PART 3—WITHHOLDING THE DATA WE HAVE: Some white liberals have bailed on Obama, of that there can be little doubt.
(For part 2 of this deathless report, just click here.)
Their complaints can be read any day of the week at various spots on the web. For ourselves, we think some of these complaints are more convincing than others. In our view, some liberal complaints about Obama don’t make all that much sense.
But then, the same thing was true when white liberals bailed on President Carter, leading to a primary challenge from Senator Kennedy. Before him, Johnson got challenged from the left in the primaries too, with Gene McCarthy leading the charge. In that case, the liberal complaint was largely war-related—but some of the current liberal/progressive complaints involve war policies too.
In our view, some liberal complaints about President Clinton didn’t make perfect sense. We disagreed with Ralph Nader’s logic when he waged a campaign against Candidate Gore, drawing away roughly three percent of the white vote.
Alas! The public will make all kinds of judgments; these various judgments may or may not make seem to make good sense. But when Melissa Harris-Perry offered her views in this recent piece, she made some claims and suggestions which can’t be supported by data. Are white liberals holding the current president to a “double standard?” Are they judging this current president in a novel manner?
It’s hard to say, for several reasons. But one of the reasons is quite basic:
We know of no data which record the way “white liberals” have rated Presidents Obama and Clinton—and Harris-Perry presents no such data at any point in her post. How many white liberals had bailed on Clinton by this point in his term? We know of no data recording this fact. But then, we know of no data which show how many white liberals have bailed on Obama today!
According to the most recent Gallup data, 83 percent of “liberal Democrats” approve of Obama’s job performance; 72 percent of “liberals” give him a favorable rating. But those data include all flavors of liberals. Gallup doesn’t offer data about the views of white liberals alone.
Harris-Perry offered no data about the views of white liberals. She had no way to compare white liberals' views concerning Obama and Clinton. In the absence of such data, she took a slightly puzzling approach. Eventually, the professor did give us some data—but the data she presented were pretty much no damn good:
HARRIS-PERRY (9/21/11): In 1996 President Clinton was re-elected with a coalition more robust and a general election result more favorable than his first win. His vote share [increased]…among whites from 39 to 43 percent.Vote share and approval ratings (“support”) are two different critters. Did the professor know that? Meanwhile, her data record the votes and views of all “white Americans,” not just those of “white liberals.” Having shifted her field in this way, she did agree to let us know why those white approvals have dropped. “I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation,” she wrote, using a word which nobody knows and failing to tell us why she thinks the “salvific” issue is dominant.
President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now.
Salvific! Sometimes, this is a professor’s way of urging the rubes not to argue. Stand back—I’m many times smarter than you, a professor’s word choice may say.
Here’s a statement of opinion from us right here at this site:
In the absence of actual data, it makes sense to temper one’s accusations against large groups of people. It’s hard to know if white liberals are holding Obama to a double standard in a world which offers no data about the views of white liberals. (For the record, it’s hard to find data for Clinton’s approval ratings among “white Americans.”) That said, Harris-Perry chose to ignore some data which do exist—data which might have given her readers a wider perspective.
Harris-Perry ignored existing data about the views of black voters. How are black voters rating Obama? Harris-Perry reported the drop in white approvals, but she didn’t discuss the changing views of blacks.
As everyone knows, black voters tend to be the most Democratic demographic. In the current Gallup data, 85 percent of blacks approve of Obama’s performance; this compares to 47 percent of Hispanics and 33 percent of whites. (No data exist for white liberals.) Having said that, the president’s Gallup approvals are even down a bit among blacks. In her analysis to Harris-Perry’s piece, Joan Walsh noted this fact:
WALSH (9/25/11): Obama won 95 percent of black voters in 2008, and his approval rating hovered in the 90s for most of his first two years. This week, it's at 82 percent, and it's been steadily in the 80s since February. That's still high, but it's not the enthusiastic, near-unanimous support that elected him.At the time of Harris-Perry’s column, Obama’s approvals among black voters were down by maybe twelve points from the early days of his term. (In March and April 2009, his weekly Gallup approvals among black voters went as high as 95 and 96 percent.) This didn’t match the larger drop found among whites. But it may match the drop found among white liberals, for whom no data exist.
Alas! On the same day Harris-Perry’s column appeared, the Washington Post reported a new poll which explored black views in a bit more detail. Krissah Thompson’s news report passed Harris-Perry’s opinion piece in the mail. But the Post had been reporting the general decline in black approvals over the previous month:
THOMPSON (9/21/11): Obama’s favorability numbers start to drop among African AmericansFor reasons which may or may not make sense, a fair number of black voters were reappraising Obama too. Quoting one of them professor types, Thompson went into more detail:
New cracks have begun to show in President Obama’s support amongst African Americans, who have been his strongest supporters. Five months ago, 83 percent of African Americans held “strongly favorable” views of Obama, but in a new Washington Post-ABC news poll that number has dropped to 58 percent. That drop is similar to slipping support for Obama among all groups.
THOMPSON (continuing directly): “There is a certain amount of racial loyalty and party loyalty, but eventually that was going to have to weaken,” said Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, who studies African Americans. “It’s understandable given the economy.”As noted, the Post had been reporting this general decline in black approvals for some time. For a front-page report from August 25, just click here.
African Americans have historically correlated approval ratings of the president to the unemployment rate, she said. The slip in the strongly favorable rating continues the decline Obama has seen among all groups, but black voters have been his staunchest supporters. Overall, they still hold a generally favorable view of the president with 86 percent saying they view him at least somewhat favorably.
Gillespie’s view that the decline is tied to the disproportionately high jobless rate faced by African Americans correlates with the drop in their view of Obama’s handling of the economy. In July, only 54 percent of blacks said they thought Obama’s policies were making the economy better compared with 77 percent the previous year.
Similarly, the White House has been sharply criticized in recent months by black political leaders, who argue that he has not done enough to help blacks.
To what extent have white liberals changed their minds about Obama? As far as we know, no data exist. But however one might judge Obama’s performance, white liberals aren’t the only voters whose view of the president, rightly or wrongly, has begun to decline.
In our view, some liberal criticisms of Obama make more sense than others. But many voters are bailing or semi-bailing, and this is a pattern which has obtained with the last three Democratic presidents (and with several Republicans). This pattern almost always obtains when the economy stinks, as it plainly does at this time, though perhaps not for ranking professors who may find their pay-checks salvific at the end of a long hard week which includes several hours of work.
Are white liberals holding Obama to a double standard? Presumably, some are—there are quite a few white liberals out there. But Harris-Perry tossed several R-bombs around, in a somewhat cavalier fashion; she then offered an unsupported psychiatric explanation for the change in white approval ratings. For the most part, the data she offered weren’t relevant to her claims—and other data were withheld. Again, we pose our two basic questions:
Is it really a good idea to toss R-bombs around in this casual fashion?
How should Americans rate this type of work from the nation’s ranking professors?
Tomorrow: Comparing the presidents