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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Swing at a Myth

There are a number of myths surrounding past political events that the numbers just don't support. One of the ones I've maintained for years is wrong is that the reason that Gingrich and the Rs swept into office in 1994 was because of the Contract with (on?) America. I remember hearing at the time, the day after the election this is, that in exit-polling, very few people had even heard of it. But somehow it had become conventional wisdom that it was the main thing that drove people to vote Republican. Ever since, I've wanted to see the numbers to see if I had remembered it wrong. And after the recent "Pledge to America", Jed Lewison on Daily Kos wrote this:

"The GOP's Pledge to America was a complete dud. 66 percent said they had never heard of it, and of those who had, more people said it would make them less likely to vote for the GOP (29 percent) than said it would make them more likely (23%). Compare that to the Contract With America which had similar awareness numbers but was a small net positive for Republicans (24 percent more likely, 21 percent less likely).
Second, and probably more importantly, President Obama's numbers have improved since he started campaigning after Labor Day. That they've improved isn't exactly a surprise, but the extent of the improvement is a bit surprising. One month ago, his net approval rating was minus 6 -- 46 approve, 52 disapprove. Now it's plus 3 -- 50 approve, 47 disapprove. That's a nine-point swing in just one month. Obviously, there's no single reason why the race is getting closer, but when one out of ten voters improve their rating of President Obama, that's a really big shift, and it's no doubt part of the explanation."

So, it's not overwhelming evidence that I was right, but it's pretty difficult to make the case that the CWA had a huge impact with just a 3 point edge in approval.
Two other myths that seem to have become conventional wisdom are:
1 - If Ross Perot hadn't been on the ballot in 1992, Clinton would have lost. Again, exit-polling showed that when Perot voters were asked for whom they would have voted if Perot hadn't been on the ballot, they were pretty much split between Clinton and Bush.
2 - John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate is what doomed him. Actually, McCain had been behind all summer until the Republican Convention. When he announced Palin as his choice, and she gave her very successful speech at the convention, she was a huge hit, and for the first time, McCain had a small lead in the polls. It was a lead that disappeared within a week or two as we came to learn more and more about his choice of a running mate.

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