April 24, 2012 1 Comment
Nice post by John Sides on an absolute staple of bad journalism. That is, candidate X (in this case, Obama) is in trouble with some particular subset of voters when the trends are not at all unique to that group. If Obama is down 5 points among young voters compared to 2008, but he’s down 5 points among all voters compared to 2008 that doesn’t tell you a single thing about “Obama and young voters.” To wit:
Here is what journalists who write these stories need to do:
1) Compare the trends among the group in focus to the trends among other groups. It doesn’t mean much if Obama is down among young voters if he’s down among middle-aged voters and seniors too. Often, swings among demographic groups are fairly uniform, which suggests that a candidate may not have a unique problem with one group but a systemic problem with many groups. You have to compare multiple groups at once. I discussed this before with regard to Jewish voters and Obama.
Sides also addresses the point of averaging across more than one poll. It always amazes me the way journalists will let a single outlier poll drive a story despite all common sense to the contrary. Anyway, Sides puts together a nice chart comparing Obama’s support in 2008 and now:
Obama’s numbers in the Pew poll are about 1-5 points down among all 4 age groups—again, a similar shift that suggests his problem isn’t with any particular group. A recent YouGov poll (seethe pdf p.36) suggests something similar: among 18-29-year-olds, Obama has a 30-point edge, vs. 34 points in 2008. His margin among seniors is also a little less favorable now (-13) than in the exit poll (-8).
But these shifts aren’t large. The coalitions that Obama and McCain assembled in November 2008 appear mostly intact at this very early date in 2012.
I think it is also noteworthy to see where he hasn’t lost a bit of support. Blacks, not surprisingly, but Republicans have made a lot of talk about trying to make inroads with Hispanic voters and they clearly have a lot of work to do. I do see those independent numbers as a significant warning sign for Obama. I don’t think independents are necessarily determinative (as most of them aren’t really that independent), but the election winner almost always wins among independents as well.