Thursday, April 22, 2010

"does Gallup read" ? Does Eric Boehlert ?

Eric Boehlert asks "does Gallup read its own polling results?"

He quotes the Gallup Polling agency on Gallup polls "President Barack Obama's 48.8% job approval average for his fifth quarter in office is down slightly from his prior quarter, and ranks among the lowest for elected presidents' fifth quarters since World War II."

(emphasis mine).

Then he writes

Because here is a sample of fifth quarter approval ratings for some presidents since World War II. After reading, tell me if you think Obama's current standing is in any way unusual or newsworthy:

Obama: 49%

Clinton: 52%

Reagan: 46%

Carter: 48%

Ford: 47%

Truman: 44%

Note that no one named "Ford" has ever been elected President of the USA. In fact no one named Ford has ever been elected vice President either. I don't think many people in the USA approve of my job performance either (or disapprove). I don't belong on that list and neither does Ford.

Among Presidents who were ever elected since WWII, the group discussed by Gallup, Obama's 5th quarter numbers are 8th of 11. That is technically among the 5 lowest. More importantly, the three with even lower ratings averaged 3% less than Obama. That is tiny compared to the variance across Presidents in 5th quarter average ratings.

If one limits attention to Presidents who were elected before first taking office, three Presidents are to be excluded -- Truman, Johnson and Bush Jr. They were re-elected but took office before winning a Presidential election (Supreme Court coups don't count).

That leaves 8 with Obama third from last and only 1% ahead of Carter. Only Reagan did more than 1.5% worse than Obama.

This is very newsworthy. It shows our countrymen are insane.

OK it shows I disagree with a plurality of my countryment, since I rate Obama first by a wide margin.

update: Now I will argue against Gallup. Their statement was true. Boehlert's counter argument was based on cherry picking. He ignored the word "elected" and decided that "among the lowest" doesn't mean "among the lowest." However, I can contest Gallup's interpretation of Gallup's data. This is not an argument that they didn't read their archives nor that their claim is "just dopey." I can't defend Boehlert, but I can argue with Gallup.

1973. Things changed during the Watergate hearings. People in the USA lost trust in a President and faith in the Presidency. They haven't regained such trust and give Presidents a much harder time than they did before 1973. So I split the sample. This is special pleading, but it is not just special pleading as the loss of trust was a cliché much promoted by Gallup among others.

OK so let's look at Presidents elected since 1973. Obama is 4th of 6 and only marginally behind Clinton. Since 1974, no President not named George Bush has had a 5th quarter average Gallup approval more than 3% higher than Obama's. Obama's ratings are not surprising. The loss of faith in the Presidency since 1973 is not new.

9/11 makes the case of George Bush Jr irrelevant (aside from the fact that he had not won a Presidential election yet). 1989 was not an average year either and the glow lasted well into 1990 and there was a rally round the flag effect before the US entered the Iraq Kuwait war.

Even more importantly the unemployment rate is 9.7%. It is very clear that approval of the President tracks the economy even if it is obvious that the trouble isn't the current President's fault. It isn't news that people don't approve of the President when the unemployment rate is over 9%.

But Boehlert is definitely totally wrong.

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