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March 31, 2009

MSNBC's Poll Nuance

The spin on this one starts right in the lead:

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans who believe that the nation is headed in the right direction has roughly tripled since Barack Obama's election...
Okay. Let's stop there and go further down the story, to paragraph four.
The percentage of Americans in the new poll who said the country is on the right track still stands at just 42 percent...
Wait...42 percent? In the era of hope and change? That's pretty solidly below a majority. Maybe it's a plurality out of right track/wrong track/don't know. Let's see:
but that is the highest percentage saying so in five years and marks a sharp turnabout from last fall, when as many as nine in 10 said the country was heading in the wrong direction. Fifty-seven percent now consider the nation as moving on the wrong track.
Once you get past the 'yeah, but...yeah, but...' explanations helpfully provided by the reporters, the headline should really be, "Majority still believes country on wrong track, despite Obama election." The reporters spin valiantly, pointing out that the 'right track' number is higher than it's ever been but that doesn't change the fact that the candidate of hope, change and optimism has yet to convince a majority of Americans that the country is on the right track.

The story mentions that independents are "less solidly" behind Obama than they once were, but here's what that really means:

Obama's overall approval rating among independents has dipped six points, to 61 percent, and fewer than half, 45 percent, said he is doing a good job of handling the deficit...

...after two months of vigorous debate about his stimulus package and ambitious budget blueprint, confidence has decreased by 13 points among independents...

...the percentage of independents siding with Obama has dropped 12 points, to 50 percent. Many of those independents in the new poll said neither has the upper hand in the economic debate. About a quarter of independents align with the Republicans on this question.

This could provide an opportunity for the GOP, if they're smart enough to take it. The poll does show that GOP attempts to paint Obama as just another tax and spend liberal are being crushed under the steamroller of the president's rhetoric. People want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt.

Still, the overall numbers look pretty good for Obama, right?

Well, yes. Until you consider the partisan split of the poll, found in the data.

Democrat: 36%
Republican: 25%
Independent: 33%

Even with an 11-point advantage among Democrats, Obama cannot convince a majority that the country is on the right track or that his approach to spending and the deficit is correct. Even with that huge advantage, only 27% say the economy is getting better, while 36% say it's getting worse. There is improvement in those numbers, but nothing like what should be expected given the lopsided partisan split. The relative softness of these numbers show that Obama is having trouble convincing people of his own party that his policies are correct.

Keep that partisan split in mind the next time you hear a journalist proclaim that Obama still has strong approval ratings in the country. Ask yourself how many of those statements are based upon Potemkin village polls like this one. Obama is doubtless still more popular than the Republicans, but the press is doing him no favors by trying to paint rainbows over dark clouds.

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posted by Slublog at 08:21 AM

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