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April 23, 2012 11:30 AM The “Is Obama In Trouble With” Stories

By John Sides

Molly Ball asks whether Obama is “in trouble with young voters.”  She draws on a March poll of young people that finds a 7-point difference between Obama and a generic Republican, a much smaller margin than between Obama and McCain in 2008.   After acknowledging the shortcomings of the poll (e.g., no Obama-Romney match-up), she writes:

But the weakness for Obama, whose 2008 run was powered in part by a wave of youthful enthusiasm, is stark.

And:

But results like these are the latest sign of the difficulty Obama may have as he tries to rekindle the magic of four years ago.

Here is what journalists who write these stories need to do:

1) Compare the trends among the group in focus to the trends among other groups.  It doesn’t mean much if Obama is down among young voters if he’s down among middle-aged voters and seniors too.  Often, swings among demographic groups are fairly uniform, which suggests that a candidate may not have a unique problem with one group but a systemic problem with many groups.  You have to compare multiple groups at once.  I discussed this before with regard to Jewish voters and Obama.

2)  Look at more than one poll.  I think we’re now at the point—years after polling averages have been in the mainstream—where the impulse should be to confirm a result with more than one poll.  Here, for example, is what Pew put out last week (see p.6 of this pdf):

2008vs2012

Obama’s numbers in the Pew poll are about 1-5 points down among all 4 age groups—again, a similar shift that suggests his problem isn’t with any particular group. A recent YouGov poll (see the pdf p.36) suggests something similar: among 18-29-year-olds, Obama has a 30-point edge, vs. 34 points in 2008.  His margin among seniors is also a little less favorable now (-13) than in the exit poll (-8).

But these shifts aren’t large. The coalitions that Obama and McCain assembled in November 2008 appear mostly intact at this very early date in 2012.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.
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