For a country that doesn't do so well in mathematics relative to other nations, we sure do love our political poll numbers. And this week we've had a spate (and a big spate, at that) of polls that show President Obama at the lowest point of his popularity. What to make of this? How will tonight's jobs speech affect the numbers?
Let's take a look
Gallup released a poll today showing Obama hitting a low point with whites, 33% approval, and Hispanics, 48% approval. He will certainly need those numbers to rise if he is to have any chance of being reelected.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Tuesday shows that 43% of those surveyed approve of the way that Obama is doing his job, while 53% disapprove. More than 60% disapprove of the way he his handling the economy and a meager 20% say the country is on the right track. These are indeed dismal numbers with which to begin his campaign for a second term. Here's a summary article on the poll.
Is the news all bad for the president? That depends. If you look more closely at the poll, you'll find that Congressional Republicans are doing worse. Only 28% of respondents approve of the way the Republicans in Congress are doing their job and 68% disapprove. Also, more people trust Obama with the economy than the Republicans in Congress by a 42% to 39% margin.
On the same day, Politico released its POLITICO/ George Washington University Battleground Poll which showed similar results to the Post/ABC numbers. From the article on Politico's website,
More Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, 50 percent, than approve, 45 percent — a drop of seven percentage points since May. Obama receives particularly low marks for his economic stewardship, with only 39 percent saying they approve and 59 percent saying they disapprove.
But to paraphrase Sally Fields, "They like Obama, they really like Obama!" That's right; 74% approve of Obama as a person and 48% say that he shares their values as opposed to 41% who said the Republicans shared them.
Politico goes further with it coverage by posting both Republican and Democratic spin articles on what the poll really means. Keep in mind that both parties live on the same planet when reading their brutally partisan analyses.
From the Republican response:
Of particular importance for this week, one of the key proposals floated for jobs creation, a federally subsidized infrastructure construction project, enjoys bare majority support during the time when these proposals are usually at their highest level of support. Given the tepid response to this proposal and the overall dissatisfaction that voters have with the performance of the President on the issues of jobs, whatever measures the President proposes in his speech on Thursday are dead on arrival.
The fortunes of Congressional Democrats are similarly bleak. The generic Congressional ballot is a statistical tie with 41% of voters selecting the Democrats and 40% selecting the Republicans. Given the significant advantage the Democrats enjoy in majority minority districts, this tie in reality represents a notable lead for the GOP.
From the Democrats:
In the latest poll, a 54% majority of voters would either definitely vote or consider voting for Obama in 2012. The Republicans are a weak, flawed alternative. All the Republican candidates have serious problems with high ratios of unfavorable feelings and more or equal numbers of voters who would definitely not for them. None has a base equal to that of the President. The outcome of the debt ceiling fight left a stain on the Tea Party, and only 22% of voters identify with them today.
You get the idea.
For a more sober, even-handed analysis, here's a post from Mark Blumenthal, who started the site Pollster.com, which was bought by the Huffington Post after the 2008 election. Blumenthal takes a more historical approach, noting that both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had higher approval ratings at this point in their presidencies and easily won reelection. He also cites an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that shows Obama leading Rick perry by 5 percentage points in a hypothetical match-up.
Our last stop in the pollisphere is the RealClearPolitics polling page that summarizes the latest polling from around the country. The numbers to watch are the Rasmussen Reports and Gallup rolling average polls which take averages over 3 days to show subtle changes in public attitudes. On Tuesday, both Rasmussen and Gallup had Obama's approval at 43%. I used that number because all 3 days of the poll occurred after the bad unemployment results were published on September 2. Wednesday's numbers were both 42% approval and today Gallup had Obama approval at 44% and Rasmussen at 43%. What this shows is that despite the unemployment report, Obama's approval is holding steady, but not at a point that would make him happy.
My sense is that all of these polls will ultimately represent the lowest numbers of Obama's presidency and that as he makes the case for a balanced approach to jobs and the deficit, he will garner more support. Tonight's speech will go a long way towards repairing his image only if he fights for what he says.