Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Syria: Public Opinion Cul-de-Sac

At the recent World Public Opinion Research Association (WAPOR) meeting in Nice, France, the Middle East was a major topic with many public opinion experts from Middle Eastern countries in participation.  One of their major themes is that a considerable amount of the polling that Americans and the West in general sees from the area fails to reflect the dramatic differences in the 350 million inhabitants spread from Tehran to Cairo, Istanbul to Riyadh. They also believe that many of the surveys, especially as it relates to the Arab-Israeli conflict, fail to offer sufficient balance. There was disagreement on that point, but general agreement that more nuanced and in-depth analyses are needed.

In the winter of 2014, as this proposal was being written, it was clear the Syrian Red Line decision had caused a major increase in worldwide elite conversation about Middle East foreign policy and the administration’s handling of it.

Syria: Public Opinion Cul-de-Sac
In September 2013, President Barack Obama had few good military or diplomatic options for the chemical weapons crisis in Syria and even less public opinion support for the options being considered. However, in late 2012 and early 2013 national public opinion polls showed that many elements of the President’s range of action, including military and other aid to Syrian rebels, had public support. One of those options was taking offensive action if the use or movement of chemical weapons was detected.

This paper will trace the evolution of public opinion from the reluctant support for various military options early in 2013 to the foreclosure of all military actions in September 2013, leaving the President and his national security team in a public opinion cul-de-sac. Obama was only able to break out of this position with a serendipitous lifeline from Russia.

The conclusions from the presentation assert that the Syrian decisions of the administration were a tipping point in their foreign policy confidence and they are still on the defensive.
  • Decision on arming Syrian opposition and Red Line significant for domestic politics and later events
  • Some evidence of public support for Syrian intervention December 2012; little or no support in summer and fall 2013
  • Comparison of public opinion in August 2014 with summer 2013 shows significant difference
  • Public opinion on issue affected was by:
    • Type, duration and goal of commitment
    • Intervening events
    • Level of perceived threat
    • Presidential/elite positioning
    • President’s popularity
  • The Syrian experience will be a significant topic for 2016 presidential election and repositioning of U.S. foreign policy

New Polls – Tighter Races

Two new polls since Labor Day added confusion and some suspense to Colorado’s top two races. Quinnipiac and the USA Today/Suffolk polls put challenger Cory Gardner ahead of incumbent senator, Mark Udall. The same two polls split on the governor’s race, with Quinnipiac claiming incumbent John Hickenlooper is ten points behind Bob Beauprez and USA Today/Suffolk claiming Hickenlooper is two up.

Due to the spreads in the Quinnipiac poll results, both races move to toss ups among national handicappers and polling aggregators.

Needless to say, the Democrats criticized the sampling of the Quinnipiac survey and claimed the leads of their two candidates were maintained.

The senate results are the most interesting since both polls, done by university research units, claim Udall, after nearly being declared the prohibitive favorite to win, is now in trouble and may not have a lead in the race.

Obviously, more public polling data will be needed to sort out the race, but for now the narrative has changed. It provides a burst of momentum for Gardner and reopens speculation on the impact of growing dissatisfaction for Washington since President Obama’s September 9, 2014 prime time White House speech on the war in the Middle East.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Obama Policy of Restraint – What’s Next in American Foreign Policy?

Two hundred of the world’s leading public opinion experts gathered in Nice, France, September 5 and 6, to share new data and analyses concerning the profession and public opinion trends.

Among the major topics was the expected close vote related to Scottish independence, a major blow to Great Britain. The second was the NATO meeting in Scotland that was focused on the latest foreign policy challenge from Russia and ISIS.

DU’s Crossley Center of Public Opinion Research presented a paper entitled: The Obama Policy of Restraint – What’s Next in American Foreign Policy?, which drew considerable interest and discussion.

The topic proposal for the World Association of Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) was drafted last winter as Vladimir Putin was annexing the Crimea (March 18). The action of the Obama administration the last week has highlighted this discussion as part of today’s news.
WAPOR Proposal
In 2009, Barack Obama begun his presidency and foreign policy with immense fanfare and high levels of support from the world public and the capitals of major powers. Today, that support is muted and criticism from world leaders is growing. World opinion has swung from relief over the end of the unilateral “cowboy” policy of President George W. Bush to anxiety over the perceived reluctant and hesitant policies of President Obama.

A similar shift is noticeable in American public opinion.  After the expansive military and democracy-building policies and rhetoric of the post-9/11 era, America welcomed the withdrawal from two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and preferred a focus on domestic issues. But recently, public disenchantment appears to be growing over America’s position in the world. Support for President Obama’s diplomatic strategies in Syria and Iran is low, and domestic foreign policy critics have intensified their opposition.

Is American foreign policy reaching a new inflection point where the recent non-intervention and restrained policies of the Obama administration are being effectively challenged or will there be another decade of American non-intervention?

The conclusion of the presentation was:
  • Foreign policy has become a significant issue among political elites and could effect the 2014 midterms and will definitely effect 2016 presidential
  • The post-Cold War and 9/11 era has finally started and America is now deep in the debate over the nature of that new world and its role
  • The administration is in a defensive position and being pulled into a more militaristic stance
  • Events and the leadership dialogue (2016 election) will shape war-wary public opinion
  • Many of Obama’s principles will survive, but there will be a new synthesis and it will be more strategic

Friday, September 19, 2014

TV Ads Work – Denver Post

Jeremy Meyer reports that nearly $13 million has been spent in 2014 on 23,000 political ads. About two-thirds came from “independent” outside groups. The amount spent on TV continues to climb ($10 million in 2010) in spite of fragmentation of television and many alternatives.

The reason is:

“TV persuades,” said political analyst Floyd Ciruli. “If Sen. [Mark] Udall wants to bombard suburban women, that is where he and his allies will spend. For a mass audience, if you’ve got a good message, you are doing TV.”

Ciruli also keeps predicting an end to the TV ad gravy train.

“My theory is that both the expense and the saturation will cause it to lower its persuasive power,” he said. “People will come up with ways to avoid it. ... But it hasn’t moved an inch so far. There is even more money being put into it.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Udall Challenge

Mark Udall is in a very difficult race for re-election. His share of the vote has exceeded 50 percent only once out of 15 surveys since March 2014. With massive negative advertising, Udall and supporting independent organizations have opened a gap of four points on average over Cory Gardner. But, as the Denver Post reported last week in their poll, the race could go either way.

Democratic senators in 2014 re-elections were elected, and in Udall’s case, first elected with President Obama during his election in 2008. And in spite of herculean efforts to separate from him, Udall is still highly affected by both the normal midterm association with the incumbent president and specific problems, such as ISIS, immigration and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
  • The President has lost the confidence of the public on foreign policy and his rush to catch up may not change enough opinions that the ISIS problem was partially his fault and, in any event, he was slow to react.
  • Immigration, which was to be a Democratic asset in this election with Anglo voters supportive of a path to citizenship and Hispanic voters anxious for a promised presidential remedy for large-scale deportations. Now, both groups are dissatisfied with the President as he has delayed his deportation relief and the surge to the southern border has shifted Anglo opinion to border enforcement from citizenship.
  • The ACA continues to be unpopular with the public. Pew Research reports it is approved by 44 percent of the public and disapproved by 53 percent.
The three issues have the possibility of pressuring independents to oppose Udall and Hispanics to just not vote.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Has the Wave Begun?

The Real Clear Politics generic ballot test average has just jumped from a percentage point for Democrats, where it sat for the entire spring and summer, to four points for the Republicans since September 6. The last time the Democrats won a single test was a USA Today/Pew Research poll on August 24. And clearly the President and foreign policy have been driving the polls with the President’s August vacation and the crisis in Iraq with television coverage of beheadings.

The generic ballot test, along with the presidential approval, contributes to the forecasting of the midterm elections.

Pew Research reports on September 12 that Republicans have a three-point advantage with likely voters on the generic ballot test. They point out that Republicans had a seven-point advantage in September 2010 when they retook the House and a six-point advantage just prior to 2010 Election Day.

Forecasting the U.S. Senate – Post-Labor Day

The New York Times forecasting unit, called The Upshot, gives Republicans a bare 51 percent advantage to win the six seats needed to take control of the U.S. Senate.

It had been more than 60-40 from mid-August to early September. But, as the forecast models have shifted from historic data (i.e., who won the state, Obama or Romney) to current polling, Democratic prospects have improved. Mark Udall is one of the Democratic incumbents who have moved from toss-up to likely winner in most forecasts. Each new reported public poll is increasing his odds of winning. He’s now 82 percent likely to win in the Upshot model. Although, they still have Udall on their competitive list.