Sunday, August 21, 2011

For Whom the Pols Poll

President Obama's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low,
sinking below 40% for the first time, according to a recent Gallup

New data showed that 39% of Americans approve of Obama's job
performance, while 54% disapprove. Both are the worst numbers of his

Yet a scant three months ago, Obama’s approval rate was at 56 per
cent, the highest for the President since 2009.

The job picture was just as bleak. The economic news was just as bad.
His relationship with the Republicans was just as sour.

So why were his numbers so much better in May? Three little words:
Osama bin Laden. The death of the Al Qaeda leader at the hands of
U.S. forces in Pakistan, resulted in a major popularity boost for the
commander in chief.

From this we can extrapolate the following:

(1) Perhaps if Mr. Obama would spend more time playing whack-a-mole
with terrorists, rogue nations, European banks, Wall Street critics,
intransigent Republicans and Tea Party activists, his reelection
would be assured.

But more accurately, (2) polling is rarely the measure of a man.
Instead it is a snapshot in time that can change rapidly and
dramatically as the political winds shift.

Indeed, Obama’s approval ratings were higher than God’s in May. A
poll conducted by the research firm Public Policy Polling found that
52 percent of Americans approved of God's overall dealings, four
points below Obama.

God's approval rating exceeded that of House Speaker John Boehner,
R-Ohio, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But it
lagged behind Oprah Winfrey who scored a 60 per cent approval rating.

This means, of course, that an all-seeing, all-knowing God not only
has a sense of humor but He believes in our First Amendment right to
free speech. Otherwise, the Public Policy poll would have resulted in
plagues of locusts and frogs.

For us mortals, polls remain an enigma, worshiped by journalists,
candidates and political scientists, but correctly viewed with
skepticism by the public.

President Obama’s roller coaster popularity ride is a good example.
So is former President George Bush whose disapproval rating at one
point was 71 per cent, making him the most unpopular chief executive
in modern history.

But after he left the White House and published his memoirs, Bush’s
popularity soared to 45 per cent. Either he was misjudged or we are a
very forgiving country. I suspect it was the latter.

Some polls produce worthless information. Take the case of Texas Gov.
Rick Perry who rode roughshod into the presidential rodeo last week.
In multiple polls, Perry trails Obama by an average of 11 percentage
points. Bad news for Republicans? Not necessarily. Perry lacks name
recognition outside of Texas. Check back in another month to see how
he fares.

Polls are often more useful for a candidate to judge the electorate
than the other way around.

Consider that President Obama and his opponent probably understand
that they face an uphill battle convincing the American public that
either one knows how to run the country.

A recent CNN poll asked voters if the policies proposed by Republican
leaders in Congress would move the country in the right direction.
Fifty eight per cent said no.

Asked if policies proposed by Democratic leaders would move the
country in the right direction, 53 per cent said no.

The overall Congressional approval rate was 13 per cent.

Let the campaign promises begin.

Some polls simply get it wrong. The most famous case involves the
Literary Digest which conducted a poll regarding the likely outcome
of the 1936 presidential election.

The poll showed that the Republican governor of Kansas, Alf Landon,
would likely be the winner.

But come November, Landon carried only Vermont and Maine; U.S.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt carried the then-46 other states.

The magazine was discredited because of the poll and was soon

What happened? The magazine had surveyed its own readers, a group
with disposable incomes well above the national average of the time
(shown by their ability to afford a magazine subscription during the
Great Depression). It also used two other readily available lists:
that of registered automobile owners and that of telephone users.
Again, because of the Depression, both groups had incomes well above
the national average of the day, which resulted in lists of voters
far more likely to support Republicans.

When it comes to polls, remember the sage words of Robert Orben:
“Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections
is to find out if the polls were right?”

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