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Forget The Conventional Wisdom: What The Numbers Really Say About President Obama


Forget The Conventional Wisdom: What The Numbers Really Say About President Obama


ABC News and the Washington Post have released a new poll indicating that the president is in trouble — and warn that both his standing and the Affordable Care Act hang over the 2014 elections. As ABC News’ Gary Langer put it: “Barack Obama starts his sixth year in office with the public divided about his overall leadership, dissatisfied with his economic stewardship and still steaming about his rollout of the health care law – all factors threatening not only the president but his party in the midterm elections ahead.

Dan Balz and Peyton Craighill write, “Obama’s general weakness and the overall lack of confidence in the country’s political leadership provide a stark backdrop to the beginning of a potentially significant election year.”

While the president surely needs to raise his standing and address many issues, this is a remarkably biased reading of their own poll. Too bad the last month has not fit the narrative of a failed president on a downward trajectory — like George W. Bush.

What is wrong with their interpretation?  It’s hard to know where to start.

  • They have the president’s approval rating at 46 percent. The average in all the polls is up, not down. Congressional Democrats would be quite content if the president’s approval rating were in the upper 40s. This is not a blip, but rather the trend based on multiple polls. Commentators should pay attention.
  • The congressional generic vote is even, but they failed to note that Republicans had taken the lead at the end last year — and that this is an improvement for Democrats.
  • Republicans in Congress are at a remarkable low, relative to the president and congressional Democrats. They are 18 points lower than the president on confidence and 8 points behind the Democrats in Congress. How could you ignore that in a congressional election year—especially when voters in this poll express a strong commitment to vote against incumbents? Did they pay attention to earlier polls from Democracy Corps that showed 50 percent (in an open-ended question) think Republicans are in control of the whole Congress?
  • Health care produced one of the more amazing contortions in the poll. They focus on Obama’s handling of the rollout and bury the fact that the country is evenly split on whether they favor or oppose the law. As we have said, the issue unites Republicans and is not a winning issue for them in 2014. Maybe the voters are paying attention to Congress’ failure to extend unemployment benefits and pass a minimum-wage bill— issues that have 60 percent support. Maybe there is a reason that Republicans’ standing continues to drag them down.

Many compare Obama’s number after his inauguration and make that the standard for his standing. He took a very hard hit that hurt Democrats. But his position is improving and health care is no wedge issue. The Congress is on the ballot in November, and I urge those reporting on polls to escape the conventional wisdom about the narrative.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski



  1. 4sanity4all January 27, 2014

    People who interpret polls put their own biases into the narrative, and the polls themselves are often skewed toward a particular result by careful wording of the questions. I don’t put a lot of faith in polls from certain sources for that reason. If you ask the wrong questions, you will get the wrong answers. For example, if you ask a question about the rollout of the ACA, everyone can agree that the Federal web site was a disaster. But if you fail to ask how people like having insurance that actually affords them medical checkups, tests, and ongoing healthcare, with no exclusions for pre-existing conditions, then you really do not know how people feel about the ACA. As Mr. Greenberg points out, people interpret poll results in illogical ways to get the ‘result’ they wish to push forward.

  2. Mark Forsyth January 27, 2014

    I’m glad that the Presidents numbers are up however,it would be a mistake to think there is any lack of folks who voted for him who are unhappy with his performance,especially when he put the social safety net programs on the bargaining table.

  3. howa4x January 27, 2014

    Polls are deceiving. Just ask Dick Morris, who as a FOX commentator had a poll that said Romney would win in a landslide. What the polls don’t really tell you is that there is a civil war brewing on the republican side between the moderates and the tea party/evangelicals. Each side is blaming the other for loosing the last election, and their primaries will be a slugfest. Meanwhile DeBlassio won the NYC mayors race as a true progressive and Democrat Terry Mc Califfe won the VA governors race. If Obama was such a drag on the ticket how did that happen? The republicans have offered no agenda of accomplishment, and repealing the ACA 44 times only gets a rise out of the FOX audience, whose average age is 68yrs old. The young people, Gays, Latinos, women and minorities view the republican party as being kryptonite. Republicans have no platform to speak to these groups and telling women their libido is out of control doesn’t help. The house hasn’t passed an immigration bill and if they do, it will be with a majority of Democrats and Boehner knows it. that’s why he won’t bring it to the floor. In another bit of bad new for the republicans a majority of Latinos see climate change as a threat, as does anyone who is not a republican. So the reality is that the republicans are on the hot seat and the shutdown didn’t help. Hold the line everyone, it’s not going to break.


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