Friday, September 17, 2010

Barack Obama More Popular Than Television (Not)!

Thursday evening Chris Matthews had a discussion (transcript here; video, from clicker.com, here) with Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, now associated with The New York Times, and political analyst Charlie Cook who, unfortunately (given his observations) was the one with a clue. Here is the applicable segment:

MATTHEWS: OK, well said.

Let‘s go to President Obama. “Politico‘s” Battleground Poll finds 55 percent approve of him personally. But just 45 percent of the job he‘s doing.

A lot of people say that says he‘s got a reservoir, a reserve of popular feeling toward him, and then he can get his act together by next term, a year and a year and half from now, he can we can win this thing. Your thoughts with that, Charlie? In other words, the sentiment hasn‘t turned against him.

COOK: Well, the thing is, that number is a little different. Some—we‘ve seen some NBC/”Wall Street Journal” Polls that showed his personal rating and his job approval rating pretty closely—close together. It used to be a big gulf. At least in the polling, I‘m seeing not so much.

So, I don‘t know if that wide gap is out there. But you tell me what the unemployment rate is like in 2012 and what‘s going on in Afghanistan, and I‘ll tell you whether he‘s going to get re-elected or not.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You don‘t the sentiment doesn‘t matter then?

COOK: I think fundamentals matter.

MATTHEWS: Nate, your personal regard? Because I think personal regard played a big part in his election more than most candidates. People like him. They love his upbringing, the way he came up in life, the way he made it, the way he spoke, how he presented himself. I like the cut of this guy.

SILVER: Well, especially for unlikely voters, people who don‘t always turn out.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SILVER: But they‘re not going to turn out this year, necessarily. I mean, you can make a very good case Democrats will have a comeback at some point before 2012, maybe a big comeback. But one thing that might necessitate that is having lost a lot of seats this year. You know, a lot of the argumentation about Boehner and so forth seems almost preemptive toward 2012 when he probably will be—not for sure—majority leader.


Silver (sadly and surprisingly) and Matthews have fallen for the "but at least he's personally popular" myth about President Obama.

"Politico's Battleground Poll," as Matthews termed it, is actually the Politico-George Washington University poll, conducted by Republican Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. It recently asked (#11-17) respondents not whether President Obama is "approved of personally" but rather

Now I would like to read you the names of several individuals who have been mentioned in the news recently. For each one, please tell me whether you have heard of that person and if so whether you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of them. If you do not recognize the name, just say so.

The response, more favorable for Obama than for any of the other pliticians, came out as: strongly favorable, 32%; somewhat favorable, 21%; somewhat unfavorable, 13%; strongly unfavorable, 31%; no opinion, 3%; and never heard, 0%.

That would be, obviously (if your name is not "Chris Matthews") 53% favorable, with only 44% unfavorable.

Less favorable to Obama was sentiment expressed with the following question: "If the 2012 election for president were held today and you had to make a choice, for whom would you vote?" The result was : the Republican candidate-definitely, 31%; the Republican candidate-probably, 11%; the Republican candidate-lean, 3%; undecided 12%; obama-lean, 3%; obama-probably, 11%; Obama-definitely, 28%.

Presumably, and if the undecided vote were apportioned equally between Obama and his opponent, the President would garner 48% of the vote, the generic Republican, 51%. No doubt because Barack Obama is so well approved of.

Even less favorable to B.O. were results of two other polls. The first, conducted July 21-August 5 (before the President asserted a right for the near ground zero islamic community center), asked "what is Obama's religion?" As the first graph below indicates, 34% replied "Christian," 18% "Muslim," and 43% "don't know." For those keeping track at home, that's 61% who believe Barack Obama may be our first Muslim president.

A Time magazine poll, conducted after the President voiced his acceptance of the "Ground Zero Mosque" and including a question about the project, found "24% who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim. In all, just 47% of respondents believe Obama is a Christian; 24% declined to respond to the question or said they were unsure, and 5% believe he is neither Christian nor Muslim." Oddly, that resulted in more Americans realizing Obama is a Christian (although a few more believing he is a Muslim) than did the Pew poll (see Table 3, from stinkyjournalism.com). (Perhaps viewpoints had hardened and the slightly more realistic figures reflected the manner in which the question was asked.)

If the numbers were averaged, we would find that 40-41 percent of Americans believe that Barack Obama, who as a candidate drew considerable controversy from his association with a congregation of the United Church of Christ, is a member of a Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox Church. For those keeping track, that is under 50%. More than half of the American population is unsure to what religion the President belongs, or believe he is a Muslim, or that he is something else entirely. And that is not even considering the number of people who believe Barack Obama may have been born outside of the United States of America, which would render him constitutionally unfit to be President and an illegitimate President.

It's not as if Chris Matthews is unaware of these suspicions about the President who, apparently, still sends a tingle up his leg. Matthews constantly laments the vast number of individuals believing that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a foreigner. And yet, he believes President Obama is personally popular.

Personally popular? What we have here is proxy voting, wherein some respondents pan the President's views and/or performance as a substitute for saying they don't like him personally. Nowadays, some surveys conducted over the phone are done so without an actual human polltaker; the Pew poll, at least (I'm unsure of Time's methodology) was conducted by a living, human being. And it may not be easy for a caucasian to admit to that pollster that he/she does not like the first black president. There long has been insecurity about being called a "racist" (though not liking a particular individual, such as Obama, is no qualification); and (tongue firmly planted in cheek) didn't Barack Obama's election prove we're not racist?

According to the Pew survey, not only are many Americans unconvinced that Obama is a Christian, the number is increasing; from October, 2008 to August 2010, the percentage who believe he is a Muslim has increased from 12 to 18 while the number believing he is a Christian has plummeted from 51 to 34. (See Table 1; for pictorial representation of the change from 3/9 to 8/10, see Table 2, from it'snotjustme.com) Seventeen months as President of the United States and leader of the Free World- and more people than ever don't know who he is. That would be very unlikely were the bewilderment not a proxy- for people simply not liking Barack Obama.

Still, people say they have a favorable impression of Barack Obama. Surely, Chris Matthews believes, they must be telling the truth! Perhaps that's like the 57% of Americans who told Pew this year that a television set is not a necessity.... in a nation in which (in 2009) the average home had more televisions than people! Still, 57% say they can live without a television, a figure close to the 53% who tell a pollster that they like this fellow Obama.

Sixty-five percent of the nation (lower with Time) doubt President Obama when he insists that he is a Christian. They think he may be lying about his religion. And Chris Matthews and Nate Silver say the guy is personally liked by the American public.



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