Interesting Polling Numbers

As numbers go, the results of surveys are not my favorites. Especially with regard to economic issues, I’m a lot more interested in what folks actually do with their money than what they say to a stranger who calls them on the phone and asks them what they think.

Joe Biden Still, numbers are still numbers and there’s a lot to be said for quantifiable data of any kind relative to the opinions and speculations of those of us with the time to type. And one of my favorite places for numbers is The site is just filled to the brim with juicy tidbits, and more arrive every day.

For example, Joe Biden is unpopular. I think of him as an amiable place-holder, certainly more likable than the last few veeps. (Darth Vader, The Inventor of the Internet, and Mr. Potatoe Head, respectively.) Alas, America does not agree with me, giving Joe lower favorability ratings than his predecessors. The same survey shows that Obama is about as popular as George W. was at this point in his term, which is surprising, given Obama’s margin of victory last fall and Bush’s non-margin of victory in 2000.

And for those who have been enjoying the slow motion train wreck that is healthcare reform, you will find some good stuff from Gallup. Although more Americans think that healthcare reform will improve rather than worsen medical care for the whole country (44% vs 34%) they also think that it is more likely to worsen it for them personally. (26% vs. 34%.) And they think it will cost more, both nationally and personally.

Unsurprisingly, they are not all that happy with the people in Washington trying to put this together. 48% of Americans think they have a good grasp of  the issues involved in healthcare reform, but only 27% think Congress does.

Only 30% of Americans believe that the Federal Reserve is doing a good or excellent job. That was last on the list of agencies Gallup asked about. The IRS got 40%. I wonder what percentage of Americans could explain what the Fed’s job is.

I assume most folks know what the stimulus package was meant to do. So far, more people say the stimulus has made things worse for them personally than better. (14% vs 22%, with 64% saying there has been no effect on them at all so far.) Long term, Americans expect it to be good for the economy but a wash for them personally.

Speaking of them personally, 32% said that they will spend less money in future years. That sounds like bad news for the economy, only 8% said they will spend more, but this is exactly the sort of thing where there is a big gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do. Something tells me they will want to spend more when (if) the economy improves. And I wonder what percentage of people would say they plan to eat less junk food over the next few years?

Enough about money. Gallup also surveys on moral issues. 30% of Americans think the death penalty is morally wrong. 35% of them think that wearing fur is. Surprisingly for me, apparently the worst thing you can do is have an extramarital affair, which 92% thought was wrong, narrowly beating out polygamy (91%) and cloning humans (88%.)

If you are willing to go back into the Gallup archives a bit you can learn a lot about the good people of our nation. From an August 2006 survey on air travel we learn that 77% of Americans think the new security measures at airports have been effective in fighting terrorism.

Okay, I can accept that. Those measures are designed to appear to be effective at fighting terrorism. But then I came to this question: Are you in favor of “Requiring Arabs, including those who are U.S. citizens, to undergo special, more intensive security checks before boarding airplanes in the U.S.”? 53% said yes.

Should you need more reasons to reconsider this whole democracy thing, you can examine the results of a June 2007 survey on the origins of species. When asked their opinion of “Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life” 53% said it was either definitely or probably true. That’s a little low, but at least it is a majority.

But they also asked about “Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”. 66% said that was definitely/probably true.

This means that at least 19% of my fellow citizens believe both that humans evolved over millions of years and that they were created in present form within the last 10,000 years.

And they wonder why Congress can’t fix health care.


  • By Rob Bennett, July 31, 2009 @ 11:17 am

    My view is that poll numbers are like the Dow Jones Average.

    The media talks about them all the time. And they have just enough temporary significance to tempt most of us to devote mental energy to trying to figure them out. But they are ultimately a diversion from what matters.


  • By Dave C., July 31, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    Well, according to my understanding of statistics, if one of your feet is in a pot of boiling water, and the other foot is in a pot of freezing water, you should be feeling just fine.

  • By ryan, July 31, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    Lots to comment on here.

    1. I’m surprised about Biden too, what’s not to like?

    2. Re: health care, more people think it will help overall, but hurt personally. I always get the feeling that the great majority of the people in this country who benefit the most from government programs actually think that they contribute more than they receive–maybe in the form of subsidized childrens’ health insurance, earned income tax credits, child tax credits, etc. In other words, I think people way over-estimate their contributions to the collection plate. “And now we’re gonna house these prisoners with three hots and a cot on MY TAX DOLLARS…”

    3. Re: “I have a good grasp of the issues, Congress does not” I would have responded that I do not have a good grasp of the health care proposals, but I’m also willing to bet that on a standardized quiz of the issues, I would score better than 80% of the 48% who think that their understanding is good. You have to know something to know what you don’t know.

    4. Although tongue-in-cheek, your conclusion about “the worst thing you can do is an affair” is obviously wrong, since I doubt child-rape was one of the options.

    5. I’d have to say it’s a tough call on the 77% who think security measures for air travel have been effective. Given that we don’t necessarily know how steady or volatile the threat is, I’d have to say, “well, yeah, since no planes have been hijacked since they’ve been implemented, yes, they’re effective.”

    6. I don’t fault someone for combining a belief in evolution based on the evidence with a faith that God at one point created humans (in their present form). It’s personal.

    After college, a short time after 9/11/01, I lived in the Deep South for some time, and I remember driving behind a pickup truck. On one side of the bumper was a sticker that displayed a Confederate flag and a warning of imminent rebellion “The South Will Rise Again.” On the other side of the bumper was a sticker that solemnly pronounced “9-11-01 UNITED WE STAND.”

    Humans are complex.

  • By Adam, July 31, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

    Excellent post! I had similar thoughts earlier when I read about the citizen proudly warning his Congressman at a townhall meeting to ‘keep your government hands off my Medicare’…

  • By Jim, July 31, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

    A site I like for polls is Polling Report :
    They track results from various polls on a variety of topics.

    Concerning that 30% of Americans think the Federal Reserve is doing a good job… I wonder what % of Americans can properly define the role of the Fed? I betcha there are a good % of Americans answering that question without really knowing what the Fed does.

    I find it amusing that at least 20% of Americans think they know more about health care reform issues than congress does. But then 90% of Americans think they are above average right?

  • By Jim, July 31, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

    Regarding #6, I’ve personally tried to reconcile evolution & god with the theory that evolution is something god did.

    I figured out at one point comparing poll #’s that a sizable % of people believe in both Aliens and in God. I think its around 20-30% of us.

  • By ryan, July 31, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    Jim, regarding the FED,
    What’s even more interesting is I would be willing to bet alot of money that among the people who don’t think he’s doing a good job, the level of ignorance to what he actually does would greatly exceed that of the approving group.

    In other words, it seems like so many more people who know nothing about the situation default to cynicism vs. the benefit of the doubt.

    I bet a generation or two ago that this wasn’t the case. I don’t think that, in general, Americans were any better informed, but I do think that if they didn’t know anything, they probably were willing to trust someone who, based on his title, presumably did.

    In some cases, a questioning attitude is good, but I think we’ve gone too far.

  • By gpr, July 31, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    93% of Americans consider themselves to be above average drivers.

  • By gpr, July 31, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    There’s a big difference between “worst thing you can do” and “thing with the least amount of moral ambiguity.”

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, August 1, 2009 @ 8:51 am

    On the Fed, one thing from Gallup I didn’t include in my post was that when Bush was president, Republicans tended to approve of the Fed and Democrats tended to disapprove. Then Obama was sworn in and the opinions flipped, Democrats like the Fed and Republicans don’t. This despite (and I hope this is obvious to all readers of this) that it’s the same Fed run by the same guys with the same policies. The same is true about the Supreme Court.

    And as for evolution/creationism, I don’t think that it’s impossible, or even particularly hard, to believe in God and evolution at the same time. All you need to do is adopt the mainstream Christian and Jewish view that some parts of the bible are allegorical rather than literally true, e.g. that bit about creating the world in seven days. However, those two statements that Gallup used are categorically in conflict. A person just can’t believe both that humans evolved over millions of years and were created from scratch within 10,000 years.

  • By Paul, August 1, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    a vote for obama was a vote against bush and john (everyone should be scared of me)mccain

  • By ryan, August 1, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    But what about the South? Is there a way for the South to rise again while the country still stands united against Arabs?

  • By Roger, August 2, 2009 @ 1:16 am

    Wow, that evolution/creationism thing makes me sad on the inside. I re-read that part several times, each time hoping I would discover that it was two separate surveys, or that the questions were worded in a way that you could believe in both without being schizophrenic, or that the question was worded confusingly. But alas, it does in fact seem that 19% of the population (or at least, of the the surveyed population) believes that humans both evolved over time and that God (or the equivalent) waved his hand and ‘bam’, there we were. This makes me sad inside.

  • By Andrew Stevens, August 2, 2009 @ 3:06 am

    Approximately the same percentage (19%) believes that the sun revolves around the earth. This isn’t just an American thing. Surveys in the United Kingdom and Germany have gotten the same results. However, no despair is necessary. I would guess that about 10% of people just like jacking around pollsters. The other 10% are hopelessly incompetent at anything that requires thought.

  • By mwarden, August 2, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

    “Alas, America does not agree with me, giving Joe lower favorability ratings than his predecessors.”

    I realize this is a fun post not a technical post, but this stuff annoys me. You can’t compare poll numbers now to poll numbers in the past; the underlying populations are different and cultural shifts like general distrust of the government make comparisons across long periods of time meaningless.

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