• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

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.

obama-vs-republican-challengers

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.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    Don’t undecideds break for the challenger? I dont’ think anybody on that chart should be encouraged by it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Phil Smith says:

    Well, yeah. I’d rather have a generic Republican than any of the people on the list, too.

    I think that is my all-time favorite line on this blog.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. PD Shaw says:

    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

    I’m skeptical of the house effects adjustment being applied to polls that are not currently using a “likely voter” screen. Nate looked at the house effects bias in 2008 and found a “slight” conservative bent for Rasmussen. Adjusting for that finding based upon Rasmussen’s continued use of that screen makes sense.

    However, since the election, polling companies like PPP have dropped the “likely voter” screen and are either using registered voters or no screen at all. It doesn’t make sense to continue to use the same house effects adjustment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. The numbers themselves are less important than the trends since President Obama’s inauguration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. TangoMan says:

    Silver’s comparison is good fodder for discussion 31 months out from an election, but, like junk food, it’s mostly empty calories.

    Here’s the problem: the comparison’s will matter when the candidates are pitted against each other. First there is the winnowing effect of the Republican primaries. The criteria that people will use to parse these candidates during the primary process is quite different than what they use today. Similarly, when the Republican nominee is pitted directly against Obama, people will be judging each candidate by the conditions surrounding their contest.

    None of the Republican frontrunners are being judged today by the criteria which will be in place during the primary season.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. grampagravy says:

    Boehner and McConnell say the proposed financial regulations now being debated will perpetuate big bank bailouts-they ignore the fact that the banks will be required by the bill to set aside their own funds for the bailouts instead of slamming taxpayers when they screw up.
    McCain, per himself, isn’t a Maverick (except in his own speeches and campaign videos).
    McDonnell (Republican poster boy of a year ago) skipped slavery in his celebrate armed insurrection month, initiated a literacy test for non-violent convicts, and tried to initiate discrimination in Virginia state hiring, then backed off of each after the public outcries.
    It seems like every day some new embarrassment comes home to roost with high profile Republicans.
    When you add in the effect of the party of no/hell no to the mix, you guys will be lucky to see a Republican dog catcher manage to win an election unless the “get some sense fairy” sprinkles this bunch with magic dust.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. just me says:

    I am not sure I care much about a race almost 3 years away, but apparently pollsters do. I also readily admit that none of the current GOP possibles thrill me. There are some I would vote for if they were my only choice, but I can’t say I really want any of them to run.

    Personally I think Obama is a good enough at campaigning and liked well enough that he is likely to be reelected, but 31 months is a long time in politics and much can change. I lean more towards democrats getting beaten in the house/senate by that point and Obama winning the election than a republican taking the white house.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0