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Parsing the Polls: Obama on the Right Track

A new Associated Press poll that shows more Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction than think it is on the wrong track for the first time in seven years lands in the political arena at just the right time for President Obama.

With his 100th day in office next Wednesday, every news organization in the country is preparing a series of pieces that analyze what Obama has done and how it has been received. (The Post's David Broder and Time's Joe Klein did their -- largely laudatory -- versions this morning.)

The release of a poll that shows such a drastic turnaround in national optimism is sure to influence the coverage over the next week in a way that accrues to Obama's benefit.

Take, for instance, the lede of the AP story on the poll results. It reads:

"For the first time in years, more Americans than not say the country is headed in the right direction, a sign that Barack Obama has used the first 100 days of his presidency to lift the public's mood and inspire hopes for a brighter future."

But, aside from its impact on how the 100 days is covered by the media, what does the new AP poll really tell us about the state of the politics and the country?

That all depends on your partisan stripes.

Democrats immediately seized on the right track number -- 48 percent, up from 40 percent in an AP poll in February -- as a vindication of Obama's agenda; in a release from the Democratic National Committee touting the results, deputy communications director Hari Sevugan described the poll as a sign of the "leadership of President Obama and the progress he has made in laying a foundation for change since taking office."

Mark Penn, who handled polling for former president Bill Clinton as well as the presidential campaign of former senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), offered a somewhat more nuanced analysis, arguing that the AP poll reveals "widespread confidence in President Obama's leadership of the country." Penn added that while Americans "may not yet fully agree with his policies....they fully stand behind his leadership."

Republican pollsters were far less willing to take the AP poll as a sign of the successes of Obama's first hundred days, taking issue with its methodology and its meaning.

On the methodology front, Neil Newhouse, a partner in the GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies, noted that the Democratic party identification advantage in the survey was +18, far higher than the seven point margin for Democrats on election day. Newhouse also took issue with the fact that the AP sample is of "adults" -- a broad category that isn't necessarily predictive of future election results.

Jan van Lohuizen, who handled polling for former president George W. Bush during the 2004 election, said the results of the AP poll were simply a reflection of Democrats strongly aligning with Obama.

"Now that the Democrats are in charge, Democratic voters are more likely to say 'right direction,' while Republicans traveled in the opposite direction," said van Lohuizen. "You could simply conclude that the right direction is up because there are more Democrats." He did concede that the poll likely reflected a more optimistic outlook from Americans on the economy but warned "I would not over-interpret this one, however -- it is mostly partisanship."

No poll exists in a vacuum. The AP poll may paint an overly optimistic view of the successes of the president but it jibes generally with a series of data that shows strong majorities (60 plus percent) of Americans approving of the job Obama is doing and similar numbers expressing confidence in his ability to handle the economy and foreign policy.

In other words: the honeymoon continues.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 23, 2009; 2:23 PM ET
Categories:  Parsing the Polls  
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Republicans are in the same position that democrats were in after Bush vs. Gore.
With a few exceptions:
The 2000 election was decided by Jeb Bush and the supreme court. This election was decided by the common people, including the whiners.
The winner of the 2000 election was a disastrous loser for the American people.
Even the complainers will have to agree.
This time the best man won, and fairly.
In time he will prove his worth.

Posted by: seemstome | April 24, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Looks like a lot of posters are still in denial.

Posted by: nwsjnky1 | April 24, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Odd, that statement that most Americans endorse Obama's agenda. Most of the people I know most assuredly do not. And that includes people from all over the country.

Posted by: Lilycat1 | April 24, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Add Mass. Gov Patrick to the list of Dem's going down. He joined Corzine and the Brady Bunch crazies, too, and the result is a 57% poll today of voters that "positively will not" or "likely will not" vote for him. Idiots. Worse and worser, Rasmussen is announcing a poll result that has better than 70% of voters seeing Big Business and Big Government (viewed as Democratic government, now) as cooperating *against* their interests. If that trend holds true, you can stick a fork in the Democratic control of the House and Senate, because it is OVER. Note to the DNC and Obama - the people, those men and women who voted you into office, thought they were electing POPULISTS. Either start acting like populists, pass some real protectionist laws, end outsourcing and flat out kill every guest worker visa, or you're going to join your fellow citizens in the unemployment line.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | April 23, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

like a friend of mine said "With the left offering unilateral disarmament ,appeasment,apologies,bizarre foreign policy,deference,aid,and comfort to our enemys as well as disrespect to our friends,CRUSHING FUTURE DEBT,inflation,pork,voter fraud,full rights and privileges to illegals,complete lack of ethics or the desire to enforce them,socialized medicine,social experiments with the military and assaults on virtually every aspect and amendment of our constitution,whats not to like about them ?..............Genius!!!!!!

Posted by: jszcoffey | April 23, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

with evryone drunk on the koolaid lord forbid another 911 type attack on U.S. soil we would find out how popular our fearless leader is real quick ,fast,and in a hurry

Posted by: jszcoffey | April 23, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

what sucks is the president of the U.S. shaking hands with a lowlife P.O.S. commie dictator like chavez ,who 24 hours before the meeting said "the united states empire is on its way down and will be finished in the near future,inshallah!" the democrats have outdone themselves this time

Posted by: jszcoffey | April 23, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

And by the way all you Obamaites, I looked over the AP poll. What a kettel of crap. Bloated stats showing an eight percent increase in favorability of Obama and a four percent increase in unfavorability, compaired to what? Still, no report of the geographical area polled, the time of day or who conducted the poll or what type of poll it really was?

Again, anyone can create a poll to make anything look good. It was clear the AP artical showed a heavy slant in favor of Obama. I am sure AP is part of the NBC/ MSNBC/GE liberal media who is in favor of cap and trade taxes and giving government contracts to GE. I sincerely hope that republicans stall just long enough and don't prevent Obama from giving these contracts to GE, because the impeachment of Obama will be celebrated. The transparency he promosied is only done when he thinks he is making himself look good. Actually the corruption in the media and GE promoted Obama to president as we know with no doubt that Obama wanted cap and trade long before he became president. I am positive GE was looking to promote someone to president using their corrupt media and Obama, coming from the political climate he did, Chicago and demonstrating the poor judgement he exercised in those who he choose to run with, Blago, Wright and others in the crime familys, Obama was only too egar to accept the position. Obama doesn't work for the United States, he works for GE.

Posted by: Chris561_561 | April 23, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

"I would wager that TARP is neither understood nor liked by most people"

Well, the major argument against it is that we should not be helping out the irresponsible bankers. To me, anyone who says that is missing the point. TARP wasn't born out of a love for corporate bankers, but out of a necessity to get credit flowing again. If people were to make the argument that TARP will fail in restoring credit flow, then yeah, there's a point. However, no one is making that argument.

Posted by: DDAWD | April 23, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Who would trust an Associated Press Poll? Seriously, if I wanted to make anyone look good, I would poll areas where I knew the support would be good or favorable. Since the author didn't take the time to get into any specifics about the poll, I can assume he just took the numbers and ran with them to write this article. If the reporting was good, something should have been mentioned about the geographical area. Was the question asked by phone and if so at what time of day? What cities were polled? What geographical area? What is the margin of error? Who conducted the pool? Was it ACORN? How do we know someone wasn't paid off, like how consumer reports accepts advertising dollars to promote one product more favorable over another so sales people have something to talk about with a customer?

I hardly can believe the poll was honest. Since no transparency was offered, I can't believe the poll, but I am sure Obamaites will cheer this article even though it is disappointing to a reader who is interested in the truth. Truth is, there is nothing provided for me to believe the numbers are accurate and anyone buying into this garbage lives in the dark and couldn't possibly call themselves educated to say the least.

Posted by: Chris561_561 | April 23, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Talk about hype! I find this whole thing about the first 100 days absurd. I guess it was designed as a result of the 24-hour news cycle needing something to report about. It is way over the top. I guess the next thing will be a 200-day report and so on. I'll be happy just to see good, honest, in-depth reporting. I want to see the kind of reporting that exposes the lies and reports the facts. I want to see the kind of reporting that enlightens rather than dumbing down to the lowest possible audience.

Posted by: EarlC | April 23, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

To "TheBabeNemo":

The Repub. operative's quote is hilarious: ("Newhouse also took issue with the fact that the AP sample is of "adults"."). But I think what he meant was, if the AP had polled overage, still-immature, grumpy adolescents who never grew up or developed the ability to think for themselves, then they would have reached a different result!

Posted by: Dan4 | April 23, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

re: "100 Days" presser


Mr. President:

The Senate Armed Services Committee report on "enhanced interrogation techniques" used at Guantanamo stated at least twice that detainees were subject to "induced physical weakness and exhaustion."

The report also stated that detainees were subject to "physiological and psychological pressures" and "environmental manipulation."

Has your administration inquired as to what "induced" these effects...

...and whether detainees were exposed to microwave radiation devices such as so-called "directed energy weapon" discharges... or any other type of radiation, including X-rays, gamma rays, sonic waves, or laser "dazzlers"?

If detainees were exposed to radiation, does that not constitute "torture" and "cruel and unusual punishment" in and of itself?

OR (if links are corrupted):

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 23, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

The infatuation with polls is disturbing.Their reliability is suspect,their limitations are unsettling,and their purpose is moot.This having been stated,honest and fair-minded Americans of all political persuasions accept a change-oriented America free from the deceptive and degrading modus operandi of the previous administration.Less than 100 days into the Obama administration leaves a lot of room over the next 3.5 years for the polls to fluctuate on any number of issues.The moral of the story: don't take any poll too seriously.The country will be headed in the right direction not by virtue of poll results but by the virtues of its people.

Posted by: klowry57 | April 23, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

"it is obvious to even the blindest cult-democrat that obama has been doing nothing but stumbling and bungling, yet america(?) thinks he's on track?"

clearly most americans are smarter than you. that's not hard to figure out.

Posted by: drindl | April 23, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

gee, i love these "prove it" entries:
"he begin right out the gate by ignoring the greatest concerns of america: the war and the economic situation and dug in looking to appease the GITMO gang"
---no he did not. We cut and ran, under Bush, in Afghanistan and now we have to re-commit. In fact, Taliban is attacking the Pakistan capital as we speak I believe.
--Iraq, he set the deadline and this one will be followed, unlike ones in the Bush administration.
---GITMO gang - love those enhanced interrogation techniques that were against the law but we did anyway because dickie cheney wanted it.
-the economic situation - (that Bush began) has a wonderful law to address it (along with about 3 other laws signed now). Did you happen to read all 1104 pages of it?

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 23, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

this is another example of why so many of these media concerns are doing so poorly and some going out of business imo.

it is obvious to even the blindest cult-democrat that obama has been doing nothing but stumbling and bungling, yet america(?) thinks he's on track?

the country is optomistic - - americans always are no matter what the situation. but obama has failed miserably.

he begin right out the gate by ignoring the greatest concerns of america: the war and the economic situation and dug in looking to appease the GITMO gang.

his second dig in was making the wrong choices for 99 percent of all his appointments.

each person chosen - hillary not with standing - has been a disaster and the WRONG person for the job and new revelations begin to surface weekly - Sebilus being the latest one to lie about the money she got from donor-doctor.

americans know better. you say he's on track and the people know you are again glazing over the real problems instead of being honest about them.

=obama being praised for the pirate situation:: turns out it was obama that gave orders not to shoot otherwise the Captain would have been saved the first time he jumped, but obama was making sure he kept the enemy safe. there was outcry and he finally on FRIDAY and SATURDAY changed his position and was forced to order a more forceful solution.

=abroad he bows to the enemy

=in France he gets warm welcome only to be ridiculed as soon as he left French soil

=in Cuba he claims hes turned page with Cuba only to have Castro CORRECT the record and say obama "misunderstood Raul's intentions and that they were NOT on board."

Posted by: ChooseBestCandidate | April 23, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Bsimon, I guess the real point is, most of them SAY they ARE being 'bipartisan' -- Cantor included. But what they DO is something else.

Posted by: drindl | April 23, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

This is a major misreading of a poll. It appears that Obama's doctors got ahold of the results and only highlight what they wan you to. Go look at the raw data!

Since the Inauguration, Obama's "strong" approval rating has remained pretty constant, only dropping from 41 to 38, but it is a consistent downward trend. The somewhat approve has fallen from 28 to 22. And, in an interesting twit, they rolled in "leaning approve" into the "approval" category (5), and they get the magic number of 64. Using respected statistical techniques that approval number ought to be 59. Worse, the strongly disapprove number has gone from 6 to 22 and the total disapproval has gone from 14 to 30 (and, the "lean disapprove has remained constant at 4). The margin of error for this poll, by the way, is a whopping +/- 8.1%!

More worrisome, the number of voters who think that Obama is out of touch or does not understand the problems faced by ordinary American's has doubled; and the focus of this mistrust is the economy, unemployment, and immigration, all by a 90% plus margin. The Democratic Congress, moreover, is in even worse shape. Their approval ratings on these key economic issues has fallen by half and their disapproval rating is presently at 65 vs 29 approving. Worse, by an overwhelming 79, respondents think that the Democratic-Obama economic plan is too expensive and too prone to failure, leaving us even worse off. ANd, here is the clincher, the respondents expect results by the end of this year. In other words, if the economy hasn't turned around and employment figures pick up significantly by next January, both Obama and the Democratic Congress are sunk.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | April 23, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

"TARP was created by Bush and Paulson.

Just thought I'd mention it."

True enough. But it is a critical component of the track we're on - whether Obama created it or not.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 23, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

"Hilarious, bsimon, how do they come up with these things?"

Politico reports that Cantor came out of the spring recess with a new, bipartisan attitude. If its real, I think it makes sense. Anyone paying attention can see that they're not gaining ground they way they're operating now. The Repubs would be smart to follow Cantor's lead. I doubt they will.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 23, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans still don't get it. Now they want to force the renaming of the Democratic Party to the "Democrat Socialist Party".

Which I think is fine because I think the GOP should be renamed the "Rethuglican Nazi Party"

Posted by: hayden1 | April 23, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

". I would wager that TARP is neither understood nor liked by most people..."

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 23, 2009 2:54 PM | "
TARP was created by Bush and Paulson.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Posted by: JRM2 | April 23, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

dbw1 writes
"Interestingly, I don't recall many people (especially in the media) spending much time in the early part of this decade labeling Democrats the 'Party of No' for never jumping on in support of Bush's agenda."

That's because the Dems didn't do a whole lot to fight the Bush admin in the early part of the decade. After the country was attacked, everyone rallied to the President - the Dems largely didn't question anything at all. Only a few lonely voices resisted the Patriot Act or the rush to invade Iraq. The Dems on important committees like Foreign Relations and Intelligence rolled over like dogs looking for a belly rub - Sen Rockefeller for certain, others as well.

In short, it wasn't until hurricane Katrina demonstrated how incometent the Bush administration was that the Dems grew a spine. They utterly failed to even attempt the role of 'loyal oppostion' before that time. The Repubs very effectively managed public perception such that anyone questioning the CiC or war policy was branded as some kind of unpatriotic terrorist sympathizer. So, in short, your memory is selective if you think the media let the Dems escape the label of 'party of no'. They didn't deserve it, so they didn't get it. The GOP ran roughshod over the Dems, who never knew what hit them.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 23, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"your name just might find its way on to a list of potential 'right-wing terrorists'."

and if you are calling the president of the united states 'the enemy' and a 'terrorist' you might just belong on list of potential terrorists, mightn't you?

Posted by: drindl | April 23, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"Cantor Call for Bipartisanship"

Hilarious, bsimon, how do they come up with these things?

Posted by: drindl | April 23, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

((too funny))

......"Newhouse also took issue with the fact that the AP sample is of "adults" -- a broad category that isn't necessarily predictive of future election results"

oh heck no....if they polled the "young adults", Obama's approval rating would be off the charts...
and chapped all the lily white repulsives' patooties!!!!

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 23, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

"[Republicans] are getting clobbered on being all negative, all the time."

Interestingly, I don't recall many people (especially in the media) spending much time in the early part of this decade labeling Democrats the 'Party of No' for never jumping on in support of Bush's agenda.

I don't recall many people spending a lot of time telling Democrats how they needed to 'move to the middle', and scold Democrats to just go along with Bush when Bush's approval ratings were high (and Bush's high water mark in the daily popularity contests is still higher than Obama's, a fact the media for some strange reason doesn't mention).

If Republicans are in power, dissent is honorable and 'fight the power' is a rallying cry. If Democrats are in power, dissent is scandalized and your name just might find its way on to a list of potential 'right-wing terrorists'.

Posted by: dbw1 | April 23, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

When you have a history of pandering to the polls.. you might coincidentally line up with them.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 23, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

The link to Politico's story on Cantor, "Cantor calls for Bipartisanship:"

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 23, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

At first glance.. I assumed we were going to discuss Light Rail.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 23, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

It seems a few Repubs are starting to realize that they need to work - at least a little bit - with the President if they have any hope of electoral gains in 2010. Yesterday in Politico, Eric Cantor (R-VA) was quoted as saying that they (Repubs) needed to find a few issues on which they can agree with the President, and pick their battles more carefully. That's smart politics. They're getting clobbered on being all negative, all the time. The challenge Cantor focuses is that he's up against people like McConnell, Cornyn, Ensign, Gingrich and Limbaugh that have no apparent interest in compromise or teamwork.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 23, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Does the Post plan to print any articles or opinion pieces about the 'outrage' over UAW workers continuing to receive 100% of their pay during the 2-3 month shutdowns? Their pay, of course, is now coming directly from the pockets of taxpayers.

Wouldn't it be more fair to the rest of us poor Americans for the UAW worker's to have give back at least half of the, what, $80/hour they'll be paid for not working?

I know, I's in their contract. But I thought all the liberal outrage over wages at AIG taught us that contracts don't matter in the day and age of bailouts.

Chalk another one up for Washington Post's liberal-leaning hypocrisy...

Posted by: dbw1 | April 23, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

tsk tsk chris.....((slap))
but, all polls do exist in a vacuum.
where ya been?

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 23, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Kool-Kat nailed this. The more the right wingers listen to Fox and Rush the more out of touch they are with reality. That is why I only give the GOP a 1 in 4 chance of surviving as a party. If the party thinks it can win if it only gets back to its basics all is lost. The world has changed and they must change with it. But I guess conservatism is resistance to change. One only has to look at the countries demographics to figure out our country has changed and the Republican Party has not.

Posted by: bradcpa | April 23, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Nice to see the rightwingnuts more and more isolated in their own little, shrinking box.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | April 23, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

The leftist Pew Research Center, in a survey, found Obama "has the most polarized early job approval (rating) of any president" in its 40 years of polling -- with a 61-point difference between Democrats who approve his performance (88 percent of them) and Republicans who approve it (just 27 percent). So much for Obama as a bipartisan, post-partisan, non-polarizing unifier

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 23, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

They neglect to mention that the poll was sampled from populations in Iran, Palestein, N Korea, Somalia, Talibanistan, Massachusetts, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Al quedastan and Manhattan.

and the capitol of moonbattery - drivlstan

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 23, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I would hardly say that this is a full embrace of Obama’s policies but I would say most people do support him and the GOP is left in the dust. Obama has stated we have problems, problems caused by the policies of the previous administration and most people agree. Most people know the problems are not a figment of their imagination as Phil Gram famously said and Obama acknowledges reality that there are problems. After the past eight years of denial this is refreshing to the American people. He has put forward policy solutions and the GOP has just put forward “NO!”. He has held out his hand only to have it slapped. I am not sure there was a problem with polling to many Democrats as a problem with the GOP messaged of double down on their conservative policies. I am not sure that there are not more Democrats in the country today than there was on Election Day and that my GOP friends is something to worry about.

Posted by: bradcpa | April 23, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Only Fox polls mean anything :)

Posted by: htruman | April 23, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Parker wrote:

"It's obvious that Americans have fully embraced the Obama agenda."

Unless you were being witty in some way, I disagree.

I do not fully embrace the Obama agenda. Nevertheless I would have been among the optimists polled. I would wager that TARP is neither understood nor liked by most people and that the IG telling us that 10% waste is to be expected has gone over like a lead balloon. But I am happier now about the direction of the nation then I was a few months ago.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 23, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

It;s obvious that Americans have fully embraced the Obama agenda.

Posted by: parkerfl1 | April 23, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

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