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Polls and Contests

6 Aug

Polls show Obama’s real worry: NSA leaks erode trust in government

13 Jun

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

Obama said Friday privacy concerns also related to private corporations, which he said collect more data than the federal government. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP
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 pollFox News poll, andYouGov 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 theYouGov 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:

Consumer sentiment graph

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 outthat 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

Americans get their Libertarian on: support gay marriage, oppose affirmative action

12 Jun

Americans’ Views of Same-Sex Marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court