Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Polls

It’s way too early to start obsessing about polls for the presidential election in 2012, but Steve M has some preliminary readings from Public Policy Polling that at least get your attention.

For the first time since last July Barack Obama does not lead Mitt Romney in PPP’s monthly national poll on the 2012 Presidential race. Romney has now pulled into a tie with the President at 45%.

… Everyone else we tested trails Obama by at least as much as John McCain’s 2008 margin of defeat and in most cases more. Obama’s up 7 on Michele Bachmann at 48-41, 9 against Tim Pawlenty at 48-39, 12 versus Herman Cain at 48-36, and as usual has his largest lead in a match up with Sarah Palin at 53-37.

Here’s an important note on all of this early 2012 polling though: Obama’s numbers are worse than they appear to be on the surface. The vast majority of the undecideds in all of these match ups disapprove of the job Obama’s doing but aren’t committing to a candidate yet while they wait to see how the Republican field shakes out.

It may be whistling past the graveyard, and I have no training whatsoever in the fine art of polling, but I also remember that a lot of Serious People thought Ronald Reagan was vulnerable in the summer of 1983, and in July 2003 we were all sure that George W. Bush was so going to be a one-termer. Even without delving into the numbers and the minutiae of how a poll works, it’s easier for a someone to disapprove of a known quantity like President Obama than specify a reason they’d vote for a generic opponent. I’d be very surprised if any of the respondents could elaborate on the policy positions of their Republican choice.

I’m not dismissing the poll results out of hand; after all, in the summer of 1991, Bill Clinton barely registered with anyone. But I also think that given the mood of the country, the debt-ceiling issue, even the heat wave, people who answer the phone for a polling company in the middle of the summer of the year before an election — didn’t we just finish one? — are either answering with about as much thought and enthusiasm as they would give to being asked what they want for Christmas next year, or they’re just messing with them.