Republicans vs. Obama
Stats guru Nate Silver has “compiled all polls conducted since July of last year that test Obama against a Republican opponent” using “the Real Clear Politics rule of only using one poll from each firm for each matchup (the most recent).” He then adjusts for “house effects,” the tendency of particular polls to be biased towards a particular candidate or party owing to vagaries in survey methodology.
The result is this graphic, which earns Andrew Sullivan‘s Chart of the Day award.
I’m slightly dubious of the inclusion of very old polls, although Silver doesn’t include many of them and contends that the ones he does use shouldn’t be off by much. I’m also skeptical of the house effects adjustment when averaging polls, since it pretty much does away with the very rationale for averaging polls to begin with. But I’ll concede outright that Silver understands statistical analysis better than I do and just accept his numbers for the sake of argument.
Silver concludes that, “it is a problem for Republicans that no actual Republican can approach the performance of the generic candidate, probably because the generic candidate is Rorschach blot that allows each respondent to create what amounts to their fantasy candidate.”
Well, yeah. I’d rather have a generic Republican than any of the people on the list, too. It makes the choice one between Obama and Not Obama — and Not Obama lacks all the faults of Obama while sharing all his virtues!
But, of course, the election is 31 months away. Every man, woman, and child in the country knows who Barack Obama is. That ain’t true for the rest of the candidates. Even Sarah Palin, who’s got to be pretty close to household name status at this point, is known mostly through the filter of pop culture. (And I maintain that’s a bad thing for her: As Dan Quayle demonstrates, it’s almost impossible to recover once you’ve reached joke status, however unfairly.) All the other Republicans are blips on the radar screen to the average citizen. And what people know about Gingrich is from 15 years ago.
I don’t see any of the people on the list beating Obama because he’s demonstrably a terrific candidate, very well liked, and the sitting President of the United States. If the economy has recovered and he hasn’t terribly botched his handling of national security, he’s the odds-on favorite in 2012.
Then again, it’s worth noting that Obama — despite his personal popularity — can only break 50 percent against two named Republicans (or three if you want to round up the Gingrich race to whole numbers). And I’m guessing that, despite the handicap of the last name “Bush,” the former Florida governor would actually do much better than any of the other Republicans aside from perhaps Romney were he to emerge as a plausible candidate.