Thursday, December 13, 2012

The oddest 14% gap in the world

Granted, there aren't too many entries in the category, but this gap held throughout the 2012 election, and has only grown since.

According to the RCP average, only 39% of voters think the country is going in the right direction right now, while 54% think it's on the wrong track.

Yet Barack Obama's RCP job approval rating is 53%/43%.

That means there's a 14 percentage point gap between Obama's job approval and the country's approval of the nation's direction.

Now, I'm not here to say which one of those verdicts is right or wrong, except to say that it doesn't make a ton of sense for them to coexist.

How can you think the country is headed in a bad direction yet approve of the guy tasked to put it in the right direction?

And if you approve of the guy leading the country, how can you not approve of where the country is going?

Well, one possible explanation might be that people think Obama is doing a good job of trying to save a sinking ship.

But if they think the ship is sinking, how can they judge the captain a success?

And if they think the captain is a success, how can they think the ship is sinking?

Pretend you're a Buffalo Bills fan, and you've had the same GM for four years, and you don't like the direction the team is going. Is it possible to approve of the job the GM's been doing for the past four years if you're sour on the team's direction?

Have you ever heard someone gush about a team's long-time GM, while subsequently cursing the team's direction?

Remember, "direction" is where you think the country is headed; not where you think the country is right now. If it were the latter, you can easily imagine a scenario where someone gets strong approval in the midst of bad times.

But "direction" is a forecast of the future, and it's supremely odd that Obama's picking up +16% approval in Gallup while barely 40% even think the country is headed in the right direction.

Logically, either people should feel more positive or Obama's approval should be lower.

So what's the explanation?

Well, Obama is still enjoying the fruits of his election night win, and the bandwagon effect is particularly strong in the months following an election (as Pew points out).

Thus, in that kind of rarefied environment, you can see disconnects get somewhat exaggerated. If we see a gap this big four months from now, then things get even odder.

[Photo: White House/Pete Souza]