically that will have impact at election time by people who actually do show up at the polls and vote.

The Rassmussen poll which only samples people who have actually voted in the  last election and will vote in this election, has a very accurate record of prediciting election results and revealing the specificsbehind the results.  The  specifics shows that the new healthcare law has been consitantly disapproved of by a majority of people who will likely vote. Between 55% to 63% of voting Americans want the new healthcare law  repealed as shown in the weekly polling for the last six months.  The heathcare law touches on taxes, smaller government, the federal debt and many other general issues.  But when specifically focused on this issue you can accurately predict concrete election trends and results that are about to happen as a nationwide voter pattern.  Also how deeply people feel about this specific issue will impact an election can be measured. 

The concrete issues tell so much more about voter preference  than vague general  general categories of the NY Times/CBS polls.  

But it is good to see some reporting on the  fact we are about to have an important national election on November 2nd to remind people to vote.
8 years 6 months ago
Another poll released this morning says 
''58 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans said politics is making them angry, compared with 31 percent of Democrats who said so. About 7 in 10 independents and Republicans were disgusted, compared with 4 in 10 Democrats, and independents and Republicans were likelier than Democrats to be disappointed, depressed and frustrated.'' 
Polls are notorious for affecting results depending upon how they ask a question.  So we have 20% say they are angry in one poll and about 50% in another poll (weighing each group equally) saying that politics is making them angry.  Apparently each poll asked the question somewhat differently.  Also angry at something does not make one an angry person.  One can be quite cheerful, congenial and positive and still be angry about something.
Here is a link to the story about the poll which was conducted by AP/GfK
And here is the primary website of the AP Gfk poll where you can download a pdf file to look through the results.

8 years 6 months ago
A site which constantly keeps up with several polls is RealClearPolitics


As far as I know, this is the most comprehensive site on the internet that keeps track of multiple polls. 
Tom Maher
8 years 6 months ago
If one used a NY Times/ CBS opinion poll of "all registered voters" to predict the outcome of the Martha Coakley/ Scott Brown U.S. Senate race earlier this year you would get very bogus results.  The Boston Globe reported a week before the special election that Coakley the liberal Democrat was ahead of Brown by 17%.  The actual results a week later showed Brown won by more than 6%  - a 20% plus percent discepeancy in less than a week.  The reported basic reasons and trends in voter prefereance were even more bogus. 

Polls that use all registered voters espeically in a blue state like Massachusetts inherently yield bogus results.  Overwhelmingly a blue state has with large Democrat enrollment allways tips the polling in favor of the Democrat due to o higher registration.  Proportionately more Democrats will appear in poll than will actually vote.  20% plus percentage discrepancies are easily obatined and should be expected. 

Rassmussen mehtodology get very accurate results because their methology is more rigorous  by sampling only likely voters who will determine the election rather than all registered voters many of whom never or rarely vote.  We are talking here 20% plus more accurate.  Rassmussen is typically only a half percentage off.  This is a difference of kind not just degree. This is a complettely different set of cause and effect relationships predicting very different voter motivations and outcomes.

This is especailly important in this election where there is known to be a hugh swing  of independent voter away from Democratic candidates.  Independents are people  who have voted and will very reliably vote differently. The "all registerd voter" polls greatly dilute this fundemental shift in voter preference,

Elections are determined by likely voters not registered voters.  Not reporting on likely voters send a very distorted picture of what the election is all about especially in a time of known shifts in voter pereference as illustrated in the Martha Coakley/ Scott Brown race for U.S. Senate earlier this year.  


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