Saturday, July 01, 2006

Approval at 35% in Time poll

A new Time Magazine poll taken 6/27-29/06 finds approval of President Bush at 35%, with disapproval at 59%. Time's poll is the second lowest of the 13 polls taken since Iraq Al-Qaeda leader Zarqawi was killed June 8th. In that time, polls have ranged from 33 to 41 percent approval, with a median of 37% and a mean of 37.7%. With the addition of the Time poll, my approval trend estimate is revised down to 38.59%, from yesterday's 38.98% prior to the Time poll.

Because the Time poll comes on the heels of three polls at 41%, the question of whether this is a sign of the end of the upward trend in approval is being widely discussed. Or is the Time poll a fluke? Or is it simply within the normal range of variation given my estimate of approval?

The short answer is that it is well within the usual range of variation around my trend estimate. At -3.59% below the estimated trend, the Time poll is not even close to being a statistical "outlier". In all polls since President Bush took office, 18.7% have fallen farther from the estimated trend than this. The Time poll IS the 5th largest deviation of 23 Time polls, but that doesn't make it outlandishly large either at the 21st percentile. Time polls in fact have shown somewhat less variability around the estimated trend, with a standard deviation of 1.94% vs 2.45% for all polls.

So while this poll is a bit lower than my approval estimate would have expected, it is not close to being "dubious". At the same time it fails to signal a likely change in the approval trend, though it does contribute to a small lowering of the estimated approval.

What is completely dubious and outrageous is the Time article on the poll posted to their website here. It is a perfect example of the failure of journalists to bring even a modicum of intelligence to their analysis when they choose to ignore all other polling and write myopically based solely on their own polls. I wrote at length about this here, but Time has now provided a superb example of this failing.

Time's last poll was conducted March 29-30, a month and a half before approval reached bottom on May 12. A lot can, and has, changed in the THREE MONTHS between Time polls. Let's see how much awareness the article shows of that:

Web Exclusive| Nation

Poll: Good News Fails to Boost Bush's Job Approval

In a new TIME survey, Americans say the President is performing poorly and that the country is increasingly on the wrong track


Posted Friday, Jun. 30, 2006

A spate of good news at home and abroad has so far failed to boost how Americans feel about President Bush's job performance. Bush's approval rating slipped to 35% in a TIME poll taken this week, down from 37% in March (and 53% in early 2005). Only 33% of Americans in the survey said they approved of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, vs. 35% in March, and 47% in March 2005. His management of the U.S. economy lost supporters, too, as 36% approved, compared with 39% three months earlier. Bush's handling of the war on terror saw a slight gain in support, from 44% to 45%.

Bush's poll numbers remain stuck in a rut despite several high-profile victories scored recently by the Bush Administration. Earlier this month, U.S. forces killed al-Qaeda leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi in an air raid in Iraq. Also this month, Karl Rove escaped indictment in the CIA leak investigation. And the Commerce Department reported today that the U.S. economy grew 5.6% in the first quarter of 2006, the fastest growth in more than two years.

(Click here to read the full text)

Every single comparison is made over a three month period with no sense that events other than those most recent ones might have mattered. No notion is introduced that IF Time had seen fit to conduct polls in the interval they might have found somewhat different trends. Rather the notion is that Time has two data points, so that must define the trend.

No mention is made of other polls taken during this time that show a clear continued downward trend for six weeks after the March Time poll, followed by six more weeks of upward trend before Time decided it was time to check back in with public opinion.

Yes, 35% is below 37%, but a lot happened while the Time poll analysts were sleeping.

Let's see what Time MIGHT have known if they had done more regular polling. (This is a particular irony because Time did excellent and regular polling from January through March, especially focusing on the immigration issue. Then as the issue came to votes in congress, Time was AWOL with it's polling, losing a significant advantage it had gained in the first quarter when it provided some of the best analysis of a critical issue. I guess they just lost interest as the votes loomed.)

The figure above shows the sequence of Time polls over 2005-06 as the purple line and points. These points do a good job of tracking my estimated trend in approval, with some deviations here and there but overall an excellent agreement. Then that loooong three months without a poll comes along. What MIGHT we have seen if Time had continued polling on a regular basis? The red line in the figure answers that. I regressed Time's actual polls on my estimated trend to predict the trend of Time polls IF they were conducted every day. (The regression uses all Time polls, not just those from 2005-06.) What we see is that Time would have found approval levels falling to a low almost 2 points below my estimated trend, then rebounding to about a half a point below my estimate.

So how might the Time article have read if they had done polls in April or May or June? Almost certainly Time would have found that approval continued to fall from their late March poll through April and into May. If they did a late May poll, they would have found a small change in direction, with approval moving up a bit. A mid-June poll would have confirmed that movement up. Then the story might have given a reasonable picture of what approval had done over the past three months. It would have noted moves both down and up. And it would not have staked its journalistic reputation on concluding there was "no effect" of three events occuring in the last 21 days of a 90 day period between polls.

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