Discontent in America
“A fresh blast of discontent reshapes the political order” is how the multiawarded pollster Gary Langer titled his blog last Wednesday, analyzing the exit poll of his company Langer Research Associates for ABC News on the 2014 midterm elections in the United States (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/11/a-fresh-blast-of-discontent-reshapes-the-political-order/).
President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party was thumped in the elections, that gave the Republican Party control of the US Senate again, and its largest majority in the lower chamber in 86 years.
The exit poll showed, in the first place, that so many American voters were unhappy about the economy and about the performance of the government:
1. “Seven long years after the economy tanked, 70 percent of voters Tuesday said it’s still in bad shape.”
2. “Seventy-eight percent said they’re worried about its direction in the year ahead.”
3. “Only three in 10 said their own economic situation has improved in the last two years.”
4. “And nearly half of voters said they expect life for the next generation of Americans to be worse—by far the most to say so in exit polls asking the question back to 1996.”
5. “Sixty-five percent said the nation is headed seriously off on the wrong track, the second most in available exit poll data back to 1990, trailing only its level in 2008.”
6. “A mere 20 percent said they trust the government in Washington to do what’s right all or most of the time.”
7. “Fifty-five percent disapproved of Barack Obama’s performance—up by 10 points vs. 2012.”
What matters more, however, is that the exit poll showed the translation of many of these factors of dissatisfaction into winning margins for the Republican Party:
a. Of “wrong track” voters, 69 percent voted for a Republican candidate, and 29 percent voted for a Democratic candidate, for the House.
b. Of those distrusting the government, 57 percent went Republican, and 40 percent went Democratic.
c. Of those disapproving of Obama, 83 percent went Republican, and 15 percent went Democratic.
Note that the survey respondents were not asked to explain “why” they voted for a particular party. Asking “why” is not a recommended way to find the reason. The proper way is to ask separate questions—not just one question—on whatever matters might, theoretically, affect a voting choice, and then tabulate the answers to these questions against the votes. This allows one to see if multiple factors work together to influence the voter. Then use statistical analysis to tease out the relative importance of the various factors.
What I find fascinating is that American voters are just as frustrated with the Republican Party as with the Democratic Party:
“While 59 percent of voters said they’re dissatisfied or even angry with the Obama administration, as many, 60 percent, said they’re dissatisfied or angry with the Republican leaders in Congress.”
“While 54 percent of voters expressed an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, 54 percent also said they have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party.”
What does this imply for the next US presidential election in 2016? From other US opinion research, it seems that Hillary Clinton is by far the best bet among Democratic candidates. On the other hand, the Republican Party has no counterpart “best bet” as yet; it still has to find one.
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For seven years, many Americans have been struggling to afford food. Also last Wednesday, the Gallup Poll reported that 17.2 percent of Americans, surveyed from January to October this year, said there were times in the past 12 months when they didn’t have enough money to buy food that they or their family needed (http://www.gallup.com/poll/179171/fewer-americans-struggling-afford-food.aspx).
That was the bad news. The good news, however, was that the 17.2 percent was the lowest proportion of people struggling to afford food in the past seven years. The percentage had been a peak 18.9 in 2013—meaning there was a drop of 1.7 points from last year. It had been between 18.0 and 18.6 percent during 2009-2012. In 2008 the percentage was 17.8, just a bit higher than this year.
It’s been tough, the past seven years for the average American. The poor ones don’t just “perceive” or “imagine” that it’s hard to have enough money for food. If they say they’re struggling, then it’s true. Period. It’s the same everywhere in the world, including the Philippines. If you can accept that people tell the truth about their intention to vote, then likewise accept that they tell the truth about their economic situation.
Having to struggle to afford food is related, of course, to one’s income. Among households with annual income of less than $24,000—i.e., $2,000 per month—two out of five struggle for food. Among those with annual income between $24,000 and $48,000, one out of five struggles for food. In every income bracket, there was a drop by a point or two in the struggling rate of 2014, compared to 2013.
On account of their relatively high incomes, Asians don’t suffer as much as other ethnic groups in the United States. The rate of struggling for food is only 7.4 percent among Asians, or close to half of the 13.3 percent among whites, one-third of the 25.5 percent among Hispanics, and one-fourth of the 29.0 percent among blacks. If your Filipino relatives who live in the United States don’t seem too hard up for food, they’re just average.
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