What the Numbers Really Say About President Obama and Republicans in Congress

ABC has released a poll and reported in the Washington Post that the president is in trouble and that both his standing and health care hang over the mid-term elections, or as Gary Langer put it, “Barack Obama starts his sixth year in office with the public divided about his overall leadership, dissatisfied with his economic stewardship and still steaming about his rollout of the health care law – all factors threatening not only the president but his party in the midterm elections ahead.”

Dan Balz and Peyton Craighill write, “Obama’s general weakness and the overall lack of confidence in the country’s political leadership provide a stark backdrop to the beginning of a potentially significant election year.”

While the president surely needs to raise his standing and address many issues, this is a remarkably biased reading of their own poll.  Too bad the last month has not fit the narrative of a failed president on a downward trajectory like George Bush.

What is wrong with their interpretation?  It’s hard to know where to start.

·         They have the President’s approval rating at 46 percent.  The average in all the polls is up, not down.  Congressional Democrats would be quite content if the President’s approval rating were in the upper 40s.  This is not a blip, but rather the trend based on multiple polls. Commentators should pay attention.

·         The congressional generic vote is even but they failed to note that Republicans had taken the lead at the end last year — and that this is an improvement.

·         Republicans in Congress are at a remarkable low, relative to the president and Congressional Democrats.  They are 18 points lower than the president on confidence and 8 points behind the Democrats in Congress.  How could you ignore that in a congressional election year—especially when voters in this poll  express a strong commitment to vote against incumbents?  Did they pay attention to earlier polls from Democracy Corps that showed 50 percent (in an open-ended question) think Republicans are in control of the whole Congress? 

·         Health care produced one of the more amazing contortions in the poll. They focus on Obama’s handling of the rollout and bury the fact that the country is evenly split on whether they favor or oppose the law.  As we have said, the issue unites Republicans and is not a wining issue for them in 2014.  Maybe the voters are paying attention to Congress’s failure to extend unemployment benefits and pass a minimum wage bill— issues that have 60 percent support.  Maybe there is a reason Republican standing continues to drag them down.

Many compare Obama’s number after his inauguration and make that the standard for his standing.  He took a very hard  hit that hurt Democrats.  But his position is improving and health care is no wedge issue.  The Congress is on the ballot in November, and I urge those reporting on polls to escape the conventional wisdom about the narrative.

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