11/23/2009 01:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obama and Independents

Updated with latest Gallup data, see end of post.


A quick look at Obama trends with independents. There have been several articles in the last week about independents deserting the Dems. A good bit of that was spurred by the huge Rep margins among independents in VA (66-33) and NJ (60-30-9) governors races. There are also some indications on policy issues that independents are not supporting Democratic positions.

But support for Obama has not plummeted among independents, and that needs to be clarified before it becomes erroneous conventional wisdom. It especially makes no sense to compare independent support in January with independent support now, and conclude there has been a collapse of support. The pattern this fall, since Sept 1, has been quite stable among independents. Depending on which polls you use, a shade up or a shade down, but overall, not a huge trend either way over the past 3 months.

In the chart above I use Gallup's weekly aggregation of their tracking poll. This gives lots of cases each week, so we have good sample sizes for each of the three partisan groups. It is all within the same organization, so we also have an apples-to-apples comparison. My concern is the trend, not the level of approval. Gallup's daily runs a couple points higher than average on Obama job approval, but that's not relevant to seeing if the trend is changing. (And yes, I know approval dropped under 50 in Gallup's daily over the weekend. Give it a week or so and we'll see what affect this had on each party group but for now I care about the last three months.)

The clear message of the chart is that all three partisan groups have plateaued since the end of August, with little real change since.

What about disgruntled liberal Dems and angry conservative Reps? Let's look at those numbers:


There is no evidence that any group of Dems, especially liberal Dems are unhappy with Obama's performance. Critical is that moderate and even conservative Dems have not moved away since August. Angry conservative Reps are indeed very unhappy with Obama, at almost the same level of disgust as Dems felt for Bush, but they too have reached a plateau at a steady 10% approval. The small number of moderate Reps have also plateaued (I'd discount small moves in the last week of the aggregation.)

So the point is simple: Claims of abandonment of Obama by independents (or lib-Dems or con-Dems) are substantially exaggerated over the past three months. Significant decline from May through August, yes indeed among Inds and Reps, but that trend halted in August.

You can amuse yourself with our interactive pollster chart for independents, which includes all polls. You can remove whatever polls you don't like and see that it makes some difference to what you see recently. (including only live interviewer polls mirrors the Gallup weekly trends pretty well.) Our overall, no cherry picking allowed, estimate sees a small decline recently, that is not visible in the weekly Gallups. But it is not a large decline and until it turns more sharply, I'm not convinced we see a bit move among independents as it concerns Obama support. On other issues, yes Dems should be concerned. But not on this one. Not yet.

Technical note: The Gallup weekly plots are my local regression fits to Gallup's raw weekly numbers. They are not the raw Gallup percentages.

UPDATE: Gallup's weekly update came out this morning. As has been much discussed, Gallup's daily dipped below 50% in the last few days. So this update now reflects that week's polling and could alter the results of the old data.

There are some minor changes (as there logically must be with a dip!). But I don't think the changes we see in the last week change my conclusions. The basic stability of the last three months still show clearly. The last week sees a small dip (a point or two) among independents and among conservative Dems. Those are potentially important for the future, but my primary point remains: let's not exaggerate the changes that have occurred in the last 3 months, or confuse them with the substantial changes in May-August. If there is to be a new decline among any groups, it is a change that has not yet occurred, though this past week's Gallup results may be the first harbinger.

Also remember my lines in the chart are my local fits, not Gallup's raw numbers. The raw numbers show an overall dip of 4 percentage points, and 4 percentage points among independents. My local fits are bit resistant to change and will need to be convinced that change is real by it holding next week as well. (And by the way, I think this dip is not surprising-- I don't buy the arguments for a "floor" for this or any president. If you are close to 50%, odds are you will dip below it at some point. And you might rise too. Depends on events and how you handle them, not a fixed floor.)