By Dave Andrusko
The headline to the analysis written by the much-respected Stuart Rothenberg was both provocative and (in my opinion) right on the money: “Are Obama’s Polls Worse than Meets the Eye?” (His answer is yes.)
I read that piece in Roll Call today with new eyes, after re-reading an article that ran in the Washington Post over the weekend, the gist of which was that the pro-abortion National Education Association would endorse the President although the thrill is gone (my paraphrase). Sure enough yesterday the NEA formally endorsed Obama, but the largest teacher union is rife with what reporter Michael Alison Chandler described as “rank-and-file skeptics of Obama, who ordinarily would be eager foot soldiers in a Democratic presidential campaign.”
So, on the surface, good news–that Obama has the endorsement of the 3.2-million-member union–and bad news beneath the surface– a serious enthusiasm-gap.
Likewise with Obama’s poll numbers—46% approval in a mid-June survey by the Pew Research Center. “On their face” (Rothenberg writes) they are “mediocre but not terrible.” He points out that Obama has much higher numbers than pro-life President George W. Bush did toward the end of his second term.
That’s the good news for Obama. It quickly goes downhill from there. Obama’s weakness are masked because his base—“liberal Democrats and African-Americans” (especially the latter)—have stood by him.
Rothenberg focuses on two key findings in the Pew survey.
First, against Sen. McCain, Obama carried Independents 52% to 44%. “In the recent Pew Research Center survey, only 42 percent of independents said they approved of the president’s performance, while 46 percent disapproved,” Rothenberg writes. Among White Independents, the numbers are even worse: 39% approval to 51% disapproval.
Independents are important almost everywhere but especially in pivotal states such as Ohio and Florida.
Second, Rothenberg zones in on a hugely important response: “46 percent of respondents think the economic condition of the economy is ‘poor,’ compared with 8 percent who said either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ and 45 percent who said ‘only fair.’”
Rothenberg finds it implausible that so many fewer Democrats (37%) say the economy is poor than do the 50% of Independents. Are Democrats doing better than either Independents or Republicans (52% of whom said the economy is doing poor)?
“The more logical answer is that Democrats chose to say things aren’t as bad as others see them because they wanted to be supportive of the president and understood that saying current economic conditions are ‘poor’ would be an indictment of Obama’s leadership,” Rothenberg writes.
His conclusion is that when we look at survey data, we remember that “Sometimes, our partisanship colors how we view reality, rather than our view of reality coloring our partisanship.”
This is keenly important to remember as pro-lifer Republicans compete for their party’s presidential nomination. While the ardor of the mainstream press for Obama may have cooled, they will prefer him over any pro-life Republican—a classic example of partisanship coloring how they “view reality.”
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