What does the right-track/wrong-track metric actually mean?

imageI recognize that most people with an intetest in politics are focusing on tonight’s presidential debate, which is as it should be.

For the moment I am fixated on a short piece Steve Benen wrote today on how people interpret the right-track/wrong-track measure which typically indicates that 70 percent of the electorate think we are on the wrong track.

Trump and his friends like to say this means we are in a “change” election cycle in which vast numbers of people are of a mind to kick out anyone currently in a position of power, especially those associated with our sitting president.

But maybe that’s way too simple, Mr. Benen opines. He writes that the answer to the question does not address what kind of change voters might want and what it is specifically they are unhappy about. For example:

If a poll respondent is unsatisfied with the country’s direction, is he/she a conservative who disapproves of President Obama or a liberal who opposes the Republican Congress? Or perhaps an independent who’s outraged by the rise of Donald Trump as a competitive presidential hopeful?

We know Mrs. Clinton is starting to put some distance between herself and Mr. Trump. We know increasing numbers of people are terrified of the kind of change Trump might bring. And we know President Obams is a pretty popular guy at this point in his presidency.

Sure, people want change but that fact tells us absolutely nothing about the kind of change they are looking for or who they think is best positioned to make it happen.

It reminds me of top line numbers on the popularity of Obamacare, which fail to separate out those who favour a single-payer system from those who prefer to let people who can’t pay for healthcare die in the street.

First you get the numbers and then you do the hard work of figuring out what they mean. Is that too much to ask?

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