June 22, 2022

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

Recent polling has told us a lot and also, less than you might suspect. I know many conservatives are expecting a blowout in  this year's midterm elections as well as a triumphant return of Donald Trump in 2024.  While things look good from a polling perspective for our side right now, they are far from absolute.  They look pretty good but not "great", and falling back on the axiom that polls tend to under report Republican support and/or over report Democrat support, is not a wise crutch to use [NOTE: Previous portions of this thread can be found here and here.]

As I've already looked at Let's Go Brandon's job approval (which will have an effect on both 2022 and 2024) as well as taken a look at congressional polling in isolation, next I want to take a look at favorability/unfavorability ratings because there are some interesting things to see there as well.  Once again I will be looking at the RealClearPolitics aggregation, but only because it is a good place to find a summarized list of most polling in a given category.  I've previously provided many caveats as to why polling reliability is highly variable and aggregation is not much more than a directional indicator over time.

Below are three views of favorability, for Let's Go Brandon, for Kamala Harris and for Donald Trump (interestingly, there seems to be none for Ron DeSantis, which in itself says something).

Notice in the aggregate Trump narrowly bests Let's Go Brandon and handily bests Harris. Notice also that all three are well under water (below 50/50 in favorable/unfavorable).   But these are the same aggregate views I've argued against.  Instead of consuming that as is, I decided to do a source by source comparison. For example, how did the Federalist poll compare Trump, Harris and Let's Go Brandon?

What stuck out to me was something I both expected and did not expect to be my topline finding.  Here's a brief summary of the outcome looking at the most recent set of polls on the topic.  These are in order from the ridiculous to the sublime (from a Trump supporter perspective).

Brandon-leaning results

Reuters/Ipsos: Had Brandon favorable/unfavorable even (not underwater). His +/- spread was ahead of Harris by 2 points and ahead of Trump by 5 points. This was definitely an outlier considering how underwater Brandon actually is in aggregate compared to here.  But this has historically been a left leaner as far as poll results go.

Economist/YouGov: In this generally pro-Brandon polling, Brandon was underwater but still ahead of both Harris and Trump by a healthy 5 points. This is a not unexpected result considering their history and political bent.
NPR/PBS/Marist: Frankly this was the pollster I expected to have the strongest Brandon favorable ratings, and the largest gap over Trump.  They did not poll for Harris. They did have Brandon underwater but still ahead of Trump by 3 points.  Maybe they were just hoping to get lost in the aggregation of "still better than Trump" polls. But this was unexpectedly close. Remember, 2016 was a choice of what the media portrayed as two unlikeable candidates. They may be gearing up for that scenario in 2024.

Politico/Morning Consult: Politico is definitely left leaning despite always trying to front an image of neutral analysis. Their poll had Brandon underwater but still ahead of Harris by 3 and Trump by 1. This was surprisingly close for Trump and deserves a deeper dive into the crosstabs, which I have not yet done but may need to do in the future if their polling on this remains relatively consistent. 

NBC News: A liberal Mecca, they nevertheless show Brandon underwater by 14 points. But hey, he's ahead of Harris by 6 and Trump by 1 point. On the latter, again it's surprisingly close.  It may be that the messaging could become "yes he's bad, but remember how much you hated the other guy?"  That's called projecting.

Trump-leaning results

Federalist/Susquehanna: The Federalist is a fantastic conservative commentary publication/website.  They put Brandon underwater and ahead of Harris by 5, but behind Trump by 2 (who is only 1 point underwater).  I'd love to believe this is accurate. I'm not sure I can. Having Trump only 1 point underwater may be the conservative equivalent of  Reuters having Brandon even.  As much as you may love Trump, you have to admit that the barrage of hateful media coverage from 2015 through to today did him considerable damage from a polling perspective.  He's definitely far more popular than the polls suggest but by just how much, is not clear.  

Harvard-Harris: Harvard-Harris is a polling firm with roots in the Hillary Clinton campaign (Mark Penn) They have Brandon underwater.  While he's ahead of Harris by 3, he's behind Trump by the same amount.  That's almost stunning, not so much in that he's done a terrible job and the last guy did a great job in so many ways, but rather that you are seeing liberal pollsters publishing these types of results.
Fox News: Once the conservatives' bastion of information, the network still leans right in their opinion shows but not so much in polling and analysis. Remember they were the first network in 2020 to call Arizona for Brandon, before even CNN and MSNBC.  They have Brandon underwater, yet ahead of Harris by 3.  He's behind Trump by 2 though. The real takeaway here is that all three are well underwater.

Emerson: In 2016 Emerson was a leading edge indicator on the results for Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, seeing results in August of that year that made them an outlier at the time. In fact FiveThrityEight rated them as a B-tier pollster. Of course FiveThirtyEight have their own issues with the pollster ratings. Emerson had Brandon underwater and behind Trump by 4 points. Trump they have above water at +5.  Being an outlier does not necessarily mean you are wrong, it means more due diligence is required. 

Rasmussen: Considered a traditionally right-leaning outfit, Rasmussen did not poll Brandon or Harris for favorability, only Trump whom they put above water by 7 points.  The nearest proxy for Brandon is their rating of his job approval which is at a stunning (but not really, considering) -30.  Rasmussen has been strikingly correct as well as well off base in the past.  I think in this case they have done a good job of capturing Trump supporter opinions.  I think they may underestimate the number of his detractors. Overall to be honest I think his support is strong but either still slightly underwater or even at best.  He unfortunately has a large pool of haters.  I mean if this is correct we have a slam dunk: Trump 2024, and DeSantis for 2028 and 2032. What a magical string of winning that could be for America. But I'm still holding a grain of salt to this result.

Overall Takeaways

My conclusions regarding these favorable/unfavorable ratings are threefold.  

Firstly, a lot of these left-leaning pollsters realize that they cannot hide the palpable dissatisfaction with Brandon, hence he's underwater. But they'd still like to maintain the narrative that he's a better option than Trump.  Interestingly that may change if they see DeSantis enter the race for 2024.   They may try to make Trump look more appealing because they think he's more beatable than DeSantis. That's going to take time as it's still only 2022 and they probably think Brandon's favorable ratings are salvageable if they can somehow get him back to his campaign basement and out of public sight for an extended stretch.

Secondly, as for the pollsters more favorable to Trump I'm on the fence. They are probably the most correct at this point because of how bad Brandon actually is. But is that enough?  His reputation has been unfairly tarnished to the point of absurdity.  Also, once out of power it's easy to take shots at the sitting president and gain favorability through pointing out problems. But I do see a lot of people in retrospect realizing he was not as bad as he was made out to be and he was certainly far better than his ersatz replacement.  So his favorability could be on the mend. For now. 

He was a very good president for the country in so many ways. He deserved better treatment from the media.  But that's the issue.  Should he be the Republican nominee in 2024 he'll get the same treatment or worse, and his favorability may end up reflecting that before the election regardless across the board of the pollster bent. That should not stop him from running because no matter who runs for the nomination as a Republican they will get the same treatment.  If Jesus were to return and run as a Republican, they would make up stuff about him too.

That's a sad commentary on the state of the nation, but then again so is Brandon as president.

Thirdly, and finally, I believe favorability is probably the weakest measure of a political figure at this point.  Things have become so partisan that voters for either party would vote for a tree stump over a candidate from the other party.  Political affiliation matters more and more and the number of independents who are truly persuadable either way has diminished to the point that they may someday end up extinct as a group.

For 2024 all of it is too early to tell. Brandon may not run again.  Trump may not run again. Kamala Harris may become relevant.  Sarcasm aside, there are too many unknowns between now and 2024 to make a call. But the 2022 midterms are just starting to come slightly into focus.

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