Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 6, 2009

'POLARIZING'.... The Pew Research Center released a poll a few days ago showing -- surprise, surprise -- Democrats like President Obama a whole lot more than Republicans do. In fact, according to the Pew report, Obama "has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades." There's a 61-point partisan gap -- 88% of Democrats approve of the president's on-the-job performance, while 27% of Republicans say the same.

This has led more than a few conservatives to argue today that this gap is, of course, the president's fault. Peter Wehner argued, for example, "It became apparent quite early that bipartisanship was a fictional commitment for Barack Obama; shutting Republicans out of negotiations and promoting what ranks among the most left-wing domestic agendas in our lifetime was all the evidence some of us needed. Apparently most of the rest of the nation understands that as well."

First, I hardly think it's accurate to say that "most" see the president is overly partisan. In reality, most of the nation approves of Obama's job performance, and remain unconcerned about partisanship.

The 61-point partisan gap in the Pew survey, while obviously large, is partly the result of Democratic satisfaction. As Andrew Sullivan noted, "The percentage of Republicans approving of Obama at this point is almost identical to that approving of Clinton in 1993." Obama is, therefore, more "polarizing" because he enjoys more support from Democrats now than Clinton did 16 years ago.

Indeed, Michael Dimock, Pew's associate director, told Greg Sargent that conservatives are misreading the results of the survey when they blame Obama for the broader dynamic, calling their conclusion "unfair."

Dimock says the divide is driven by long term trends and by the uncommonly enthusiastic reaction to Obama by members of his own party -- by what he calls "the way Democrats are reacting to Obama."

Interestingly, Dimock also said this phenomenon is partly caused by the recent tendency of Republicans to be less charitable towards new Presidents than Dems have been.

In contrast to the 27% of GOPers approving of Obama now, more than a third of Dems (36%) approved of George W. Bush at a comparable time in 2001. Before that, only 26% of Republicans approved of Bill Clinton at the same time in his presidency, while 41% of Dems approved of both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan at comparable times.

"Polarizing" is an overly used buzzword, anyway. For most of his second term, George W. Bush wasn't polarizing; he was just spectacularly unpopular among almost every group and constituency. Dems, Republicans, and independents couldn't wait for Bush to go. But at least he wasn't polarizing!

Obama, in contrast, enjoys fairly broad support, including more than one in four Republicans. Conservatives want to say that makes the president "polarizing"? Whatever makes them feel better.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Pew's associate director, told Greg Sargent that conservatives are misreading the results of the survey

Misreading, my ass. They are distorting, not misreading. This is misreading in the same way that Fox News is Fair and Balanced.

Posted by: MsJoanne on April 6, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

But also, the percentage of people identifying as Republican is at a low. Those who self-identify as Republicans are hard core right-wingers. It stands to reason that a greater portion of the rats still on the ship would disapprove. Some of the folks who would have called themselves Republican several years ago - and who would have approved of Obama's performance - now call themselves Independents, or even Democrats.

Posted by: christor on April 6, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Obama may be the subject of polarization. Limbaugh and the party of Zero are the cause.

Posted by: Danp on April 6, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Polarizing" is an overly used buzzword, anyway. For most of his second term, George W. Bush wasn't polarizing; he was just spectacularly unpopular among almost every group and constituency. Dems, Republicans, and independents couldn't wait for Bush to go. But at least he wasn't polarizing!

I think the data show that this remark is mistaken. The gap between Democratic and Republican support for Bush was extraordinarily large before September 11, except maybe for a fairly brief period after September 11, remained so.

Posted by: Tacitus on April 6, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

What a partisan gap! Yet, it signifies nothing when the Republican party is reduced to a 22% minority nation-wide after the 2010 election cycle!

Any pundit discussion of bipartisanship needs to start with the Republicans unwillingness to compromise, or to take seriously its minority status within the halls of government. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 6, 2009 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus made my point.

I can't imagine ReThuglicans EVER giving a Democrat an even break seeing what they did to Clinton. After all, he was practically a DINO, ending welfare and deregulating Wall Street.

Posted by: Cal Gal on April 6, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal, the worst part about what they did to Clinton was the fact that the repeated hatchet jobs that they tried to pull off were never really reported by any mainstream press.

They literally threw lie after lie after lie out there in the hopes that something would stick for 8 years. And nobody really knows how badly they lied. It's pretty disgusting.

Posted by: dk on April 6, 2009 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Given that the dwindling number of self-identified partisan Republicans is little more than a hate-filled, angry circle-jerk of Southern white boys, I'm not surprised.

Posted by: doubtful on April 6, 2009 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

As Christor said, the number of people self-identifying as Republicans is at an all-time low.

The numbers that will give a better view of what non-insane conservatives think come from self-identified independents since they'll be the people who left the Republican Party in disgust but don't have any interest in becoming Democrats.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 6, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Looking at the chart, Obama's numbers are the inverse of Bush's -- 87% of Republicans approved of W back in 2001, along with 56% of independents. Now 88% of Democrats approve of Obama along with 57% of independents.

This of course means that the United States is a center-right country.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 6, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal - Bill Clinton a DINO. I call bullshit. Bill Clinton was a center-left politician who operated under very different circumstances. Considering what he had to work with, I think he did a hell of a job. I'll be goddamned if the progressives are going to push the rest of us democrates out of the tent. So, when Obama takes on entitlement reform, is he going to get labled a DINO?

Posted by: Scott F. on April 6, 2009 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on April 6, 2009 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

somebody should tell mhr about Austrian German.
what a dumbass.

Posted by: merl on April 6, 2009 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

shutting Republicans out of negotiations and promoting what ranks among the most left-wing domestic agendas in our lifetime was all the evidence some of us needed. Apparently most of the rest of the nation understands that as well.

So, "the rest of the nation" in this context is people who don't think Obama is promoting an extreme left-wing agenda? And most of them understand that Obama isn't really bipartisan? I suppose that may be true (approval and viewing him as bipartisan aren't synonymous), but I don't think 70+% approval from non-Republicans is really an indicator that people who didn't dislike his agenda to begin with think he is too partisan.

And for the record, I think it's about time for the most left-wing agenda of my lifetime (31 years). That's a pretty low bar.

Posted by: ibid on April 6, 2009 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

So, when Obama takes on entitlement reform, is he going to get labled a DINO?

If by "entitlement reform" you mean "gutting Social Security even though the timeframe for it to become 'insolvent' constantly moves further into the future," then yes.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 6, 2009 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

christor and mnemosyne are correct. A sensible "polarization" score needs to be weighted by population. If 50% give someone a 90 and 50% give him a 10, that's a lot different than 80% giving him a 90 and 20% giving him a 10.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on April 6, 2009 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Dems, Republicans, and independents couldn't wait for Bush to go. But at least he wasn't polarizing!

Alas, you are attributing a level of sanity to Republicans that is incorrect. When Bush left office, he enjoyed a plurality of approval from the Republicans (57 percent). His overall rating was 22 percent, with 6 percent of Democrats approving of his "leadership."

The only reason Republican politicians couldn't "wait for him to go" was because of the drubbings their party had endured as the majority of the American people woke up to what was happening to the country.

Posted by: zhak on April 6, 2009 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

A parochial "bubble" mentality is one of the most recognizable characteristics of the Right Wing world-view. In its most extreme form Right Wing thinking confines adherents to live in their own worlds where they do not accept -- and cannot even comprehend -- thinking that differs from their own. This is why media like FOX and talk radio that caters to this narrow worldview do so well in the ratings, relatively speaking, because it is the flag around which right wing culture gathers.

And it is because of this mentality that right wingers tend to view and to judge everything around them in their own terms. Unlike Obama they cannot put themselves in their opponents shoes. Thus, President Obama's bi-partisan outreach efforts early on were judged a failure -- not because of the quality or sincerity of the efforts themselves but because Republicans and conservatives rejected Obama's efforts virtually unanimously. They did so mostly for their own ideological and partisan reasons. But in typical right wing fashion Obama got the blame because he did not cave completely to the right wing position. That is how the right defines bi-partisanship -- appeasing them completely.

The same holds true for the results in this survey. According to right wingers Obama is judged to be the most polarizing president of the 20th century -- not because of anything Obama himself has done but because right wingers for their own reasons have decided to reject a president who seeks to moderate American politics.

Unlike George W. Bush, Obama does not use wedge issues to deliberately divide the nation. He does not demonize opponents or call them names like defeatists, traitors, appeasers. That does not matter. Even though the Right Wing has been defeated in the past two elections it refuses to accept the verdict of the People. The Right continues to blame everyone but itself for its loss ("America is still a center right country") and behaves as if it was still in control. Thus, the right judges Obama not by his willingness to compromise (since compromise is not in the right wing lexicon) but by his unwillingness to enact the right wing extreme agenda. Right wingers -- being right wingers -- think their extremism is really mainstream and they turn into FOX and Limbaugh and the rest of the conservative echo chamber who are happy to validate them in this delusion each and every day.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 7, 2009 at 6:38 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly