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Portrait of a frustrated electorate


Want sure-footed polling analysis? Ask Nate Silver. Want a sort of bemused confusion? Well, then you're in the right place.

I was on "Morning Joe" today talking about the new NBC/WSJ poll (pdf), and I don't think we had time to really dig into how weird the results are. You'd think, on the cusp of a wave election, that voters would exhibit a pretty strong preference for the party projected to rack up a historic win. But they don't. Barack Obama is still the most popular politician in the country. Democrats are still more popular than Republicans. The issue is that voters don't like anyone, not that they prefer the GOP.

To begin, voters disapprove of President Obama's performance, 48 percent to 47 percent. That's a bit better than the 48 percent-45 percent he registered in the previous poll, but it's not much of a change either way. What's odd is that voters also say they saw this coming. In fact, 58 percent say he's doing "about as well as expected." Another 12 percent think he's doing better than expected. Altogether, that's 70 percent of voters saying he's performing at or above expectations. It could be that a lot of Republicans figured he'd do a bad job and now feel like they've been proven right, but it's still an odd result.

Then we get to the parties. About 33 percent of voters have a positive impression of the Democrats, and 44 percent have a negative impression. On the other side, 24 percent of voters have a positive impression of the Republican Party, and 46 percent have a negative one. So Democrats are both better liked and less disliked than Republicans. But despite the Democrats' 13 percent advantage, the congressional ballot is essentially tied: 43 percent want Democrats to hold Congress and 42 percent want to hand it to Republicans.

In other words, voters don't like Obama, but 70 percent think he's doing as well or better than could be expected. Democrats are substantially more popular than Republicans -- and Obama, who is a Democrat, is more popular than both -- but they're tied in the congressional ballot. This isn't a very sure-footed electorate with strong opinions about who should be running the country and how. This is a frustrated electorate with strong opinions that everyone involved in running the country right now is doing a poor job of it.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 12, 2010; 9:18 AM ET
Categories:  Polls  
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"This isn't a very sure-footed electorate with strong opinions about who should be running the country and how."

Well, first, the poll (as are almost all polls) of a limited group of people (1000, in this case, a good sample, but sometimes . . . ). At least the poll includes folks who only use their cell phones.

Although I've never trusted polls, because I've only gotten polled back in the early 90s, when I lived in an apartment. And I sometimes felt conflicted about the answers I gave to those polls, and sometimes felt a weird pressure to answer questions a certain way . . . that may have just been me. But my experience of never having been polled since I owned a house is apparently not unique.

All that being said, elected Republicans are unpopular--even with some of the folks who will be voting for them. In my case, I'm voting against the Democrats, not for the Republicans. And on a scale of general dislike, Republicans would rate one point less than the Democrats, for me. It's just that little bit extra that motivates me to get up and vote against them.

Because I can't exactly vote for the Republicans, can I? Where's the tax plan, or the Contract With America, or the border fence proposal, or the capital gains tax holiday, or new Social Security Reform, or . . . yada, yada, yada. What am I voting for?

Many of the tea party candidates just stink. Sharron Angle and Ayn Rand Paul to name two. Although I'd still vote for Angle (if I were in Nevada, which I'm not), just because I dislike Harry Reid enough that I'd be willing to see him replaced with a train wreck of a Republican.

Still, I would also have said Obama is performing at an average level, and that's about what I expected, so . . . take that for what you will. I'll still vote against him in 2012, probably, unless the Republicans nominate Nancy Pelosi or something.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 12, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

The voters are right to dislike everyone. Our political class as a whole has demonstrated that it is completely unequal to the multiple crises we face. And nobody knows where to turn, certainly not I.

Posted by: labonnes | August 12, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

You have to remember that races are waged and won at an individual level.

So if people are frustrated with the government, incumbents (and especially Democratic incumbents) have a tougher case to make. Furthermore, Republican challengers don't have a record to defend this year -- they can all go out and make vague, disparate claims about what they would do, according to whatever would be popular in their district/state. Democrats have a harder time running from their actual record of governing.

The fact that economic conditions (as opposed to say, policy choices) are so fundamental to election outcomes is sort of frustrating. People will just keep throwing out whichever party is in power and yelling "FIX IT!" to the new guys until things are satisfactorily better. Even if the "new guys" ARE the old guys.

In 1992, Clinton won on a bad economy, even though economists say that the recovery had already started under Bush Sr. In 2008, Obama won on a bad economy and in 2010 his party will likely lose on the same bad economy.

A bad economy is like a game of hot potato where the electorate is the one moving the potato, and no one wants to be holding it when the music stops every other November.

Posted by: vvf2 | August 12, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

To say "this is a frustrated electorate with strong opinions that everyone involved in running the country right now is doing a poor job of it" is almost correct: the missing piece is that the opinion changes somewhat (and importantly) when statehouses are considered. The good news is that the statehouses can ultimately overrule "everyone involved in running the country right now" -- and that's increasingly likely to happen.

Posted by: rmgregory | August 12, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Someone can think Obama's doing a bad job and still answer that guestion that he's doing as well as expected. Because they expected him to do a bad job.

Posted by: obrier2 | August 12, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

It may be an odd result, but it pretty much reflects how I feel--and I'm a life-long Democrat who voted for Obama.

Posted by: ctnickel | August 12, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

This was not a poll of "voters." This was a poll of all adults. While it is helpful to take the pulse of the country, one shouldn't extrapolate election results from this poll, just as during the health care debate it was ridiculous to look at likely voter polls as a reflection of what the country though about health care reform.

Posted by: CarlosXL | August 12, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

The high unfavorability ratings for all categories don't convey much information - people are rightly angry, and are expressing their anger in a non-selective fashion. If the polling is accurate, the relative favorability ratings present a glimmer of hope for the Democrats. Provided, of course, the mid-term elections do not turn on the intense negativity of the tea party crowd.

Posted by: pneogy | August 12, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Obama's "popularity" is due to two things: the unceasing puff pieces in the so-called main line media and the fact that about half of the people (not citizens) in the US are government dependent and want handouts from the Great Oz. The half that doesn't like Obama is the half that is paying for his stupid vote buying, extravagant spending (of tax money), and unreal foreign relations. The working class will breath a sigh of relief if and when the Republicans put down this dead-dog administration.

Posted by: Reisrrk | August 12, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

You have to remember, Ezra is a journolister, so you have to account for 1.) He has no critical thinking skills and 2.) Misleads by ommission.
Ezra failed to mention that the poll gave dems/leaning dem a 9% advantage in the sample. Also, because of the moral vacantness of the left and their fellow jerkolisters in the media, I would guess there are a vast amount of pollees who won't say they disapprove of BO because they're afraid of being accused of racism.
On Nov. 3 reality will intrude on the propaganda ministers in the "media"

Posted by: gaphound | August 12, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

It's clear that the elected officials in Washington aren't up to the task of fixing all the crises that plague the country. The elected class has failed because democracy has failed.

How could it not, with such a stupid electorate?

If we ever want to implement the programs that will truly move this country forward - a Cap & Trade bill with TEETH, Single Payer Healthcare, Cardcheck, a livable minimum wage, Free College Education for EVERYONE, social redistributive justice, racial equality in business ownerships, the destruction of the unfair & draconian 'free market' system - our current civic structure will never allow for the political will needed to achieve these ends.

Therefore it should be dismantled.

There are just too many stupid or greedy Americans who will vote to make sure America does NOT make the progress it desperately needs. So why SHOULD they get a vote? Why should they have a say in the future of this country, when they are so intellectually stalled in the past?

I think it's time that America threw off the failed ideas of the democratic republic, & let those who are smart enough rule. Obama could do so much more if he didn't have to deal with idiot congressmen who had to worry about their idiot voters.

Americans are far too stupid to live in a way that won't kill the planet. They should be FORCED to help save the Earth, they won't do it else.

If that means setting up an elite committee of technical geniuses to rule with absolute power, than so be it. THIS is the only way to save people from themselves.

Give Obama a lifetime appointment to transform America, or we're all doomed. His wise dictates are our only salvation.

Posted by: trex5552005 | August 12, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

INFORMED and patriotic Americans, regardless of their color will vote AGAINST every Democrat.

Reid just demonstrates AGAIN that, as most of the Democrats, is a RACIST.

Democrats like Reid, currently controlled by Marxists and U.S. enemies, USE race to promote hate and envy, and to manipulate uneducated blacks and Latins and other groups into believing that their socialist programs would help them.

The truth is just the opposite. Socialist programs create a plantation mentality that keeps blacks and others poor and enslaved.

INFORMED Americans, including blacks and Latins, are against Obamacare and the rest of the "help-the-poor" socialist/Marxist scams, and against Democrats forcing those scams down our throats.

We'll vote for those who will help us REPEAL Obamacare and the rest of Obama's Marxist scams.

We'll vote for those who will help stop Obama and his comrades from radically transforming the U.S. from a FREE, prosperous country into a GULAG of corruption and abject misery like Cuba or Venezuela.

Posted by: AntonioSosa | August 12, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Reisrrk, you are right. Obama's "popularity" is due to the powerful PROPAGANDA machine, financed mostly by Marxists and U.S. enemies.

That PROPAGANDA machine currently controls the mainstream media. That's why informed Americans no longer trust that media.

Posted by: AntonioSosa | August 12, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Klein is a know nothing pipsqueak and an advocate of leftism. He and others of the JournOlist ilk is using the Washington Post to further his agenda. He has no credibility. Have fun while you can, whippersnapper. You are almost over.

Posted by: lavistabb | August 12, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

This is what you write and talk about when Journolist isn't around to coordinate talking points - polls.

You can write for weeks about polling data. It's meaningless. Well, it's filler. Got a post quota? Got an editor?

Posted by: wtfci | August 12, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

the NBC/WSJ poll was grossly skewed in favor of liberals and Democrats. NBC/WSJ gave "a nine-point edge to Democrats in their sample (without leaners; with leaners, seven points). But "Gallup found the partisan gap in April to be a single point, when considering leaners, 46/45."

The NBC/WSJ poll was skewed in terms of ideology as well. While the country has been consistently demonstrated to be about 20% liberal and 40% conservative, the NBC/WSJ sample was 23% liberal and only 35% conservative.

Softening the results for liberal Democrats even further, the NBC/WSJ poll included a large sample of non-voters (17% didn’t vote at all in 2008). As a group, non-voters tend to be less conservative than those who care enough about politics to show up to vote.

Posted by: rightklik | August 12, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Just call them racist. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, right Ezra?

Posted by: soma_king | August 12, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Ezra is as corrupt as the politicians he protects. You kissed your credibility goodbye, leftist tool.

Posted by: soma_king | August 12, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

The voters aren't stupid -- they know the Democrats are the lesser of two evils but that they have done little to look out for them. Sounds like we need a third party or a total overhaul.

Posted by: SarahBB | August 13, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Had Ezzie been around in 1980 he'd have been showing a landslide for Jimmy Carter- complete with graphs and kookie eggheads.

Posted by: hz9604 | August 13, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Too bad so many people commenting here either can't read, or prefer to take cheap shots at Mr. Klein instead of presenting any meaningful reasons why his analysis is (allegedly) flawed.

NOWHERE in his commentary does Mr. Klein he say that Obama and the Democrats are better than their opponents, or that they won't lose ground in November. He's simply pointing out some inconsistencies in the polling data. Maybe he's wrong in his interpretation of what they mean (if they mean anything, for that matter), but the fact he's presented it non-polemically means he should be taken seriously.

Name-calling is much easier than logical reasoning, I admit, but it's also much less helpful.

Posted by: DCSteve1 | August 13, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Elementary, my dearest Ezra.

And polling support this. Voters don't like GOP, but GOP is the only game in town that will stop all the crap from hitting the fan. You know, further crap. You know, all the crap that voters no likie. Like spendulus, bobocare, Son of Spendulus (3D), and so on.

A couple/three polls in the past couple weeks had that question. Are you voting GOP because you likie GOP, or, are you voting GOP because you wannie stop BObamie wackily agendie? Asked of all the patients who chew gum.

Stop Bobamie wackilie agendie easily gettie the majority of all the patients who chew gum.

There, my sweet boy. Another mystery of the universe solved. Run along now, son, and enjoy..

Posted by: bobo101 | August 14, 2010 4:14 AM | Report abuse

Isn't that exactly the result that the Republican's were aiming for with their "Party of No", filibuster everything strategy?

Hurt both parties by making governing impossible with the understanding that the Democrats had more to lose?

Posted by: zosima | August 15, 2010 1:23 AM | Report abuse

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