Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Democrats Struggle Out West, Steady In The East: An Early Quinnipiac Swing-State Analysis

There's been a discernible decline in the President's job approval ratings in the West and Midwest, according to 2013 Quinnipiac swing-state polling to date. The drop is punctuated by notably weak 2016 performances from Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Though it may not feel like it, we're rapidly approaching the one year anniversary of the painfully close presidential election that wasn't; a contest who's much-hyped competitiveness failed to match its anticlimactic 51-47% result.

Its been nearly a year since ratings-hungry pundits and wishful Republicans were surprised to learn that, prior election results aside, Americans liked the job the President was doing (54% vs. 45%, to be exact), primarily blamed his predecessor for the disastrous economy (53% vs. 38%), and believed economic conditions were improving rather than worsening (39% vs. 30%).

So as we approach the Fall of his 5th year in office, how is the President holding up?

The answer depends, at least from a regional standpoint.

Fortunately, Quinnipiac has been in the field in swing-states across the country on a number of occasions so far this year for 2014 and 2016 election purposes, allowing us a glimpse at both the President and his potential successor's standing. And according to their findings, Barack Obama has held up well in East Coast swing-states (Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania), especially since the May 2013 IRS/NRA fall-out, while falling precipitously in the West and Midwest (Colorado, Iowa, and Ohio).

Consider the table below:

The difference in Obama's approval rating in East Coast vs. West/Midwest swing-states is unmistakable. His approval rating in the 3 East Coast states surveyed by Quinnipiac is roughly par (48/48%) with his winning margin in those states (51-48%).

But that's not so for the 3 swing-states surveyed by Quinnipiac west of the Appalachian Mountains. Though Obama won all three states by 3-6 points with between 51% and 52% of the vote, his job approval rating hovers in the low 40s, with his disapproval rating approaching 60%. Those numbers look especially poor considering Obama's 50-42% win over Mitt Romney in the West, and 48-44% win in the Midwest.

And to be sure, the regional disparity in Obama's job approval ratings didn't just pop-up in the most recent Quinnipiac state polling. It was detectable in previous surveys of the 6 states, all conducted in the Spring and Summer of 2013.

Furthermore, a similar geographic discrepancy exists with respect to the performances of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden against an array of potential 2016 Republican Presidential candidates. Much like the President's political standing discussed in the paragraphs above, the Vice President and former Secretary of State perform much stronger in head-to-heads against likely GOP candidates in the 3 East Coast swing states surveyed by Quinnipiac, as opposed to the 3 West/Midwestern swing states.

Consider Quinnipiac's most recent polls in in Colorado and Virginia, both of which were conducted within the last two weeks. In the former, despite Obama's decisive 5 point win in 2012, Hillary Clinton struggles against both Chris Christie (trailing 43-42%) AND the Texas Tea Party Freshman Senator Ted Cruz (leading just 45-42%). That latter fact is even more miraculous when you consider how unknown Cruz is to Colorado registered voters, as compared to how well-known Hillary is (only 4% of Coloradans say they haven't heard enough about Hillary Clinton to rate her favorably or unfavorably, while 58% say the same of Ted Cruz). Likewise, Christie and Cruz stomp Biden by wide margins in Colorado.

Compare that result to findings in Virginia just a couple days earlier. While Christie led Clinton by 1 point in Colorado, he trailed her by 9 in Virginia (Obama only carried the state by 4 points in 2012). And though Clinton and Cruz were virtually tied in Colorado, it was no where near close in Virginia (Clinton led 53-34%). The same for Joe Biden - while he trailed the New Jersey Governor in Colorado by an embarrassing 17 point margin, his deficit was much more respectable in Virginia (44-37%). And Biden finally gets his own landslide if he faces Cruz, according to Quinnipiac, leading him 47-37%.

The phenomenon seen between Colorado and Virginia state polling rears its head in other East Coast and West/Midwestern Quinnipiac swing-state polls over the last 6 months. Clinton and Biden consistently perform more poorly against Republican presidential candidates in Colorado, Ohio, and Iowa, when compared to Obama's 2012 performance, than they do in Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania. See the two tables below:

Though the GOP candidates may vary from state to state, the pattern typically holds - Clinton and Biden under-perform against the GOP in West/Midwestern swing states, at least as compared to 2012 (and in the rare instances they do not, the GOP challenger is a nationally unknown quantity), while they tend to over-perform in the East Coast swing-states (with the exception of Christie vs. Biden head-to-heads).

Whether Obama, Hillary, and Biden's struggles out west vs. the east stem from some sort of genuine political difference or just random polling error, the findings are unmistakable. For whatever reason, Colorado, Ohio, and Iowa are worlds away from where they were on election night 2012. Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania much less so.

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