April 23, 2009

What Bias?

So I'm reading an AP article about an AP poll that shows just how wonderfully people think Barack Obama is doing as he nears his first 100 days. Here's a sample:

In a sign that Barack Obama has inspired hopes for a brighter future in the first 100 days of his presidency, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe the United States is headed in the right direction — compared with 44 percent who disagree.
Now there's a sign of objective journalism. It gets better:

Nobody knows how long the honeymoon will last, but Obama has clearly transformed the yes-we-can spirit of his candidacy into a tool of governance. His ability to inspire confidence — Obama's second book is titled "The Audacity of Hope" — has thus far buffered the president against the harsh realities of two wars, a global economic meltdown and countless domestic challenges.
And these:

The AP-GfK poll suggests that 64 percent of the public approves of Obama's job performance, down slightly from 67 percent in February. President George W. Bush's approval ratings hovered in the high 50s after his first 100 days in office....

Just as many people say Obama understands the concerns of ordinary Americans. That's a sharp contrast to Bush, who won re-election in 2004 despite the fact that 54 percent of voters on that Election Day said he cared more about large corporations.

Well...there you go. Everything will be fine. He's doing much better than that other guy.

Now far be it for me to expect the AP to include all sides of the numbers. Maybe they figured no one would be interested in reading the actual poll results. And few people probably will. Good thing I'm here to do it for you. Here's a few things I found...

First of all, the poll (like a lot of AP polls, I've noticed) isn't quite as balanced as you might think. Twice as many surveyed consider themselves to be Democrat (36%) as Republican (18%). When pressed, 10% of independents stated they leaned Democrat and 9% stated they leaned Republican. That means we end up with 46% Dem. and 27% GOP, if my math is correct. That becomes important, not only because the group polled is woefully unbalanced in favor of the left, but because the AP article implies that everything's copacetic. Do the numbers bear that out? Let's see...

A larger percentage does think the country is on the right track, but just barely--48% as compared to 44% who think we're on the wrong track. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1%, which seems to me to make those numbers pretty darn close. And since the political makeup of the group isn't close, those numbers don't seem as favorable as the AP would have us believe. For example, if everyone who claimed to be/lean Democratic was behind the president, and all those "no affiliation" people split evenly, I would think the numbers would be around 60/40 that we're on the "right track." The fact that it's actually a dead heat doesn't inspire me.

What about approval ratings? That is split about 60/40, which is what you'd expect; however, one thing is notable: Obama's approval rating has gone down 10 points since January, and his disapproval rating has doubled, from 15% to 30%. And more importantly, the number who strongly disapprove has tripled from 7% to 22%! Does that sound like "a sign that Barack Obama has inspired hopes for a brighter future" to you? Yeah, me neither.

More nuggets:
  • More people disapprove than approve (57% to 38%) of the way congress is handling things.
  • Obama does get a majority who approve of the way he handles the issues, but most of them break down along that 60/40 split.
  • One thing that surprised me was that 65% said that they disapproved of the job the Republicans in congress were doing with the economy, with 39% strongly disapproving. I guess it makes sense if Republicans aren't voting along party lines, but I still would have thought the number would have been a little lower, considering they're outnumbered in both houses.

To be sure, there are some positive results for Obama here, but are they enough to warrant the glowing interpretation from the AP article, especially since the current Rasmussen poll says 57% of likely voters think the nation is heading in the wrong direction? (I couldn't find the breakdown of those polled.)

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