Home / Dave Brockington / The Shutdown and Political (Mis)Calculation: Some Numbers

The Shutdown and Political (Mis)Calculation: Some Numbers


The headline charitably assumes that there is any calculation involved here at all. Just yesterday I read a column or post somewhere (I thought it was Krugman, but I could not locate it this morning) that points out how can we assume that the faction in question of the party of the one of two houses in one of three branches of the Federal Government has (paraphrasing, not quoting) “any realistic idea about the global economic effect of a United States default, considering that they nearly universally do not believe that global warming is due to human cause, and hell, most of them don’t even believe in evolution”. I’m confident that one of our readers with a memory better than my own (which describes, well, the overwhelming majority of you) will remember who wrote that line.

We all suspected it, and now we have some empirical support for our suspicions: the Republicans are severely hurting themselves in holding the Senate and the President hostage in order to overturn a law nearly four years old, one upheld by the Supreme Court about 15 months ago:

“Americans were against a government shutdown as a way to stop the president’s health care law from taking effect 72 percent to 22 percent in a Quinnipiac poll. The more than three-to-one ratio was despite a near even split on Obamacare itself, with 45 percent support to 47 percent opposition.”

I don’t doubt that it’s a wide margin, but caution should be applied in interpreting this Quinnipiac poll. RCP currently has eight different polls on public approval for Obamacare, and the other seven range from -10 to -19, making the -2 reported above a clear outlier. The average of the eight polls is -12, but dropping this one it goes to -13.4. Lacking copious amounts of spare time, I can’t discuss whether bias (assuming that’s what this is) is limited to this one item, or if it’s a systematic sampling issue that undermines the entire poll, but somewhat temper your excitement at these numbers. That said, the Obama approval numbers are more in line with the current average. This poll has his approval at -4, while the spread of the eight most recent on RCP is an astonishing +3 to -16, with an average of -6.5. While there might be some systematic bias in the sample, it very well could be the one item on support for Obamacare specifically: question wording, question placement, etc.

Other interesting findings from this poll include 17% approval rating for Republicans in Congress (compared to 32% for Democrats), and a generic 2014 House vote intention of 43% to Democrats, 34% to Republicans. If this is a strongly Democratic-leaning sample, then we can shave some of that margin; likewise, this won’t hold for 13 months, and the Republicans have a modest built-in marginal advantage in translating votes into seats in House elections for the foreseeable future.

Here is a cool map and story locating the “suicide caucus” both geographically and demographically. Again, no surprises: the 80 signatories to the Meadows (NC-11) letter to Boehner insisting that Obamacare be defunded live in a different country to the rest of us (well, when I’m actually living there instead of in the UK), and one that’s lily white and getting whiter, unlike the country writ large. In this sense they are behaving rationally, embracing the delegate model of representation by serving as little more than ciphers of public opinion back home, rather than Burke’s favored trustee model. The punchline to the linked story is “In previous eras, ideologically extreme minorities could be controlled by party leadership.” It should have been left unsaid that now these ideologically extreme minorities control party leadership.

Indeed, while we can’t expect members of the suicide caucus to take Burke to heart, maybe the Republican leadership ought to, if not now, then in two weeks’ time when the debt ceiling is held hostage yet again:

But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

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