Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Cruising the Web

Sean Trende has always been one of my go-to guys for poll analysis. Now, in an analysis I'm going to be using with my students about common mistakes made in poll interpretation, he shatters Republican self-satisfied talking points about the recent Quinnipiac poll that showed that Barack Obama was the lead response when people were asked who was the worst president since World War II.
More importantly, these sorts of “multiple choice” questions, which pop up from time to time in various contexts, tend to raise eyebrows, because partisan unity can drive the results. And what really drives this particular finding is that Republicans are much more unified in their dislike of Obama than Democrats are in their dislike of any particular GOP president. A full 63 percent of Republicans identify Obama as the worst, with Jimmy Carter lagging far behind at 14 percent, an almost 50-percentage-point differential.

Among Democrats, however, 54 percent name George W. Bush as the worst president, followed by Richard Nixon at 20 percent, a 34-point differential. Had Democrats been able to agree more on their least-favorite president, Obama might not have come in first.

Indeed, if we add up the percentages for all the Democratic and Republican presidents on the list, 49 percent of respondents named a Republican commander-in-chief, while 47 percent of named a Democratic one. (Among Independents, 50 percent named a Democrat, while 43 percent named a Republican, but this probably reflects the disproportionate number of disaffected Republicans who currently consider themselves Independent).

You can see further evidence of this tendency if you look at the trend lines for question 36 (the “Who is the worst president?” question). Back in 2006, Bush was viewed as the worst -- and it wasn’t close. Back then, Republicans still chose Democratic presidents as the worst, but they had a harder time settling on one: 16 percent chose Bill Clinton, 13 percent chose Carter, and 4 percent chose Lyndon Johnson. Today, 14 percent of respondents chose those three presidents combined, less than the share that chose Clinton alone eight years ago.

This isn’t to dismiss the Quinnipiac poll in its entirety, which has some truly bad findings for the president and the Democrats. It is simply to say that this particular question merely reflects the partisan differences in the country, and the particular concentration of partisan dislike of this president. Americans are basically split evenly on whether the worst postwar president was a Republican or a Democrat, which is what you’d expect in a 50-50 nation.
And we can probably safely predict that, if Obama is followed by Hillary Clinton, Republicans will start dividing their answers to this question as the memory of their resentment of Obama's administration fades in the face of more current disgust. And, if a Republican follows Obama, the reverse will happen as Democrats lose their focus on disliking George W. Bush and concentrate their dislike on the person occupying the White House. And, I'll remind readers that, no matter how much one dislikes Obama, we should wait a few years after a presidency before we form a definitive opinion of its successes and failures. I may rail against the actions of this administration, but I'll wait a decade or two before pronouncing on where Obama fits in the long range of the history of the presidency. Think of how historians' assessments of Truman and Eisenhower have evolved since their times in office.

Hillary Clinton seems to be lacking that "vision thing." But she can still roll out meaningless platitudes. Her only reason for running for president is because she wants both the vindication and the glory. Her only argument is that she is a woman and that her husband is still popular among many voters. The vision thing will have to wait until she's run it through all the spin doctors and focus groups.

Speaking of spin doctors, the Obama administration is trying to figure out a way to convince people that their insurance rates won't be going up under Obamacare. They're worried that new rates will be coming out in September right before the election. Meanwhile, more and more employers are going to scrap their insurance plans and dump employees into the exchanges. The administration keeps postponing dates and mandates, but dang it all, elections keep getting in the way. And they're crossing their fingers that they can find some sort of message that people will believe instead of their own eyes as they read about rate increases or insurance cancellations.

As Ruth Wisse demonstrates, the differences in how the Palestinians and Israelis responded to the murder of Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian youth expresses a lot about the different cultures.

The Washington Post applies the test that the WSJ talked about - how far into a book people are highlighting phrases on their Kindle - to assess how much of recent political books are being read. Hillary Clinton's new tome doesn't fare all that well.

Mollie Hemingway reminds us that there were some liberals who had reasoned responses to the Hobby Lobby decision. Not every liberal analyst descended into hysterical, panicky demagoguery.

In fact, hysterical demagoguery is a feature, not a bug of Democratic political strategy. They're being advised to use "urban legends and conspiracy theories" to tap into people's emotions and fears. I guess the whole party could work on its vision thing.

D.C. public school principals are now using methods pioneered by the Obama presidential campaign to identify parents who might be more likely to withdraw their children from the regular public schools and send them to charters. They're now sending volunteers to go door-to-door to try to convince those parents that the regular public schools are worth sending their children to. Now, 44% of students in D.C. going to a public school are going to charters. My daughter teaches math at one of the most successful middle school charters. It's a fine thing that the public schools are trying to step up to answer the competition from the charters. Of course, they'll have to prove that their product is truly better, not just their pitch. Some education policy specialists are upset that the schools will have to channel some of their time, energy, and funds into selling themselves. Well, charters have been doing that since their inception. When a charter school starts up, it doesn't have any guaranteed enrollment drawn for it by a school board. They have to hold information sessions and convince parents to send their children there. Those who were around at the beginning of the charter school where I teach fondly remember the dozens of information sessions they held around the area when our school was first beginning. Sometimes, there would be only a few parents who would show up to hear the pitch from the founders and they'd be following parents into the parking lot answering questions and describing their vision for the school. Our school just celebrated its 15th anniversary and now, when we hold our admissions lottery, fewer than 10% of the students applying to go there get in. Even with the long waiting lists to get into our school, we hold overflowing open houses every year because we still understand that we must convince parents that they would be making the right choice to send their children to our school. If parents are going to entrust us with that most important task - educating their children - we should be able to explain why our school would be a great choice. And regular public school teachers should also be willing to take on that task. The competition for students is a good thing for everyone.

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