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Who Trusts John McCain?

A shockingly large group of people [1], that’s who.  On the economy, McCain is trusted more than Obama (47-41%), and likewise on Iraq (49-37) and national security (53-31).  Concerning the economy, McCain leads Obama 55-33 among men, wins every age group except 18-29, gets 31% black support, 25% of Democrats and wins every income group above $40K.  On Iraq, McCain wins men 56-31 and wins women by a point, he wins every age group, he gets 39% of black voters, 22% of Democrats and every income group above $20K.  On national security, obviously it’s a blowout: McCain wins men by 33 points and women by 13, he wins every age group (including 18-29 year olds by 27 points), gets 44% of black voters, 28% of Democrats and wins every income group. 

In light of the respective positions of the two parties and public attitudes towards them and in light of public attitudes about which party they trust more on these very issues, these numbers are amazing.  The question of trust is going to be decisive [2], and Obama is being beaten like a drum when it comes to winning the public’s trust.  Look on the bright side, Obamaites–his numbers can only go up, right?

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12 Comments To "Who Trusts John McCain?"

#1 Comment By Adam01 On May 30, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

Wow. I always assume Rasmussen skews a few points to the Republican side of any poll . But McCain leading on the economy? That simply blows my mind.

#2 Comment By Daniel Larison On May 30, 2008 @ 1:41 pm

That was my reaction, too. This “trust gap” seems to present a real obstacle for Obama if McCain can win on issues where he has absolutely no credibility whatever. (He doesn’t have credibility on the war and national security, either, but you still expect a Republican to score reasonably well on those in spite of everything that’s happened over the last eight years.)

#3 Comment By Adam01 On May 30, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

Let me throw this out there just ot promote some thought/discussion: In regards to your previous “The Party Line” post: Is there really a large group of people who a) knows McCain’s position on Iraq b) vehemently disagree with it and c) end up thinking that McCain is better on foreign policy/national security? I am having trouble wrapping my head around those three…

#4 Comment By Daniel Larison On May 30, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

Well, there would almost have to be. 85% of Republicans trust McCain more on Iraq, and 87% trust him more on national security, even though that poll claims that somewhere between 28-38% of Republicans agree with the Iraq position laid out by his opponent’s party. So what you have here is a case where Republicans are more likely to say they agree with McCain’s position on Iraq when they know it is the Republican position, and they are even more likely to trust McCain and thus implicitly endorse the judgement that chooses this position.

The phrasing of the question certainly matters (I should have said more about that in the other post)–trusting a person and agreeing with a statement are different sorts of responses, but all of this suggests that about one-third of Republicans don’t agree with McCain on Iraq but *still* trust him over Obama. But party loyalty does seem to matter more for Republicans. Only half or two-thirds of Democrats trust Obama depending on the question, which seems to mean that there are also some Democrats who agree with Obama but actually trust McCain more. There would have to be some to explain why McCain can remain competitive in this absolutely horrendous environment.

I think the contradictions among those positions are resolved if you remove that word “vehemently.” These are people like the antiwar voters in N.H. who voted for McCain. Yes, they’re antiwar, but they don’t give it a high priority or they aren’t furious about it. Antiwar sentiment is high, but it is also muddled. Outside the hard-core 30-35% full-on opposition, the middle 20-25% have always been fairly soft in their opposition as they were in their support.

#5 Comment By cfountain72 On May 30, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

How could we not trust McCain? He’s a war hero and a maverick and and a foreign policy expert and a military genius. And easily more trustworthy than that Muslim Ay-Rab Hussein Obama. Or at least that’s what I heard at church.

John Q. Public

To be fair, Barack hasn’t done a huge amount to engender trust. From his attempt to explain away his pastor, to this new ‘my uncle helped liberate Auschwitz’ nonsense, he doesn’t come out smelling like a rose.

Still, I cannot ‘trust’ McCain with the issues that matter, be it the economy or foreign policy. Is he being deceptive or is he just not that smart? The more I learn about him (Iran is training al-qaeda?!), the less impressed I become. I wonder if others will have the same experience?

Peace be with you.

#6 Comment By conradg On May 30, 2008 @ 4:17 pm

I think your post above on “american-ness” explains this gap on the issues best. Obama has been made to seem “less American” than McCain, because of his preacher, etc. Thus, it’s easier to find him less trustworthy on issues like the economy and national defense. Irrational as that might seem, it works politically, and what Obama needs to hammer on, surprisingly enough, is not just the issues themselves, but his own “American-ness”. He needs to define his own American-ness in a way that is both new, and not phony, and that inspires trust. I would say that if anyone can do this, it’s Obama. I would not say it’s an easy task, however.

On the other hand, the facts of where “American-ness” got us with George Bush makes the tactic somewhat weak. Bush was very American, and led us into multiple clusterfuck disasters. McCain has marched in lockstep with Bush, and promised to increase the disaster quotient. Will people overlook this and vote for him based on his superior “American-ness”? Hard to say, but it’s a great existential moment to ponder.

#7 Comment By Daniel Larison On May 30, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

@Congradg: Here I think we are in complete agreement for a change. This is related to what we were talking about with the VP selections as well. When defined as McCain will define it, Americanness is going to put Obama on the back foot and prevent him from defining himself as he intends to do, which is why he can’t yield to the pressure of embracing a military veteran as his running mate and why he can’t let himself get trapped into competing against McCain in a conventional Americanist contest he can’t win. I don’t see how else he can build trust except by stating his views with conviction, rather than offering an imitation of what Democrats think they’re supposed to say to persuade people to take them seriously on national security.

#8 Comment By Daniel Koffler On May 31, 2008 @ 11:02 am

Pew took its own poll.

Obama leads McCain 51-33 on energy.
Obama leads McCain 51-36 on the economy.
Obama leads McCain 49-32 on health care.
Obama leads McCain 48-34 on social issues.

McCain leads Obama 46-43 on the war. (!)
McCain leads Obama 44-39 on taxes.
McCain leads Obama 44-39 on immigration (on what basis?).


The Rasmussen numbers look crazy because they are.

#9 Comment By Daniel Larison On May 31, 2008 @ 11:36 am

Neither set of numbers is “crazy.” They’re measuring different things. The polls are asking different questions. Rasmussen is framing the questions in terms of trust, while Pew asked “who can best handle” the various issues. They yield different results because one asks about trustworthiness/reliability and the other is asking about competence. The two are related, but they’re not the same. You can think that one candidate can do a better job in certain areas and still not trust them on anything. Romney was vastly more competent in every relevant way than McCain, but he kept struggling with not winning the trust of most of the voters. I imagine that people would think that Romney can “handle” the economy much better than McCain if someone asked them, but would they trust him more? Probably not.

The Pew results show McCain scoring well on most of the traditional Republican themes, and Obama scoring very well on traditional Democratic themes plus “social issues.” It makes sense, given the priorities of voters acc. to Pew, that Obama is leading in the Pew survey by a few points, but his lead in the Pew survey is also the narrowest it has been this year and it seems surprisingly narrow given his strong advantages on most of the issues that are top priorities for respondents. Also, Pew did not ask about generic national security, so we have no way of knowing how “crazy” Rasmussen’s numbers on that are. Rasmussen’s numbers on the economy may be exaggerating the trust people have in McCain, or they may not, but those numbers are not necessarily in conflict with results that say his opponent can “handle” the issue better.

#10 Comment By Daniel Koffler On May 31, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

Hmm. For the polls to be measuring different things, you’d have to assume those polled on the competence question are really thinking hard about who — their personal biases aside — has the most raw computational power to address various issues. Whereas I think it’s more plausible that people are just coming up with gut reactions. What’s different is the frame of measurement, not the thing that’s measured.

The discrepant results pretty much show what we already know, namely that McCain does better the more he can frame issue questions as questions of trust.

I think this is wrong or at least misleading:

“The Pew results show McCain scoring well on most of the traditional Republican themes, and Obama scoring very well on traditional Democratic themes plus ‘social issues’.”

1) The Pew results show Obama doing much better than McCain on traditional Democratic themes + “social issues”; 2) They show McCain doing marginally better than Obama on traditional Republican themes; 3) Aren’t “social issues” a traditional Republican theme?

The overall narrowness of this Pew poll looks like the product of disaffection for Obama among Democrats (read older white female Clinton supporters), which, if it persists, could be what dooms Obama. My point is just that you’re extracting gloomier prospects for Obama from the polls than the polls support. (Incidentally, do you think there is any good VP choice for Obama?)

I agree with you that Romney is awful, but I think that has more to do with his own sui generis inability to be minimally likeable or believable than any general trend.

#11 Comment By conradg On May 31, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

“I don’t see how else he can build trust except by stating his views with conviction, rather than offering an imitation of what Democrats think they’re supposed to say to persuade people to take them seriously on national security.”

I would agree here also, and aside from all the personality issues, this is probably the biggest difference between Obama and Clinton’s approach to both campaigning and governing. Clinton is devoted to the creation of an “imitation Democrat” image that she thinks can defeat Republicans by looking more like them. Hence, her Iraq vote, which was not only a failure of judgment, but a cynical attempt to look “hawkish” and thus respectable on national security issues.

Obama, on the other hand, seems pretty determined to stick to the kind of approach you favor, or building a sense of trust by being clear and steady on the issues, and also by defining “Americanism” in terms that actually matter in the real world, rather than the “image” world of political narcissism. In many respects, this is a battle against a narcissistic definition of “Americanism” dependent on a disconnected “image” and in favor of a definition that has some kind of real-world meaning. Whether Obama can actually win that battle or not is hard for me to say. I hope he does, because I think it opens politics up to a much more interesting era for everyone, even non-liberals.

#12 Comment By davegnyc On June 1, 2008 @ 10:21 am

I think trust mean McCain will do what he says, at least for some.

That does not mean you like what he is going to do.