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05/01/2011 - By Christine Burke Eskwitt
Photo: McKay Imaging (mckayimaging.com)
Taking the Pulse of America
When Rasmussen Reports was spot-on with the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, it got peopleís attention. In 2008, Rasmussen projected Obama would win by a 52% to 46% margin and the final results were 53% to 46%. And when Rasmussen polls were the first to show possible upsets by Chris Christie in New Jersey and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, their place as Americaís most reliable polling firm was solidified.
Scott Rasmussen [pronounced RASS-muh-sen] is founder and president of Rasmussen Reports, based in Asbury Park. Rasmussen is a political analyst, author, speaker and, since 1994, an independent public opinion pollster. He and his wife Laura call Ocean Grove home, where Rasmussen heads the Board of Trustees of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. Scott founded Rasmussen Reports, LLC in 2003 as a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion polling information. Rasmussen Reports provides in-depth data, news coverage and commentary at RasmussenReports.com,Americaís most visited public opinion polling site.
Accuracy and stability are hallmarks of Rasmussen polls. An independent pollster, Rasmussen does not conduct commissioned polls. ďIf itís in the news, itís in our pollsĒ is more than a company slogan; itís the way Scott runs his business. Polling topics are inspired by the dayís headlines, not dictated by any client or special interest group. ďWe make money selling advertising and subscriptions and we sell some sponsorships as part of the ad package, but we donít do work for clients,Ē says Rasmussen. Nor do clients influence Rasmussenís polling topics.
A frequent commentator on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, BBC and other major media outlets, Rasmussen also has appeared on The Colbert Report. The Rasmussen Reports have been mentioned on television shows like The West Wing, the Tonight Show and Gossip Girl, yet Scott is uniquely humble for a man at the helm of such a notable and influential organization.
Rasmussen, who co-founded ESPN in the late 1970ís with his father, Bill Rasmussen, attributes his ability to stay grounded to his roots on the New Jersey coast, where he spent his summers at the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, ďGodís square mile at the Jersey Shore.Ē Following is the interview Living in the Jersey Shore had with superstar pollster Scott Rasmussen.
LIJS: How do come up with your polling questions?
SR: We have a meeting every morning, like an old-style newsroom or editorial meeting, although instead of assigning a reporter to cover a story we assign a poll. Mike Boniello, our COO, is always present and is the guiding force at those meetings, although just about anyone on our staff can suggest topics.
LIJS: Is there a secure, undisclosed location where all of this takes place?
SR: Itís called cyberspace mostly, but we do have a structure or a frame work that we work within.We have questions we ask every single night on economic issues, business, life style, and politics. Every night we poll the Presidentís job approval rating. These are our base. And then we have our rotations, which are questions we ask once a month Ė how are we doing on the war on terror, do you favor or oppose off-shore oil drilling, how would you rate the way Congress is doing its job. These are issues that are always in the news and we just track them. And then we have our dailies, which can be whatís new in the news. Our objective is that if weíre going to do a poll tonight for release tomorrow, then we want to guess what tomorrowís headlines will be. Sometimes you can do it and sometimes you obviously canít.
LIJS: Do you get your news like normal people?
SR: We live in a 24/7 world where things happen so fast. Lots of people email us and we get lots of Twitter feeds and video sent to us. Itís strange because we almost donít get to watch the news on television. But we get the information and when a breaking story happens, we realize we have to do something on it.
LIJS: How do you mobilize to respond to something really immediate, like the Japanese earthquake?
SR: An occurrence like the earthquake in Japan raises a lot of polling questions. We try to find a similar circumstance, although there has never been anything quite like the Japanese earthquake, with all of the issues surrounding it, but we have done similar polls Ė the disaster in Haiti, the Gulf oil spill, changes in attitudes about nuclear plants.We review our past poll questions and add new perspectives. 80 or 90 percent of the time we pretty quickly achieve consensus on the kinds of things weíre going to ask.
LIJS: Do you ever unplug? Do you ever take a break from polling?
SR: I went to Cambodia for Christmas two years ago and I guess I unplugged for about ten days. Yesterday I did my service on jury duty and while I was sitting there I was thinking about how many people have served on juries, did they think it was a positive or negative experience, did they feel good about the decision made by the jury they were serving on. Everything in life can be looked at as a polling question.
LIJS: Do you consider yourself a pollster?
SR: Iím a pollster and I guess you could say itís by mistake. Some people are good in sports, good in other things. Iíve always been good with numbers and had different ways of applying that skill. In the late 1980s I had sold a business and was helping some friends who were trying to put term limits on members of Congress. They couldnít get good polling help because republican pollsters loved polls when they helped republicans and democratic pollsters loved polls when they helped the democrats. My friends really believed in the issue; they didnít like republicans or democrats and so I sort of became their liaison.
By 1995 this new thing called the Internet was taking off so, I opened a web site but had no clue what to do with it. I truly thought you had a web site because everyone said small businesses should have a web site. The way that pollsters used to get business is they would call a reporter and say, ďhey Iíve got this great new poll. Give me your fax number and Iíll send you some information.Ē Then youíd send the information to the reporter and try to get them to write about it, get some publicity, and then youíd try to get people to pay you to do more polls. Thatís what I guessed would happen. But within a few months of putting up this tiny web site, I started getting news clips about Rasmussen polls from people I had never talked to and within a few years we were getting a million people a day coming to our web site during election season. I guess we were in a good position with the Internet beginning and we had this new polling company. Then the next thing we learned is that this beast called the Internet just devours content, which is what really led to the setup of doing polling every night and trying to keep on top of trends.
LIJS: You created amazing awareness by predicting President Obamaís win within one point. Care to comment?
SR: Presidential elections are fairly easy to predict relative to some other things and we were happy it worked out.
There are two different worlds of election coverage. There are the political junkies who are already frustrated that thereís not more coverage. They canít wait for the first debate and they read every poll about every contender.
Then there are people with a life outside of politics. Thereís a whole lot more of them then there are insiders. They are not at all tuned in right now. We havenít done a lot of polling about 2012 so far.Weíre focusing more on the issues and what voters are thinking about rather than the candidates because, first of all, we have no idea yet whoís running for the republicannomination.
In 2007, I did a segment on CNN after the first presidential debate. It was Obama and Hillary Clinton and just about everyone in the Democratic Party lined up for this first big debate. Afterwards, the CNN producer called me so excited and asked what my first reaction was now that the debate was over and I said, ďOh, thank God; I can turn on theYankees now!Ē I tried to convey that this debate had no meaning. It was like a spring training baseball game. The insiders were there to see how the new prospects were working out, to see if this Obama guy had any skill, to see how Hillary would handle the debate, but it wasnít substantive because hardly anybody was watching or paying attention, and thatís where we are today.
LIJS: Do you see patterns in polling numbers?
SR: Yes, and patterns are so much more important. Some people see music in colors. People have different ways of viewing things. When I look at numbers they tell a story and itís my job to translate that story so people who are afraid of numbers can understand it. When you talk about forecasts or trending itís not being smarter, itís being observant.We know for example that when the price of gasoline goes up, consumer confidence goes down. It falls right away. Then when the price of gas falls, it takes five or six months before consumer confidence rebounds. Itís not because we have elaborate theories as to why it happens that way. Itís just because weíve been tracking consumer confidence every day for so long that we see the pattern.
LIJS: Thereís something I read on your web site thatís been keeping me awake at night. Your polling indicates that the mood of America right now is pretty low and that most people donít think the economy will rebound even in the next five years.
SR: Yes, the mood of America is pretty bleak. I canít begin to describe how bad it is. Only half of homeowners think their home is worth more than their mortgage. Fewer than half think their home will go up in value over the next five years. Only 19 percent think it will go up in value over the next year. There are concerns about will our kids be better off. Have our nationís best days come and gone. The job numbers are all depressing. One in four workers with jobs are worried about losing them. In good times, that number is about ten percent so weíre way above that. The highest weíve ever measured is 31 percent.
The number that I think is most significant about the economy is the way people rate their own personal finances. People will say things about the economy based on what they hear or read or see. When they are talking about their own personal finances, itís much closer to home. On the day before Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, 43 percent of Americans said their own finances were in good or excellent shape. When Lehman Brothers fell, confidence tanked right away. By the time Barack Obama took office, only 35 percent believed their own finances were in good shape. So in three months we had this big collapse. Now, two years later, only 35 percent or a little lower feel their finances are in good shape. So thereís been no progress and what weíre seeing in these depressing trends is that at first people thought this was a business cycle but now itís been hanging on for two years. People arenít seeing improvement and theyíre just getting depressed. It will change. I donít know when, but it will.
LIJS: Who will win the next presidential election?
SR: When a President runs for re-election, the single most important number is his job approval rating. Whatever that is, thatís about the share of the vote heís going to get. In 2004, George Bush got 51 percent of the vote. On Election Day his job approval was 51 percent and the big issue of the time was the war on terror. 51 percent of Americans thought we were winning the war on terror. It was a very clear identification.
With President Obama, itís not the war on terror thatís the big issue. Itís the economy. If people begin to feel their own finances are getting better, if that goes back to 40 to 43 percent, Barack Obama will be much better off. If it stays where it is, itís going to be dicey territory for him. The Presidentís job approval this morning is at 47 percent. He has been in that same holding pattern range for over a year. So that says if the election were held today he would probably get about 47 percent of the vote, assuming a non-distracting republican candidate, which means it would be a close election. If Obamaís numbers go up to 52, 53 heíll win big. If his numbers tank, heíll either lose or pray for a third party candidate. So right now thatís the number to watch. If his job approval does not go up, itís going to be a close election.
This election is primarily a referendum on President Obama. If things are going poorly nationally, the whole job of a republican candidate should be to say, look at President Obama. Do you want to re-elect him?
LIJS: Youíre the author of two books, Mad As Hell: Howthe Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System, which you wrote with Doug Schoen, and also In Search of Self-Governance. What led you to write them?
SR: The tea party book was written along with Doug Schoen, who was a pollster for President Clinton and we had done some work together. Before there was a tea party movement, Doug and I were talking about doing a book together on what we saw as the frustration boiling up in the country and leaders who were out of touch and we could document it. We were kicking around these ideas and began going around seeking a publisher and as we were doing this the tea party movement was just beginning. We felt Ė and still do feel Ė that the broader unrest with politicians in America is deeper than anybody in Washington can imagine and thatís the story that needs to get out. We were right there at the beginning and we were listening. One of the things are both sides are guilty of inWashington is that they talk to each other so much that they donít understand how people outside of politics perceive them and so neither side got what became the tea party movement. We were already talking to the people, and listening, and that just made it easier.
In Search of Self-Governance follows the theme that most American donít want to be governed from the left or right or even from the center; they want to be governed by themselves. Most people believe that the role of government is to empower them to make their own decisions. Itís something most people in America understand and most people inWashington gag on when they hear it.
LIJS: Is it all doom and gloom in the next five or ten years ahead?
SR: No, and the bright spots are drawn from history. The last time we saw polling this bleak was in the late 1970ís Ė and there wasnít anywhere near as much polling done then. The issues were stagflation, the Iranian hostage situation and the end of Jimmy Carter administration. Ronald Reagan came into office and never forgot his policies or anything else, he lifted the national mood.Afew decades earlier, Franklin Roosevelt came into office during the Great Depression and he lifted America. His economic policies werenít what got him elected or kept him in office. He went on the radio and gathered people together and lifted the national mood. He convinced America, weíll get through this together. Obama may do the same or someone else after him may. I hope it comes soon but remember that my perspective is much more on voters and individuals rather than on political leaders.
We make a mistake in American when we talk about public events as changing things. People donít change their opinion or attitude because of a speech on television one night. They change them based on their encounters with reality.
In 1775, the shot heard round the world didnít start the American Revolution. The American Revolution had been building for decades. The shot was a catalyst. When Rosa Parks didnít give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery, it didnít start the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement had been brewing for a long time. In each one of those cases public opinion came first then some event occurred that ignited a change, and then five or ten years later the politicians came around and articulated it and made a change. It was ten years after the American Revolution before we had a constitution, and the battle of Lexington and Concord took place before there was a Declaration of Independence.Women were voting in American for more than fifty years before Congress gave them the right to vote because states can make that happen. There was even a woman serving in Congress before Congress finally acted.
Political leadership didnít make these things happen. That notion is just wrong. Politicians were just reacting.
For the last four or five decades people have been voting for people who want less spending, less taxes. Every politician promises that. Barack Obama. Chris Christie. Thatís just part of how you win an election.
The last time government spending in America went down from one year to the next was in 1954. Elvis Presley recorded his first single that year. Burgers were eighteen cents. Consumer confidence was high.
So now weíve had fifty years of voters saying one thing and spending going the other way. Frustration is building up. Something is going to break that. The bailouts were really hated and thatís what ignited all the anger, not just for the tea party. That has led into this new wave of something Ė how or what will change it I donít know but something will come and that will restore our confidence.
Its history, itís happened before. To be a politician you have to defend the status quo. As things are changing beneath the surface, politicians are still back here as the public is moving along. A lot of politicians are behind the curve as things are moving forward.
Yes, I was a history major. I love history. I attended the University of Connecticut for awhile. I took a year off. I got my history degree at De-Pauw University and then an MBA atWake Forest. It was a long road.
Friday, April 01, 2011
Only 29% Think Baseball is Americaís National Pastime Baseball
has been described as ďAmericaís national religion.Ē But as a new season of Major League Baseball gets underway, most Americans arenít placing as much importance on the sport as they once did.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of American Adults shows that only 29% believe baseball is still Americaís national pastime, as it has long been considered. Forty-six percent (46%) don't view the sport that way, while another 25% are undecided.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
47% View Katie Couric Favorably
Following media reports that she plans to leave her post as anchor of the CBS Evening News in June, Katie Couric will exit with virtually the same favorable ratings she had when she started the job in 2006.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of American Adults shows that 47% have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of Couric, while 38% view her unfavorably. These findings include 18% who regard the anchor very favorably and the same number (18%) who see her Very Unfavorably. Fifteen percent (15%) have no opinion of Couric.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Inflation Fears Up, 87% Paying More for Groceries
Concern about inflation is increasing, as Americans say overwhelmingly
that they are now paying more for groceries and expect to pay even more
for them in the future.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% of
Adults are very concerned about the threat of inflation. Thatís up from
52% a month ago and 48% at the first of the year.
In addition to those who are very concerned, another 28% are somewhat
concerned about the threat of inflation. Just 14% are not very or not at
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Just 17% Say Professional Athletes Are Good Role Models
Professional athletes are often held to a different standard than other famous people because they are looked up to by children. But a strong majority of Americans donít believe theyíre doing a good job upholding their image.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 17% of Adults say professional athletes are good role models for young children. Fifty-seven percent (57%) disagree with that statement, while 26% are not sure.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
74% Say They Should Pay No More Than 20% of Their Income in Taxes
While a majority of U.S. Voters says the average American shells out 30% or more of their income in taxes, most believe they shouldpa y no more than 20%.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 52% of Likely Voters say, when thinking about all federal, state and local taxes, the average American pays 30% or more of their income in taxes. Thirty percent (30%) believes the average American pays 20%, while 10% say they pay 10% of their income in taxes. These findings show little change from early April of last year.
FAVORITE BOOK: "Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success," by John Maxwell. All of us make mistakes.Whatís important is how you recover from them.
FAVORITE LOCAL RESTAURANT: Brickwall. Itís a nice hideout and kind of a sports bar. I like the mini cheeseburgers or the French dip.
HOBBY: As a family, we enjoy sportinge vents Ė Yankees games, spring training, the NY Giants. I used to enjoy playing guitar too, but I donít have as much time for it. Our garage band in high school was Rebelís Confederacy. Anything with three chords, we could handle.
FAVORITE MUSIC: Classics like The Beetles, anything from that time Ė Alice Cooper, Harry Chapin. Being on the Jersey Shore,The Boss has to be on any list of favorite musicians.
PET PEEVES: In line with my work, when people disrespect public opinion. Americans are very smart if they think the issue matters, is relevant, and they think they can do something a bout it. Personally, I hate waiting in doctorís offices.
FANTASY DINNER PARTY: Being a history buff, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. In a different category, my wife likes Matt Damon movies so I guess we would have him too.
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