Stamp of approval: Media tout Obama polling falsehood

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Several media figures and outlets have falsely claimed that President Obama's approval rating is lower than that of most or all recent presidents, according to Gallup. In fact, Gallup itself recently reported that, by two different measures, Obama's approval rating is the second highest of any president since 1969.

In recent days, several media figures and outlets have falsely claimed that President Obama's approval rating at this point in his presidency, according to Gallup, is lower than that of most or all recent presidents. The falsehood is based on an apples-to-oranges comparison between an April 20-21 Gallup poll question that asked respondents to "rate the job Barack Obama has been doing as president so far -- excellent, good, just okay, poor, or terrible," and the historical results of the traditional Gallup approval rating poll question that simply asked whether respondents "approve" or "disapprove" of the president's performance. Based on its traditional presidential approval poll question, Gallup itself recently reported that Obama's average approval rating for the first quarter of his first year in office is the highest of any president since 1969 other than Jimmy Carter, and Obama's most recent weekly average approval rating is higher than the April approval ratings of every first-term president since 1969 other than Ronald Reagan.

The falsehood appears to have originated in an April 24 entry by Judith Apter Klinghoffer on George Mason University's History News Network blog, titled, "OBAMA'S POLL NUMBERS TRAIL THOSE OF W.; GALLUP COVERS IT UP." Klinghoffer asserted: "Gallup reports that 56% of the public believes that Obama is doing an excellent/good job. Gallup reported 62% approved of George W. Bush's job performance after the first 100 days." Klinghoffer then purported to compare Obama's approval rating to "the numbers for other presidents," writing:

Here are the numbers for other presidents:

April approval ratings in first year in office

Bush now 62%
Clinton, 1993 55
Bush, 1989 58
Reagan, 1981 67
Carter, 1977 63
Nixon, 1969 61
Sampling error: +/-3% pts

Newsday columnist and Fox News analyst Jim Pinkerton echoed Klinghoffer's assertion during the April 25 edition of Fox News Watch, stating: "Judith Klinghoffer, writing for the History News Network, made the point that Obama actually ranked seventh of the last nine presidents in Gallup poll opinion ratings. So seventh out of nine isn't so good." Pinkerton's remarks were also touted by the Media Research Center's NewsBusters blog. The Washington Times then repeated the assertion in an April 28 editorial:

According to Gallup's April survey, Americans have a lower approval of Mr. Obama at this point than all but one president since Gallup began tracking this in 1969. The only new president less popular was Bill Clinton, who got off to a notoriously bad start after trying to force homosexuals on the military and a federal raid in Waco, Texas, that killed 86. Mr. Obama's current approval rating of 56 percent is only one tick higher than the 55-percent approval Mr. Clinton had during those crises.

[...]

[F]ive presidents rated higher than Mr. Obama after 100 days in office. Ronald Reagan topped the charts in April 1981 with 67 percent approval. Following the Gipper, in order of popularity, were: Jimmy Carter with 63 percent in 1977; George W. Bush with 62 percent in 2001; Richard Nixon with 61 percent in 1969; and George H.W. Bush with 58 percent in 1989.

Additionally, during the April 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Republican strategist Kate Obenshain alleged, "there's a reason why Barack Obama is lower in any of the public opinion polls than any president at this point in his administration, than Bill Clinton. According to the Gallup poll, he is the least popular of anyone. And it's because people are worried about this massive expansion of government." TownHall.com columnist Janice Shaw Crouse also repeated a variation of the claim in her April 28 column, writing: "According to the Gallup Poll, this president is the second least popular president in 40 years. Even Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon had higher approval ratings at this point in their presidencies."

In fact, contrary to claims that Obama's Gallup approval rating is lower than that of most recent presidents, Obama ranks among the presidents with the highest approval rating at this point in their respective presidencies, when comparing the results of the Gallup poll question that asked whether respondents "approve" or "disapprove" of the president's performance.

Gallup published just such a comparison on April 17, and reported that Obama's average approval rating of 63 percent during the first quarter of his first year as president was "the highest since Jimmy Carter's 69% in 1977." The Gallup write-up included the following chart:

Gallup also recently reported that Obama's most recent weekly approval rating of 65 percent -- averaging Gallup's daily poll results from April 20-26 -- is higher than the April approval ratings (poll dates unspecified) of all presidents since 1969 other than Reagan. According to Gallup, Obama's previous weekly averages were 62 percent approval from March 30-April 5, 61 percent approval from April 6-12, and 62 percent approval from April 13-19. From Gallup:

Barack Obama's Most Recent Weekly Approval Rating Average 65% (Apr 20-26, 2009)

[...]

Other Elected Presidents in April of First Term:

George W. Bush 61% (April 2001)

Bill Clinton 55% (April 1993)

George H.W. Bush 58% (April 1989)

Ronald Reagan 67% (April 1981)

Jimmy Carter 64% (April 1977)

Richard Nixon 62% (April 1969)

John Kennedy 81% (April 1961)

Dwight Eisenhower 74% (April 1953)

In an April 24 entry on MSNBC's blog First Read, NBC's Harry Enten similarly reported that Obama ranks "near the top" when considering "Gallup polls taken within five days of [the] 100-day mark." Enten wrote: "Obama's 65% approval rating in the most recent daily Gallup poll ... is 7-10 points higher than the approvals of the last three presidents. Since Nixon, in fact, only Reagan's 68% is higher than Obama's current approval." His report was accompanied by the following chart:

Based on Gallup polls taken within five days of 100-day mark. Some ratings are averages of two polls taken in that period.

Charts presenting the Gallup approval ratings for every president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush are available here.

From the April 25 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch:

JON SCOTT (host): Day one, Barack Obama sworn in as our 44th president back in January; now, just days away from the 100-day mark. All right, Jim, how are the media going to observe this 100th day?

PINKERTON: Well, I mean, as President Obama has the benefit, he's the first black president to -- anything. And so it's always kind of exciting -- even people who don't like him are still sort of intrigued by him and his family and so on. But every now and then you have to apply some sort of metrics to get some grip on where we are. And Judith Klinghoffer, writing for the History News Network, made the point that Obama actually ranked seventh of the last nine presidents in Gallup poll opinion ratings. So seventh out of nine isn't so good.

From the April 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

OBENSHAIN: But this dishonesty or this little glimpse that we're seeing, there's a reason why Barack Obama is lower in any of the public opinion polls than any president at this point in his administration --

DONNIE FOWLER (Democratic strategist): That's Joe Biden, not Barack Obama.

OBENSHAIN: -- than Bill Clinton. According to the Gallup poll, he is the least popular of anyone. And it's because people are worried about --

MARK FUHRMAN (Fox News contributor): No, no, it isn't, Kate.

OBENSHAIN: -- this massive expansion of government.

FUHRMAN: They see the window.

HANNITY: All right. Here's --

FUHRMAN: They're starting to peer through the window.

FOWLER: Let the liberal have a chance.

FUHRMAN: They're seeing who he really is.

OBENSHAIN: I think that's part of it, but it's also about the initiatives.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, The Washington Times, NewsBusters
Person
Kate Obenshain, James Pinkerton
Show/Publication
FOX News Watch, Hannity
Stories/Interests
Polling
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