By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Have you heard the one about how Barack Obama is one of the least popular modern presidents—less popular even than the villainous George W. Bush? There are a couple of big problems with the assertion: First, it's nonsense, second it's meaningless.
First regarding veracity: The Washington Times ran an editorial Tuesday gleefully skewering Obama as being "in the basement" popularity-wise:
President Obama's media cheerleaders are hailing how loved he is. But at the 100-day mark of his presidency, Mr. Obama is the second-least-popular president in 40 years.
They go on to list the Gallup approval ratings for the presidents since 1969 when, they say, "Gallup began tracking this." I'm not sure what "this" is, because Gallup has tracked presidential approval since FDR. In any case, from Nixon forward, the Times argues, only Bill Clinton (55 percent approval) has scored lower ratings. They peg Obama's approval rating at 56 percent. There's only one problem: Gallup put out a release today (the 100th day) pegging the president's approval rating at 65 percent. Oops.
Maybe the Times transposed the numbers? Well, no. The poll it cites gives not a straight approve/disapprove figure but breaks the answers down with greater granularity, including "just okay" (23 percent). The figures to which the Times compare it (and the one released by Gallup today) are straight approve/disapproves, without the muddled middle.
So here, using Gallup figures compiled by the invaluable American Presidency Project at U.C.-Santa Barbara and the most recent release, are the presidents since Eisenhower, in order of "100-day" popularity:
|John F. Kennedy||83%||5%|
|George W. Bush||62%||29%|
|George H.W. Bush||56%||22%|
FDR is not included because Gallup's earliest figures date to well after his 100 days; Truman, Johnson, and Ford were omitted for not having their 100 days come after being elected as president. (For the record, a month after his 100th day in office, Truman's approval rating was 91 percent; at around his 100th day, LBJ sat at around 77 percent; and Gerald Ford, whose initial 70 percent approval rating plummeted after he pardoned Nixon, was at around 48 percent when he reached the synthetic milestone.)
Anyway, the point is that after 100 days, Obama is not one of the least popular presidents in history (and no, he's not less popular than George W. Bush). He's pretty much where you'd expect a president to be at 100 days. Which gets to my second point: Like the broader 100 days benchmarking exercise, poring over approval data right now has little present-day value. There's simply too much that will happen in the next 1,000 days for this to be meaningful. (Also consider the spread of opinion polls currently available; if you're a conservative you feel pretty good about Rasmussen and Marist each giving him 55 percent approval while if you're a liberal you put much more stock in CBS News/New York Times and ABC News/Washington Post , which give him 68 percent and 69 percent respectively.)
Now, Obama has gotten a lot of press for being very popular. Is this because the press is in love with him or part of a liberal media cabal to fool people into thinking they like him? No. It's because 65 percent approval is high (even if it shouldn't be unexpected). And add to that that he has gotten off to a fast start (for better or worse).
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