June 21, 2022

What the polls are saying (pt. 1/3)

There is just so much to unpack in the latest RelaClearPolitics polls. I'll go through some of it in a minute.  First a disclaimer.  I like that they average the polls and try to maintain a recency bias to avoid including outdated opinions in their averages.  But flat averaging is not okay as a realistic guide. Some polls include all adults, some just registered voters and some only likely voters.  Mixing those is an apples and oranges scenario.  Some polls have a much larger sample size and typically result in a lower margin of error.  The samples themselves could be biased towards one political party not reflecting the current mood of the country (i.e. they are less random than pure random).  Then there's the issue of wording of questions which can very significantly, and then the advent of push-polling.  In short there are many issues with both individual polls that might be included as well as the aggregation of those polls into an overall average.

With all of those caveats declared, the RCP averages are certainly still directionally valid.  Now let's unpack some of them.  Let's start with Let's Go Brandon's job approval rating.  As of today it's officially, "not good".  

According to the RCP average, he's officially underwater by an average of 15.1% (approve/disapprove 39.7% / 54.8%). That is remarkably bad and suggests any sort of recovery is unfathomable. But there are two stories here, 2022 and 2024.  For the midterms a rebound is possible albeit unlikely. By a rebound however I mean a directional change, not an inversion of the curves.  Nevertheless that could still make a difference in the makeup of the next congress in terms of the size of the Republican majority.  A couple of big policy wins for Let's Go Brandon and the Republican majority could end up razor thin instead of borderline supermajority.  Both scenarios are not likely.  There's a geographic bias towards a floor and ceiling for both parties.  In the case of the Democrat ceiling there is no policy or other type of win on the Let's Go Brandon horizon.  It would have to materialize of it's own accord because it is not going to be policy driven.

These trend lines are there for a reason and it boils down to incompetence.  There are multiple causes for the continued decline of the job approval; inflation, mishandling the Russian invasion of Ukraine, gas prices, begging for oil from Saudi Arabia, the border crisis, crime, aggressively radical social policies, education, the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, blaming everyone else, walking back half of what Let's Go Brandon says later by staff (e.g. Taiwan) and cognitive decline among them. But it all boils down to incompetence.  Clearly he cannot handle the job.

As for 2024, there's a longer window to recover and at least as of last fall some like CNN still held out hope for just that.  But even they conceded that it did not look good.

...It turns out that among elected presidents there’s actually a pretty clear correlation (+0.83 on a scale of -1 to +1) between their net approval rating at this point and a year from now. Most presidents tended to lose ground from this point forward. The average president saw his net approval rating drop by 13 points.

While that pointed to the midterm cycle there's more bad news from Gallup for Let's Go Brandon.  In looking at historical cycles dating back all the way to Harry Truman (1945-1952) there is typically a downward trend with little hope of recovery. Here's a brief summary:

  • Harry Truman's approval started in the 80's and ended in the 30's. He was able to mount a significant recovery for the 1948 election.  But it was a nail biter; he cobbled together a coalition of New Deal voters, added African American voters (something Let's Go Brandon cannot really add to his coalition at this point) and the Democrats still owned the South.  He did not win a majority of the vote and he lost significantly in the electoral college compared to 1944.  Let's Go Brandon cannot replicate the Truman comeback.  His coalition is already composed and it is fracturing.  Instead of trying to hold on to the African American and Latin votes, he's trying to gain on LGBTQ+ votes (a much smaller coalition partner) and hold on to the Pro Choice crowd via a yet to materialize SCOTUS change.
  • Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected but his approval numbers remained relatively flat until his re-election, then dropped about 10 points, and remained relatively flat for his second term.
  • John F. Kennedy's ratings fell about 15 points during his shortened one term presidency.  There's not much to be gleaned about re-election due to his assassination
  • Lyndon Johnson's ratings declined from near 80% to near 40% during his one term, largely driven by the Vietnam war, although that is an oversimplification. He did not seek re-election.  Let's Go Brandon may be forced by his own party to follow that path before the election of 2024.
  • Richard Nixon's poll ratings dropped about 5% prior to his re-election of 1972. Of course the plummeted afterwards due to the Watergate scandal.  Let's Go Brandon won't have to worry about scandal before or after the midterm election as the Democrats and media will run cover so long as it helps the party.  Post midterm, should the Democrats be demolished, that could change pre-2024 as they seek a candidate with more potential to avoid being decimated.
  • Gerald Ford saw a steep decline during his brief tenure but he did recover.  However the decline was so steep (~70% to ~40%) that the recover was not enough for him to win re-election.  And his recovery could in large part be accredited to the excitement factor brought to the convention and race by none other than Ronald Reagan
  • Jimmy Carter, the Let's Go Brandon of the late 1970's sank from the mid 70s of approval to the mid 30s before a late pre-election rally that still saw him decimated on election day by Ronald Reagan. It may have been the first deliberate attempt at sampling bias, as right after the election Carter's pol, numbers reverted to their pre-rally level.
  • Ronald Reagan is the outlier here. He's been the best president of my lifetime, especially considering with what he had to deal (starting with inheriting a terrible state of the union to dealing with a Democratic congress and senate).  His presidency offers the both the most and least comparable situation.  Reagan faced crippling stagflation, a hostage crisis and a country in a malaise.  Between his post hostage triumph approval high of  ~65% through 1983 he dropped as low as the high 30's for approval, but as the economic recovery he fostered took hold he rebounded to near 60% before his re-election bid and trounced Walter Mondale.  Going into the 2024 election, Let's Go Brandon faces a similar set of scenarios,  but not a similar outcome.  There are major differences here.  (1) much of the current malaise is of this president's doing (2) his recovery plans have and would continue to exacerbate the problem and (3) he's no Ronald Reagan.  He exudes incompetence and cognitive decline, not strength and positivity.
  • George H. Bush had high approval ratings until he betrayed the American people, reneging on a fundamental promise on taxes.  His approval ratings never recovered and were exacerbated by a 'strong' third party candidate in Ross Perot. 
  • Bill Clinton has nothing to offer Let's Go Brandon took an early dive but then rose steadily throughout his presidency.  How?  By painting himself as a centrist and taking credit for the Republican congressional Contract With America ideas. He won two elections, the second off the back of Newt Gingrich et. al.  Let's Go Brandon has done less than nothing to paint himself as a centrist. He's either a radical or led by radical advisors.  The only time he tried to come off as a centrist, ordinary guy was before the election when they hid him in his basement
  • George W. Bush was a model of decline. Of course he saw a surge in popularity after 9/11 but his chart shows a nearly linear decline throughout his two terms.  He was able to win re-election because his job approval decline had not hit the critical water level by his re-election year. His track represents the most likely path for Let's Go Brandon, although a re-election at this point seems far less likely for Brandon.
  • Barack Obama did see a popularity resurgence but it was during his second term the trend line was reverse.  He also saw a level of mainstream media praise that should have been reserved for the Second Coming of Jesus.  He could do no wrong despite the fact that he regularly was doing wrong.  Apologists could still go a long way back then.  Now, we do not see the same level of apologists or praise for Let's Go Brandon.  Instead we see the slow drip, drip, drip, of notable defections by either voting groups or high profile individuals
  • Donald Trump got a lot of things done for America but his polls, thanks to a rabid, vehemently opposed and most often dishonest media, did not increase.  They remained flat.  He lost his re-election bid despite getting 11 million more votes than in 2016.  His polling remained flat throughout his presidency, as if the animus could not push them any lower.  That may not be true for Let's Go Brandon.  I'm sure he has a floor that we are approaching, but his approval numbers are reverting from the media-imaginary to reality
Of course every presidency is different and Let's Go Brandon could pull off a miracle but it is one there is no real historical precedent to lean upon, and one which would require him to actually become presidential and have some America first thinking.

There's more to come in part 2 later today.

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