Thursday, July 21, 2011

Obama the Overachiever

Frank Newport, the editor in chief of Gallup polls, expressed surprise that President Obama's approval ratings remain relatively high in comparison to what the pollsters would have expected given the state of the economy, and people's relatively pessimistic assessment of the way things are going in general. According to this report in the Christian Science Monitor, "'Looking at history, particularly Clinton and Reagan, it is somewhat surprising that [Obama] has never yet fallen into the 30 percent range in our approval rating,' Newport said. 'And yet both Reagan and Clinton, in their first terms when the economy was perceived as bad ... both fell into the 30s.'" Newport said they will be conducting some additional research to determine why this is so.

Here's part of the explanation from the Smartypants blog:
Perhaps some of us in the pragmatic progressive blogosphere could help you with that Frank. Could it be that a lot of people recognize that we have an over-performing President and an under-performing Congress? Could it be that some folks see who is "the only adult in the room?" Could it be because the opposition party that finally gained control of the House hasn't passed one jobs bill since getting elected - while the President goes all over the country doing everything he can alone on that front? Could it be that the "party of no" strategy combined with a willingness to take the entire global economy hostage in order to protect tax cuts for the wealthy does not fare very well up against a President who is willing to compromise with a balanced approach? Could it be that Americans are aware that this President walked into the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and has worked tirelessly to do everything he can to reverse that - while the opposition has only one goal: make him a one-termer.

In other words, could it be that the American public still has an ounce of sense left?
Pollsters and pundits also have to contend with a media narrative that always portrays President Obama as struggling or under siege. They fail to report the gigantic reserve of good will the public still has for the president, carried over from the 2008 campaign. We saw a superstar candidate carried into office by enormous rallies the likes of which have not been seen in modern history. Yet the media constantly portrayed the Obama campaign as in trouble or improbable. We see a president who still exudes confidence and a positive outlook. Yet this media narrative has continued over the past two-and-a-half years, reporting every administration success as surprising, and every difficulty as overwhelming. Recent media reports have emphasized that if President Obama doesn't manage to turn the economy around, or at least the the public's perception of it, prior to the 2012 election, his chances are in doubt.

I like to check the Gallup polling charts once in a while, and particularly to compare President Obama's popularity ratings to those of President Reagan. In contrast to Obama, the media narrative on Reagan always presented him as popular, perhaps because of his actor's charm and generally positive nature. In fact, however, Gallup poll numbers show that Obama's popularity has consistently stayed ABOVE Reagan's for the vast majority of their first two-and-a-half years in office. Both presidents were dealing with difficult economies during these periods, but I think most people would agree that today's situation is worse than the early 1980's. Despite a worse economy, Obama is still MORE popular than Reagan.What people like Frank Newport need to do is learn to put aside the prevailing media spin. Start thinking of Reagan as the struggling president, and Obama as the popular president, rather than the other way around, and these polling numbers might seem less surprising.

Maybe the pollsters and the media need to take a longer view of history as well. Instead of comparing President Obama's situation to that of Reagan or Clinton, perhaps they should take a look at President Roosevelt. We are dealing today with the aftermath of a recession that is more severe than anything seen since the 1930's. Granted that the 1930's were much worse, it is still useful to look at the enormous reservoir of good will that President Roosevelt tapped into during that period. Nobody expected him to turn the bad economy around by 1936, or even by 1940, and Roosevelt was overwhelmingly re-elected both times, despite a continuing bad economy, and a looming world war. Like Roosevelt, President Obama remains the most popular politician in the country. The media and the pollsters need to get over the idea that he is in trouble, and start understanding that he retains the confidence of the people.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to not take much stock in polls, because you could make a poll showing that most Americans believe the sky is purple at noon.

    One day 51% of Americans hate Obama, the next day 51% think he's the second coming.

    The fact is that Obama made a lot of promises that he couldn't keep, and people will remember that in 2012. All the people who bought the message of "change" have hopefully realized that one man cannot change an entire institution.