Reading The Tea Leaves On The Latest Polling Data

by John Hawkins | March 4, 2009 9:43 am

There has been a lot of excitement from Barack Obama supporters about a new poll that shows he’s more popular than evah[1]!

After Barack Obama’s first six weeks as president, the American public’s attitudes about the two political parties couldn’t be more different, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds.

Despite the country’s struggling economy and vocal opposition to some of his policies, President Obama’s favorability rating is at an all-time high. Two-thirds feel hopeful about his leadership and six in 10 approve of the job he’s doing in the White House.

“What is amazing here is how much political capital Obama has spent in the first six weeks,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “And against that, he stands at the end of this six weeks with as much or more capital in the bank.”

…In the survey, 68 percent have a favorable opinion of the president, including 47 percent whose opinion is “very positive” — both all-time highs for Obama in the poll. Moreover, 67 percent say they feel more hopeful about his leadership and 60 percent approve of his job in the White House.

Yet the percentage of Americans who are confident that Obama has the right goals and policies for the country — 54 percent — is slightly smaller, suggesting that the president is more popular than his policies are. An example: 57 percent tend to support the stimulus, compared with 34 percent who tend to oppose it.

Still, these attitudes about Obama have helped fuel a big jump in the percentage of Americans who believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction, according to the poll. In January’s NBC/Journal poll, 26 percent said the country was on the right track; now 41 percent think that.

…These high marks for Obama come at a time when Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the economy. Only seven percent say they’re satisfied about the state of the economy, which is an all-time low in the poll. What’s more, a whopping 76 percent believe the economy still has a ways to go before it hits rock bottom.

First of all, this poll is an outlier. A quick look at the latest polling numbers across multiple agencies at RealClearPolitics[2] reveals that Obama is running in the low sixties on other polls of adults and in the fifties in polls of likely voters (average 59.8%)

Why was the poll an outlier? Probably because they dramatically oversampled Democrats. When you look deep into the guts of the poll[3], you find that the breakdown was 43% Democrat & 30% Republican.

Meanwhile, over at one of the best polling agencies in America, Rasmussen, they find that the current party breakdown is 41% Democrat vs. 39% Republican[4].

The race between Republicans and Democrats has once again tightened up in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot. For the third time in the last four weeks, Republicans have pulled to within two points of the Democrats.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 41% of voters said they would vote for their district’s Democratic candidate while 39% said they would choose the Republican

…On the generic ballot, men now favor the GOP by a 42% to 37% margin, while women continue to support the Democrats, 45% to 35%.

Nine percent (9%) of both Republicans and Democrats say they would vote for a candidate of the opposite party. Among unaffiliated voters, 35% would vote Republican and 25% would vote for a Democrat.

First off, as to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, they so heavily oversampled Democrats that their results are meaningless. I could produce a poll that shows Obama’s approval in the thirties if I just polled Republicans, but that wouldn’t tell you anything about how popular he really is.

Setting all that aside, poll data is just a snapshot in time and without understanding how to interpret it, it doesn’t mean that much.

Here’s what I’m seeing when I look at all this data.

* Obama’s numbers are likely to continue to drop, but they will still be inflated for another month or two because of the honeymoon period. Even people who are growing increasingly unhappy with his performance will continue, for a while longer, to say that they approve of him so that they feel like they’re giving him a fair chance. But eventually, that grace period is going to end.

* That two point difference in party ID should be making the Democrats very nervous. Before the last election, they had a 10 point advantage in party ID. On the other hand, if you look at the historical numbers,having only a one or two point advantage in party ID for the Democrats is bad news and would probably translate into significant pick-ups in Congress for the GOP.

* It’s also worth noting that according to Rasmussen, unaffiliated voters break towards the GOP by a significant margin. Again, they may not want to turn on Obama already, but the verdict on his policies is clearly negative overall.

So, why is this happening? Obama is pushing radical, unpopular policies and it’s driving Republicans back into the fold and Independents to the right, although, because of the honeymoon period, Barack’s personal approval numbers haven’t taken a big dip — yet.

If Obama continues to push radical, unpopular policies — and it appears as though he will — and the economy stays bad through 2009, which would definitively prove that the stimulus package was a huge failure, the electoral consequences for the Democrats in 2010 could be enormous. As always, time will tell.

  1. he’s more popular than evah:
  2. RealClearPolitics:
  3. deep into the guts of the poll:
  4. find that the current party breakdown is 41% Democrat vs. 39% Republican:

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