Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.
We’ve known for a long time that surveys are often very bad at predicting behavior. To take the example that Malcom Gladwell uses, if you ask Americans what kind of coffee they want, most will say “a dark, rich, hearty roast.” But what they actually prefer to drink is “milky, weak coffee.”
Something that sounds good in the abstract turnsout to be different from the stuff you actually have to drink.
Election polls usually have better luck since indicating your choice to a voting machine isn’t all that different from speaking that choice to a pollster. But political preference polls as well can run into that abstract-vs.-actual problem.
Real Clear Politics recently printed some poll results that were anything but real clear. RCP looked at polls matching Obama against the various Republican candidates. In every case, if you use the average results of the different polls, Obama comes out on top. But in polls that matched Obama against “a Republican,” the Republican wins.
The graph shows only the average of the polls. RCP also provides the results of the various polls (CNN, Rasmussen, ABCl, etc.)
Apparently, the best strategy for the GOP is nominate a candidate but not tell anyone who it is.
Ben — November 15, 2011
I'm not sure why this is surprising. "Generic GOP" doesn't mean "The average of all Republicans", it means "Some Republican". Of course that'll do better than any individual Republican. You'd get the same results if you ranked Romney against the rest of the field and against "Generic GOP".
Yrro Simyarin — November 15, 2011
*Deleted - double post*
Anonymous — November 15, 2011
Another example would be how a large majority of Americans say that they are for freedom and individual responsibility but keep voting for Nanny-state politicians to hold their hands and wipe their butts.
AndrewS — November 15, 2011
Personally, I think you have to look into what people think "GOP" is. That is, their own views as to the politics of the GOP. Some are more conservative than others, and ultimately people are likely thinking "Romney is too [this] for me, and I'm a real centrist GOP person" or "Gingrich is too [that] for me..." etc.
"Generic GOP" likely makes people think about the GOP candidate that is most like them, rather than the GOP candidate that is an average mashup of either all the other candidates or of what all the members of the GOP believe in.
Same thing goes for Democrats or any other political party.
Sophia — November 15, 2011
OKCupid covered this concept really well using interracial dating. http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/your-race-affects-whether-people-write-you-back/
Anonymous — November 16, 2011
I'm not entirely sure of the makeup of the "generic GOP" but honestly, there are a few pretty reasonable explanations here that could be contrary to "Americans don't know what they want." First, I know plenty of reasonable Republicans, and recall a time when Republican politicians at least had a relatively firm grasp on reality (to think, only 4 years later I'd think things like "Dick Cheny isn't THAT evil"). I bet there are even a few decent Republican politicians working at local levels. The problem is, none of those people are running for president. If a Republican who wasn't completely stupid, blatantly racist, criminally confused, or being accused of pretty awful crimes ran in 2012, that person would likely win. The second idea is, unfortunately, despite the fact that the Republican candidates are universally awful, a lot of people are in a very "not Obama" mood, both due to his shortcomings and the shortcomings that have been fabricated against him. It seems to me that this election will be a repeat of 2004's "not Bush/not Kerry" election, simply because the Republican candidates are universally poor and because of disillusionment with the current president (and lingering hatred of him for being a black Nazi Commie Muslim who was born in Kenya, of course).