"Record low levels of unpopularity"

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"Reason For Optimism? Two Sides Talking On Debt Ceiling", NPR Morning Edition, 10/11/2013:

STEVE INSKEEP: What prompted Republicans to change course?

MARA LIASSON: They were losing. They were just getting battered politically. And here's a pretty good example of what was happening to the Republican political position. This is a new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll. By a 22 point margin the public thinks the Republican Party is more to blame for the shutdown than President Obama. That's a bigger margin of blame than the Republicans received during the last shutdown in 1995. The Republican Party is now at record low levels of unpopularity. Only 24 percent of people have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. The Democrats aren't doing much better, but at least they have a 39 percent favorable rating and they're not dropping like the Republicans. And here's the other thing. The president's approval rating actually went up in this poll.

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Is this one for the misnegation files? Well, since the quoted statistic is that "only 24 percent of people have a favorable opinion of the Republican party", it seems more appropriate to call it "record low levels of popularity". But you could also say that "their unpopularity is reaching record lows", I guess, so maybe it's a just a question of which side of the slide you're looking at things from.

[Tip of the hat to Ron Irving]


  1. D.O. said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    Maybe it's negative concord, which is more or less suggested by the second interpretation.

  2. Eric P Smith said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 8:00 pm

    When talking about negative matters, people never say things to satisfy mathematicians. The soccer team I support, Hearts, started this season on -15 points as a penalty for suffering an insolvency event in the close season. The papers keep saying things like, "Hearts have now reduced the deficit to -7."

  3. D.O. said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

    @Eric P Smith: And what's wrong with that? Deficit was 15 now it is 7, clearly reduced, no?

  4. Steven said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 11:50 pm

    Reminds me of this episode, caused by a Verizon customer service representative who didn't understand decimals.

  5. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 3:37 am

    DO. You said it correctly. A deficit is reduced from 15 to 7. A deficit can't be negative though (well, it could, but then it'd be a surplus), so you wouldn't ever reduce the deficit from negative fifteen to negative seven. Hence the mismatch that Eric mentioned.

  6. Adam Roberts said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 4:01 am

    What interests me about this is that the phrase 'The Republican Party is now at record low levels of unpopularity' clearly states that the Party's unpopularity is lower than it has ever been (and that logically therefore it is more popular); but at the same time it is clearly being read and understood by everybody as 'the Republican Party is now more unpopular than it has ever been.' I'd suggest it's impossible to imagine a regular Man-on-the-Clapham-Omnibus type person interpreting the phrase the first way, even though that is what it says. But why is this? Is it because the context of all these discussions steers us towards the latter reading pretty much regardless of how the sentiment is phrased?

  7. EndlessWaves said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 7:48 am

    I'd disagree Matthew, deficit isn't attached to any specific numbering system. The meaning is roughly 'the quantity you are short of to reach some specific target' and it says nothing about how that quantity is measured or specified. Certain fields such as finance do have their own conventions of course and will influence the best way to use it elsewhere but there's nothing wrong with positive or negative deficits if they make sense in context.

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 9:01 am

    Re the Hearts deficit: Some quantity has reduced from 15 to 7, and some quantity has increased from -15 to -7. By the 'deficit' I should naturally mean the positive quantity. Perhaps others might read it as the negative quantity. But no quantity can decrease from -15 to -7: that's an increase.

  9. Xmun said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    I don't know nothing about grammar and I don't see nothing wrong with 'The Republican Party is now at record low levels of unpopularity'.

  10. EndlessWaves said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

    @Eric P Smith: It depends on the quantity you're measuring, if you can look at it from difference perspectives then it may well make sense to talk of an decrease from -15 to -7.

    For a concrete example, look at stellar magnitudes in astronomy. Lower magnitudes correspond to brighter stars, so if a -15 magnitude star decreased in brightness could become a magnitude -7 star. The numerical value of the brightness has increased, but the actual amount of light has decreased.

  11. Eric P Smith said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

    @EndlessWaves: As a trained mathematician I guess I am programmed to see this one way only. For heavenly bodies, as brightness increases, magnitude decreases. As Delta Cephei brightens from magnitude 4½ to magnitude 3½, its brightness increases and its magnitude decreases from 4½ to 3½. As the moon grows from crescent to full, its brightness increases and its magnitude decreases from (say) -11 to -13.

    I don't think there's any real difference between us. I accept that it may make sense, in general parlance and in special circumstances, to talk of a decrease from -15 to -7. It's just that, as a mathematician, I wouldn't use the words in that way. As I said in my first comment, people don't always say things to satisfy mathematicians.

  12. Jon Lennox said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 11:02 am

    This reminds me of my perpetual confusion about what word to use when adjusting my air conditioning. If it's currently too hot in the apartment and I'm making it cooler, am I turning the air conditioning up, or down?

  13. Nathan Myers said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

    And is a 5000K light bulb warmer or cooler than a 2700K light bulb? Maybe the first is both hotter and cooler, the latter less hot but warmer.

  14. G Jones said,

    October 16, 2013 @ 8:15 am

    Great point, Jon.

    Kind of related but not really, when I move an event "up a week," is it now earlier or later than before? I always thought earlier, but I've met many people who think the opposite.

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