Campaigns and elections

The voters hate . . . everyone??

Andrew Gelman Jan 21 '11

Nate posted this awesome graph:

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A bunch of people really hate Barack Obama and even more people hate Sarah Palin. George Bush remains in the doghouse. Fine, no big surprises so far. But, wait! Who do the voters like? Nobody! I don’t know what to make of these numbers. 10% of the survey respondents have “very unfavorable” views of Tim Pawlenty. Tim . . . who? OK, I’ve heard of him. I think he used to be governor of Minnesota, he’s some middle-aged white guy, probably pretty conservative or he wouldn’t be mentioned as a Republican presidential candidate . . . “Very unfavorable”? Wouldn’t I have to know something more about him first? Apparently not many people know much about the guy, since only 4% view him “very favorably.”

I guess this is possible: I could imagine some subset of hard-core Democrats viewing anybody they know is Republican as very unfavorable, and Republican voters doing the same from the other direction. Meanwhile, people seem much less willing to give out the “very favorable” rating.

Still, it seems a little weird. Let’s see if we can find the data. Nate didn’t provide a direct link to the survey but he did write that it was released by Politco and conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, so I googled “politico penn schoen berland pawlenty” and . . . success! The survey report was the very first link. I couldn’t find Nate’s graph there but I did find a table on page 3. Here is the relevant section:

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So whassup? Tim Pawlenty has 3% “very favorable” ratings, 11% “favorable,” 18% “unfavorable,” and 71% “don’t know.” They don’t give out the “very unfavorable” data here at all, for some reason. Nate must have found those numbers somewhere else. Also, there seems to be no neutral category. Apparently you can’t say that you just think a politician is doing his job–according to the survey, if you’re not in favor or opposition, that means you “don’t know.” Pretty scary to me: the implication seems to be that, once you know about someone, you’ll have to take a stand.

Also, 71% + 18% + 11% = 100%, so this implies that “very favorable” is not a separate category; it’s a subset of “favorable.” So Tim Pawlenty, for whatever reason, isn’t doing so well. But neither is just about any of the other obscure figures on the list.

Combining Nate’s graph with the Politico documentation, we learn that “very favorable” ratings are rare–in all cases, less than half of the favorables–but “very unfavorable” is happening all the time. For example, out of the 18% of the people who don’t like Pawlenty, more than half have a very unfavorable view.

Now let’s go back to the top of the table and read off some numbers. (For simplicity, I’ll lump all the favorable responses together. You can follow the link above to see more data.)

Barack Obama: 47% favorable, 48% unfavorable,
Hillary Clinton: 55% favorable, 38% unfavorable, (As I’ve argued before, I suspect that if Hillary had become president and Obama had been the runner-up, their ratings would be reversed right now.)
George W. Bush: 38% favorable, 54% unfavorable,
Sarah Palin: 36% favorable, 53% unfavorable,
. . .
Even after reading the table more carefully, we find that almost everyone has more enemies than friends. The only exceptions–the only politicians who are currently (as of this December poll) viewed more favorably than unfavorably–are Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee.

Maybe that will be the mold-breaking third party candidacy next year. You read it here first.

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P.S. The winner in the popularity sweepstakes is “U.S. Congress,” which is viewed favorably by 19% (of which 3% say “very favorable”) and unfavorably by a whopping 67%. That’s gotta be even worse than “tenured political science professors” or “residents of New York City” or various other unpopular categories out there.