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2012 still looks like 2008 so far

The Texas Lyceum put out a series of polls this week – you can see links to them here – but it was the Thursday poll that interested me the most, as it was related to the 2012 elections. Here’s the press release:

The third and final installment of the 2011 Texas Lyceum statewide poll results were released today show both Texas Governor Rick Perry and President Barack Obama above the 50 percent mark on their job approval numbers and both have held fairly steady since October 2010. Governor Perry held at 54% while President Obama moved up slightly from 47% to 51%. While President Obama’s handling of the economy garners 46%, he has picked up 8 points since October 2010 (38%).

I’m as surprised as you are to see Obama’s approval rating so high in Texas, especially since the story line over the past year or more has been what a drag he’s been on Democrats here. I figured that was overstated, but I still expected his approval rating to be less robust. This has gotten picked up by multiple outlets, all with a similar take on it. I don’t want to make too big a deal about this – as the release notes, the poll was taken at a time when Obama was still enjoying a death-of-Bin-Laden bounce, and more than half of of the poll respondents are not classified as “likely voters” – but I do want to point out the last question on the poll, which is the first Presidential general election poll for Texas, which is something I’ve been eagerly waiting for:

If the 2012 election for president were held today, would you vote for Barack Obama or the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought much about it?

Likely Voters (n=309):

35% Barack Obama.
44% Republican candidate.
2% Another candidate.
17% Haven’t thought much about it.

Now as I said, this sample is a little questionable. It’s small (the margin of error is 5.63%), and I never trust self-screens for likely voters, since people tend to exaggerate about how often they actually go to the polls, but let’s put that aside for a second and look at the numbers. As I noted before, most of the 2008 polls for Texas had Obama at around 41 or 42%, trailing McCain by about ten points. This poll represents a drop in support for both Obama and the now-unnamed GOP nominee of about seven or eight points each, but the difference is the same. In fact, if you extrapolate it out to account for the nonresponses, you’d get a spread of approximately 55 for the GOP to 44 for Obama, which is almost exactly what the 2008 result was. Heck, if you had told me this poll was actually from May of 2007 and had substituted “the Democratic candidate” for “Barack Obama” in the question wording, I would not have blinked. At this very early stage, with this smallish sample, 2012 looks a lot like 2008 so far.

Now maybe the “bin Laden bounce” is inflating things for Obama here. It would be nice to know how the approval ratings compare for the 309 “likely” voters to the 398 not-so-likely voters; maybe one group is a lot more approving of Obama than the other. I will note that the likely voters were almost half again as inclined to vote in the 2012 Republican primary as the Democratic primary (see the executive summary for all the poll questions and results), so I don’t think this group was overfilled with Democrats. It may be that the drop in Obama’s level of support is more telling than the drop in Republican support from the known candidate of 2008 to the unknown one of 2012, but without seeing crosstabs (whose subgroups would have ridiculously high MOEs), it’s hard to say. What I will say is that this result is not evidence against the hypothesis that 2012 will be like 2008. Had the horse race numbers been something like 31-49 or 45-44 you would sit up and say “Whoa!” and try to figure out either why the result was bogus or a harbinger of big changes to come. The actual numbers are reassuringly banal. We may see something different down the line, but for now my opinion remains that 2012 still looks like 2008 around here.

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