A Gates Effect?
Did President Obama accelerate his public image problems by venturing into the racial politics swirling around Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s arrest in Cambridge?
That's the intriguing contention found in an analysis from the Pew Research Center: in their new poll, Obama's overall approval rating among whites tumbled seven points from just after his press conference last Wednesday through the weekend, as the focus turned increasingly to his handling of the situation. The percentage of whites who "like" the kind of person he is fell by six.
In a callback survey Monday evening, more than twice as many whites disapproved than approved of how Obama was handling the matter (45 percent disapprove, 22 approve, 33 percent don't know).
Of course, many things were shifting in Washington at the tail-end of last week when Pew was interviewing for this poll, but the new numbers are stark, as the Gates story took up nearly a third of total newshole by Friday, according to a separate analysis by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
On health care, the week's still-dominant issue, Obama slipped five points among whites from Wednesday and Thursday nights to Friday and the weekend. On other specific issues, the changes were smaller, or nonexistent.
Another caveat is that Obama's slippage in the polls predates the brouhaha over the Gates incident, with Obama on a downward trajectory for the month. Regardless, among other goals for this evening's beer summit with Gates and arresting officer Sgt. James Crowley, Obama may hope to douse any flames of discontent stoked by his handling of the situation.
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