Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 3, 2009

A WORD ABOUT OBAMA POLLS.... A couple of days ago, Pollster.com's aggregate approval rating for President Obama slipped below 50% for the first time. Given the president's up-until-recently strong support, and the challenges associated with a major White House policy push when the president's numbers are moving in the wrong direction, the dip below the majority threshold raised a few eyebrows.

A few thoughts on this.

First, the Pollster.com aggregate includes some fairly dubious pollsters -- "Zogby Internet," for example, has Obama's approval rating at 42% -- all of which drag down the president's overall average. As of this afternoon, the Pollster.com aggregate has Obama at 50.9% approval, 44.5% disapproval. If we filter out suspect Internet polls and Rasmussen, Obama shifts to 52.7% approval, 41% disapproval.

Second, it's not as if Obama's numbers are in free fall. Gallup's daily tracking poll has the president's numbers up five points -- 50% to 55% -- over the last week. McClatchy has Obama at 56% approval; CNN has him at 53%; and CBS has him at 56%. The recent media buzz has been about the president's steep decline, but approval ratings in the mid-50s, in the midst of a weak economy, two wars, and blistering attacks on his signature domestic policy? That ain't bad.

And third, it's really not worth obsessing over these numbers anyway, at least not at this point. Maybe we're seeing the beginning of a new upswing for the president, or maybe his numbers will slide back down soon. Maybe there's a short-term post-Kennedy bump; maybe the base is rallying behind Obama in the face of right-wing craziness; maybe a lot of things.

The bottom line is these minor fluctuations aren't terribly important. I don't want to be a hypocrite here; I'd be lying if I said I didn't keep an eye on the numbers as they're released. But there are going to be ups and downs, which aren't nearly as significant as larger, broader trends.

If the goal is to see the president's numbers rise, policymakers should pass health care reform. Success begets success.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Comments

In a logical, reality based world, Obama's numbers would be soaring amongst indies and GOPers and tanking with the base.

After all, we're the ones he disappoints daily.

Posted by: howie on September 3, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

With Zogby and Rasmussen in but viewed with high sensitivity to the trend, there is a clear bounce. Take those two out and keep high sensitivity, there is a bounce and the approval is over 54%.

By the way, is there ANY basis for screening out adults with a likely voter model right now? After all it is more than a full year until the midterms and the usual likely voter model skews the sample toward Republicans. (And, yes, Rasmussen and Zogby both report LV numbers. The more reputable pollsters do not.)

Posted by: Amy on September 3, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

the inventory of opinion is a nice propaganda tool.

Posted by: neill on September 3, 2009 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you're interfering with the narrative, dammit!

I was watching CBS News the other night, and heard Harry Smith say "The president's poll numbers continue to slide...down to 56%". I was screaming at the TV: Those were roughly the numbers Clinton and Reagan had the days they were comfortably re-elected. And, as you say, this in the teeth of significant economic downturn, historically the prime mover in any president's approvals. (CBS has really become unwatchable in terms of presidential/health care coverage. A week or so ago, they referred to Betsy McCaughey as "a Democrat", and last night they had Bob Dole explaining Obama shouldn't have let Congress write the health care bill -- 180 degrees from what he told Clinton in '94, a point left unexpressed by the interviewer)

I've always been loath to consider TV news divisions as totally in the pocket of corporations, something I know some here have long believed; I've generally taken the "never attribute to venality what can be excused by stupidity or laziness" approach. But their insistence Obama is collapsing -- in such sharp contrast to the way they propped up Bush for so long in so many ways -- makes me willing to think the worst.

Posted by: demtom on September 3, 2009 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

If the goal is to see the president's numbers rise, policymakers should pass health care reform. Success begets success.

Since Dick "51% means mandate" Cheney declared the only presidential opinion polls that matter are the ones conducted every four years, I consider the topic closed to debate.

Obama won 53% of the popular vote.

Posted by: Monty on September 3, 2009 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

The question to ask is; WHY are his numbers down?

Is it because people are rejecting his policies?
Is it because Obama seems to be walking away from campaign promises?
Is it because of the relentless Republican negativity machine?
Is the lack of effective push back from the White House?

I don't think its number one. Obama was elected advocating a relatively clear set of policy goals. I'd argue his numbers are dropping because he's walking back on those promises and he's not fighting back hard enough against the Republican machine. He's letting the Republicans define him and his policies.

Posted by: thorin-1 on September 3, 2009 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

i notice pollster has two polls: "job approval" and "favorable ratings." the latter has "unfavorable" numbers about 5 points higher than "disapprove."

pollster doesn't include rasmussen in the "job approval."

Posted by: dj spellchecka on September 3, 2009 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Obama needs to have the courage of his convictions.

Posted by: SteinL on September 3, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's numbers are falling because once again the right , aided an abetted by the corporate controlled republican leaning media, has seized control of the narrative.

Additionally, there are probably some in the Obama admin. that are siding with the insurance lobbies (Rahm anyone??)

And last but not least, progressives simply do not have a loud enough voice.

Progressives will never, EVER win the debate of hearts and minds until they build an apparatus of think tanks, media conglomerates, etc., that the conservatives have built.

Posted by: citizen_pain on September 3, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I gotta believe the Obama camp long ago concluded that passing Health Care reform might cost him in the polls. As would taking on the nat'l debt, Social Security or Immigration. Those 4 horsemen have been long ignored because, among other reasons, they are difficult and unpopular.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on September 3, 2009 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who didn't expect President Obama's poll numbers to drop during the healthcare reform process, wasn't in the real world. Healthcare was and is an extremely difficult social shift that impacts people at an emotional level. There is much at stake for healthcare industry corporations, all those who benefit from the status quo, and for those who accept their political donations. Because it is an emotional issue, it is subject to smears, distortions, and lies that produce fears, anger, and hate. We've seen it all; the opposition has pulled out all the stops. How delighted they must be that even Democrats are starting to lose faith that reform will succeed!

Democrats are getting all PO'd because the healthcare reform bill may not include everything they want. It shows that they refuse to accept the way Washington works. Even with a majority, we're not going to get all the changes we want in the first bill. Democrats can either decide to be mad as hell because they won't get single payer and may not get the public option, or they can be happy to pass a bill that includes ending a lot of waste, establishes electronic health records, provides guaranteed affordable universal coverage for all Americans, and restricts health insurance companies to hold down costs and forbid them from denying or dropping coverage for pre-existing conditions or illness. Those are huge steps forward!

What is most important is getting a healthcare reform bill done now to include as many improvements as possible. Then consider it a Democratic victory, not a disappointment. Let it prove to be a Democratic success story. Obama's poll numbers will rebound. Then work on refining the bill over the next several years. That's how change happens in Washington.

Posted by: Carol A on September 3, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

It's the picture over the past seven months that doesn't look very good (not just recent blips and dips). There's a steady decline in the Obama's approval ratings from highs in the mid-70s after elected to the low-50s today. Down almost 25 points in seven months, steady and true. His decline is perhaps the worst of any president's during the first year in office (someone said Clinton was worse).

At this rate, he'll be in Bush territory by the end of the year. And it is significant. Significant of the fact that Obama had a chance to take charge and fight to win the issues he asked voters to believe in. In too many cases he's doing the opposite of what he promised regarding ending the war, enforcing economic fairness, creating jobs, and reforming health care. The decline in his approval numbers is the direct result of those failures.

Posted by: NealB on September 3, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Face it
Obama has shown complete INEPTITUDE !!

Too busy trying to be Bi-Partisan to really lead

Obama wouldn't define his HCR proposal
So the Republicans and the Tea Baggers defined HCR for him

REAL SMART

STOP BING BI-PARTISAN !!
Use RECONCILIATION to RAM THRU a Democratic HCR bill

We may have electeed the WRONG DEMOCRAT

Posted by: MSierra, SF on September 3, 2009 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

"At this rate, he'll be in Bush territory by the end of the year."

That assumes that all trends go one way, occur at a constant rate and don't reverse. None of those assumptions make sense -- and aren't backed by the recent shifts upward in job approval.

Posted by: Mainer on September 3, 2009 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

reading the comments from NeilB and thorin-1 makes me wish that the kos folks would cross tab their polls by ideology...it would be great to be able to see if the dropping numbers are being driven exclusively by conservatives or if liberals and moderates are bailing too

Posted by: dj spellchecka on September 3, 2009 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Remind me again: Bush spent his last three years at less than 32%. Three friggin' years! This level of support is below or equal to the hard core republican base.

It should also be mentioned that a few percent of Obama's negatives come from people like me who want more of the old Obama and less of the new.

Posted by: tomj on September 3, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

We may have electeed the WRONG DEMOCRAT

Finally the constantly shrieking PUMA gets to his or her real message.

Posted by: Susan Johnson on September 3, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

He is never going into Bush territory, so why sweat the polls? We are going thru a period when the American public has its head up its ass, the Republicans have succumbed to hysteria, so settle for 50% and ignore them.

Posted by: bob h on September 3, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

fyi...

52% is pretty much double the approval of the guy who had the job at this time last year..

Posted by: mr. irony on September 3, 2009 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

i'm not sure there's ever been a president who had approval ratings go up during a recession: let's not let the focus on health-care keep us from remembering that many americans vote their pocketbooks.

that said, i haven't "approved" of obama since his FISA sellout, which i pointed out (much to the chagrin of many starry-eyed obama fans) at steve's old place was a clear indication that obama was going to be a centrist and not a progressive (how it is that so many people ignored this and are now shocked that obama isn't a progressive is beyond me).

so i wouldn't be surprised if one part of the phenomenon of the polls is more people like me: if i had to vote tomorrow, i'd of course vote to re-elect obama, but that doesn't mean i approve of his approach. i don't.

Posted by: howard on September 3, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

There really isn't any difference between an approval rate of 50.9%, 52.7%, or even 59.2%. In Obama's case in particular, if his approval rate was 9.2% or 92%, he would still be searching for ways to make his opponents (instead of his supporters) happy.

Posted by: qwerty on September 3, 2009 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Barack Obama is a failure and a disappointment. He sold hope, built up hopes, and has steadily deflated them. I am completely devoid of hope today.

Posted by: ghillie on September 3, 2009 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

so i wouldn't be surprised if one part of the phenomenon of the polls is more people like me: if i had to vote tomorrow, i'd of course vote to re-elect obama, but that doesn't mean i approve of his approach. i don't.

Points taken, howard -- all of them -- but 2012 isn't the issue. 2010 is. The greater Obama's favorability, job approval, & right track numbers, the better the chances that Democrats sustain their margins during midterm elections. 2012 is still several political lifetimes away.

Posted by: junebug on September 3, 2009 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

which i pointed out (much to the chagrin of many starry-eyed obama fans) at steve's old place was a clear indication that obama was going to be a centrist and not a progressive

You and about 100 others. I don't know why you keep insisting in thread after thread that you're the only person to discern the bleeding obvious.

Posted by: Susan Johnson on September 3, 2009 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK
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