Obama's Approval Rating Gap

It is one thing to criticize Obama for his policies. It is quite another, the data over time suggests, to do anything that appears to criticize the man.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The latest Gallup poll finds that President Barack Obama remains more popular than his policies. A survey of 1,049 adults 18 years of age and older living in the United States found 54 percent view him favorably while 43 percent see Obama in a negative light. His favorability numbers, which relate to the man, not the job, have consistently been five to seven points higher in the Gallup survey than his job approval numbers, which measure what people think of the job he is doing as president.

What does that all mean?

Well, for starters, it means that the American people are naturally predisposed to like this president no matter what he says or what he does. In fact, with the possible exception of Nixon in 1968 and 1972, every presidential election since the end of World War II has been won by the candidate whom the voters sensed would be better company over a cold, frosty pint.

Kennedy, in 1960, was certainly more appealing and more likeable than Nixon. Reagan came across as more likeable than either Carter or Mondale. And Bill Clinton is still more fun than most of the folks in Washington today.

In 2008 Barack Obama, with all the historical considerations that surrounded his candidacy, came across as more appealing than Arizona Sen. John McCain, who could never quite get past his “Hey you kids--Get off of my lawn!” demeanor. [See who contributes to McCain.]

By contrast, presidential job approval numbers relate specifically to performance and are a measure of a president against himself. By engaging in a reckless spending spree, by failing to take command of the activities surrounding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and by jamming an unpopular health care bill that means higher taxes and fewer choices for most Americans while unemployment continues to be a national concern, Obama comes across--specifically to Republicans and self-described Independents, as not exactly being up to the job.

As a matter of politics, these numbers indicate that the Republicans must walk a fine line in their opposition to Obama.

If the GOP attacks on Obama remain focused on his performance as president--e.g. to question the way he has handled the current problem in the Gulf of Mexico, they will be on much safer ground politically than they would by suggesting that the offer of a job to Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak in exchange for his dropping out of the Pennsylvania Senate primary might constitute an impeachable offense.

It is one thing to criticize Obama for his policies. It is quite another, the data over time suggests, to do anything that appears to criticize the man--which may be the underlying reason why the president’s decision to forego the a Memorial Day wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery has not really moved his numbers down.

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