Gallup is the oldest major polling organization in America. It has a strong interest in credibility with the public, because if its polls are wrong, then its value drops to nothing. Gallup Polls, by and large, are fairly accurate reflections of what is actually polled. So when Gallup asks Americans in different states about their ideology, the reported data seems reasonable. The problem, however, is that unless one looks at the data and not at how Gallup titles its polls, big stories are lost.
As one example, Gallup in the last year or so has finally begun asking Americans about their ideological persuasion and reporting the results of those polls. A close examination of Gallup's reported data shows an absolutely stunning fact. In the August 14, 2009 poll, conservatives outnumbered liberals in virtually all of the fifty states, even in hotbeds of radicalism like Massachusetts and Vermont. What was the title of that poll? "Conservative Label Prevails in South." On February 3, 2010, Gallup repeated the poll. The results were the same (every state was more conservative than liberal), but what was the title of that poll? "Three Deep South States Are Most Conservative" (not something like "Conservatives Still Outnumber Liberals in Every State"). On August 2, 2010, Gallup tested the waters again. This time, there were more liberals than conservatives in one state, Rhode Island, leading Gallup to give this poll the reasonable title of "Wyoming, Mississippi, Utah Rank as Most Conservative States."
Gallup on August 10, 2010 noted that Republicans had the highest lead this year on the generic congressional ballot. Gallup missed a huge story: the Republican lead on the generic ballot was the largest in the lifetime of most Americans. To its credit, Gallup on August 30, 2010 noted in this poll that the Republican lead on the generic congressional ballot was the greatest in the history of Gallup polling, going back to 1942: "GOP Takes Unprecedented Lead on Generic Ballot." What Gallup neglected to mention is that while the ten-point lead in the poll released August 30 was the largest ever, the seven-point lead on August 10 was also, at that time, the largest lead ever. Gallup, again, has missed a big story. On September 23, 2010, Gallup issued a report with the rather innocuous title of "Americans Trust U.S. More On Foreign Than On Domestic Affairs." This is vaguely interesting, but hardly startling. But look more closely at the Gallup graph, and something more interesting appears: our trust in government to handle domestic affairs appears to have dipped to a thirteen-year low in the latest poll. A perusal of older Gallup Polls show something very interesting: On September 18, 2008, Gallup measured the confidence that the American people had in government since before 1973. In the category of confidence in federal government to handle domestic affairs, the numbers Gallup shows in that poll are lower than at any level since Gallup shows online archival data, which means since at least 1972.
That means during Watergate, the Energy Crisis of 1973, and the recession of the same period, Americans had more confidence in Richard Nixon to handle domestic affairs than Americans have today in Barack Obama to handle domestic affairs. The calamitous years of 1973 to 1974, when there were lines to get gasoline (which was suddenly sky-high in price), when an American president resigned (preceded by an American vice president resigning), and when the nation dropped into a real economic downturn, surely have to rank as the nadir of confidence in government to handle domestic affairs. During those years, American had a viciously divided government, with partisan Democrats, who controlled both houses of Congress, doing everything possible to create suspicion and rancor towards the Nixon administration.
Gallup, curiously, never asked questions of Americans about their confidence in the ability of government to address their problems during the dreadful years of 1979 and 1980, the Carter Malaise, which would be the only comparable period in modern history. Carter, of course, always had a Democrat Congress, so there were no "Watergate" congressional hearings of his administration. Barack Obama also has overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and a fawning establishment media. Obama, like Carter, entered office with a huge reservoir of personal goodwill. Yet Obama has driven confidence that Americans have in the ability of government to address domestic affairs to a forty-year, and perhaps historical, low.
There is another point. Nixon reached that low point after six years in the White House. Carter reached his Malaise in the second half of his first term (Democrat losses in Carter's 1978 midterm were modest, and Carter still retained a fair amount of public confidence.) What Gallup has exposed in the Obama administration is a precipitous drop that closely resembles free-fall. A fascinating story, although one that Gallup, trying to conform its articles to conventional establishment opinion, seems to have missed once again.