This week's NBC New/Wall Street Journal Survey of 1,000 adults (margin of error +-3.1%) provides some great data for political conversation. However, given the favored narrative about how bad things are in America, you're unlikely to see some of the more eyebrow-raising nuggets in the data.
Here are 10 data-supported satirical headlines the WSJ/NBC poll could produce.
1. "Obama Job Approval Numbers Holding Steady for More Than a Year!"
If we assume a 3% margin of error, Obama's job "approval" rating, which is now at 46% (i.e., it could be anywhere between 43% and 49%), has not changed since July of 2009. His aforementioned positivity rating has not changed since December 2009. It's important to understand that since polls sample, they have "sampling error," and that error must be considered when making estimates about what's true in the larger population.
2. "Congressional Leaders Are Viewed As Positively As BP!"
If we again consider the 3% margin of error, McConnell (3%), Boehner (5%), Mitt Romney (6%), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (7%), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (3%) all have the same positive sentiment rating as BP (3%).... And BP's numbers are up 1% point.
3. "Republicans Are NOT Preferred Over Democrats for Control of Congress"
According to the poll, 44% prefer a Republican-controlled Congress, and the same percent prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress. In fact, according to the WSJ/NBC poll trend, the public hasn't had a clear preference (i.e., a difference outside of the margin of error) since a year ago this month when Democrats were preferred 46% to 38%. Interestingly, when asked which party's candidate they would support in their district, 36% of the public said the "Democratic candidate" and 31% said the "Republican candidate." These numbers aren't statistically different, but they run counter to the narrative that Republicans are favored over Democrats.
4. "Without Obama, Republicans Would Be Nowhere in the 2010 Midterms"
Among those who prefer a Republican controlled Congress, 37% are doing so because they "Support the Republican Party and candidates," while 57% "Oppose Barack Obama and Democratic candidates." Among those who prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, 48% "Support Barack Obama and Democratic candidates," and 48% "Oppose" Republican Party and candidates." This all suggests those who desire a Republican Congress are not primarily doing so out of a desire to get better politicians, rather they are literally seeking out a party of "no" [to Obama].
5. "Public NOT Looking Forward to More Palin"
About 55% say that it would be unacceptable ("not so strongly unacceptable" or "strongly unacceptable") if the 2010 midterm elections set in motion Sarah Palin as the leading spokesperson for the Republican Party.
6. "Tea Party Movement: Good Idea, but They'd Better Get a Leader Fast... How About a Democrat?"
About 27% of the public say they are "a member of the Tea Party Movement." Among this group, more describe their support in terms of a protest against "business as usual in Washington" (42%), and are less likely to say their support is "a positive" for the movement (9%). The fact that the Tea Party Movement only has Republican candidates may hurt them in the long run. Given the many Democratic conservatives who focus on fiscal discipline and social issues, the Movement could be helped by moving more to the political center in a bipartisan fashion. In other words, why not endorse Democratic candidates who are running on the same ideological position? No boilerplate language responses please.
7. "Where Is the Economy Going? Depends on Where You Start"
Here are a couple of examples about how poll headlines can have multiple interpretations. The percentage of people saying the "economy will get "better" over the next 12 months increased 6% points over the past two weeks; however, in early August the number was at 34%. So, while it's up 6% points from two weeks ago, it's down 2% points over the past month. In addition, the percentage saying the economy will "stay about the same" is down 4% points from two weeks ago, but it's up 11% points from a year ago (9/09). Anyone of these headlines could be deposited in your inbox; it just depends on the sender.
8. "What Jobs Problem? Strong Majorities Are Satisfied With Their Job Security"
Among those persons who are working, 64% say they are satisfied ("somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied") with their current job security. In September of 2009, this number was at 66%. This just seems odd given the running theme of the "horrible" economy. Of course, the number could be higher, like when it was 81% in April of 2000 and unemployment was at 5%. Then again, it could always be worse too.
Just as a side bar, does everyone understand that the unemployment rate for blacks has been more than 10% since September of 2008, and the unemployment rate for whites has yet to reach 10%? What's my point? Fix unemployment for blacks and the unemployment rate will fall too. I know, I know... the race thing again... but fixing the economy is either a "principled" issue or it's a "political" one.
9. "A Majority of the Public DO NOT Believe Obama's Policies Are Responsible for the Current Economic Conditions"
The poll asked half of the respondents: "When you think about the current economic conditions, do you feel that this is a situation that Barack Obama has inherited or is this a situation his policies are mostly responsible for?"
Since the question did not specify whether the current economic conditions are positive (e.g., 90% employment rate, six consecutive months of private sector job growth, stabilized financial markets, etc.) or negative (18% unemployment for African Americans, weak bank lending), we could say that people don't blame Obama's policies (56% say the current economic conditions were inherited), or that they think that over the past 21 months, his policies are "mostly responsible" for the economic gains and losses.
10. "No One Loves Taxes, but They Don't Necessarily Love Tax Cuts Either"
When asked -- in multiple wordings of the question -- if the temporary tax cuts from 2001 should end or be kept in place, the public is evenly divided. Half-empty, half-full on the tax cuts thing... and some wonder why Congress is considering waiting on the issue?