Friday, October 17, 2014

Gallup asks the wrong question about divided government (yet again), and gets the wrong answer (yet again).

Gallup 2014 Divided Government Poll

Gallup released the results of their annual governance poll with this headline:
In U.S., No Preference for Divided vs. One-Party Government
Thirty percent prefer one-party government, 28% divided government
by Jeffrey M. Jones
"Americans lack consensus on whether it is better to have one party holding the presidency and the majority in Congress, or better to have control of each branch of government split between the two major political parties. Currently, 30% say it is better to have a one-party government, 28% say a divided government is better, and the highest percentage, 37%, say it makes no difference."
Over the years, this Gallup poll consistently shows little or no preference for divided government, yet the result is at variance with the way Americans vote. As the article goes on to say:
"Divided government has been the norm in U.S. politics for most of the last 45 years, with one party controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency for only 12 of those years -- 1977-1980, 1993-1994, 2003-2006 and 2009-2010, as well as part of 2001. As such, Americans may simply be used to divided government and do not see it as better or worse than the alternative. But Americans have also seemingly rejected one-party government in the midterm elections that took place in 1994, 2006, and 2010, when a single party controlled Congress and the presidency and the public was dissatisfied with the way things were going in the country."
The problem is in the way Gallup asks the question. Presumably, to make the poll comparable year over year Gallup must ask the same question in the same way, so they are stuck with this wording. Unfortunately the way they ask the divided vs. unified question every year obscures the actual voting preferences of Americans and creates this paradoxical result. 

This a pet peeve for the Dividist. I've written about the problem with this survey before and therefore have no qualms about plagiarizing myself with the same explanation to the same problem question in the same problem poll.  To whit:
Happily Divided GovernmentGallup's alternative to divided government
Would you prefer Divided Government or the Council of Elrond?

Here is the question that Gallup asks: 
"Do you think it is better for the country to have a president from the same political party that controls Congress does it make no difference either way or do you think it is better to have a president from one political party and Congress controlled by another?" 
The problem is that the question poses a non-existent, non-partisan apolitical alternative to divided government. They are asking respondents which they prefer:
A) Divided Government
B) Unified One Party Government
C) No Preference
This question does not reflect an actual political choice that Americans ever face when they enter the polling station to cast their vote. It's like asking whether Americans would prefer divided government or a fantasy alternative:
A) Divided Government
B) The Council of Elrond
C) No Preference
Resolving the Paradox

A better question that reflects the actual real-world choice for Americans in the voting booth would ask whether Americans prefer:
A) Divided Government
B) Unified One Party Democratic Government
C) Unified One Party Republican Government
D) No Preference
 Or the question could be asked in two parts:
1 - Which do you prefer: 
A) Divided Government
B) Unified One Party Republican Government
C) No Preference 
2 - Which do you prefer: 
A) Divided Government
B) Unified One Party Democratic Government
C) No Preference
In some elections, notably the midterms, only one of the two alternative question/answer sets exist as a possible outcome. For example, in 2014 the only choice for voters is between Divided Government and Unified One Party Democratic Government. There are no other choices. So in 2014, we would expect independent dividists (those who prefer divided government) to side with partisan republicans in opposition to unified one party democratic rule. Similarly, in 2006 independent dividists sided with democrats to end one party republican rule. Essentially what we are seeing here is a small independent dividist minority vote that swings elections on a consistent basis to maintain a divided government state. 

Asking the question this way would show that there is a larger plurality preferring divided government to either unified republican or democratic party government in any given election. And that would go a long way to explaining why Americans have expressed such strong preference for divided government in the modern era, despite their frustration with the accompanying partisan wrangling and gridlock.

Whether that independent dividist voting block is making the divided government choice consciously or not is a separate question.  Making the case they should, is the raison d'ĂȘtre for this blog.

Now that is fair.

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