Jul 13, 2010

Post polling director Jon Cohen takes your questions about the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which shows nearly six in 10 Americans now have little or no confidence in Obama to make the right decisions for the future.

How solid is the disapproval of Obama? I ask because, and this is just my theory, that while the public is disappointed in him, they are more apt to reconsider their opinion of him should they feel his performance improves. I don't detect the hard core opposition to Obama that I saw for Bush or Clinton.

Good afternoon, thanks for joining us today.

This is a great question, as so much of politics is about intensity.  In this new poll, 35 percent of Americans say they "strongly disapprove" of the way President Obama is doing his job. Some 28 percent are that solidly on his side. This is the first time strong disapprovers have outnumbered strong approvers by a significant margin.

But your sense is correct, this numbers are nowhere close to as bad as were George W. Bush's toward the end of his second term. He basically had majority strong disapproval most of his final year, with very few strong supporters. We didn't ask intensity as much during the Clinton years, so it's hard to compare on this point.

Back to Obama, another troubling finding in the poll is that twice as many now have strongly negative than strongly positive views about how he's handling the economy. That's a big challenge to face when it comes to issue No. 1.

I was a great supporter of Mr. Obama's. I had only one reservation (and I guess it was a biggie) about his lack of experience and how it would affect the enormous problems he inherited. Looks to me like this lack of experience has absolutely contributed to (sadly) his failure (up to this point). However, a cautionary note to Republicans. Don't think that it will be easy to collect disgruntled-with-Obama votes, for after all, we would then be voting for the very people who brought about the problems that have contributed to Obama's failings.

Caution is good advice all the way around. For all the slippage in public confidence in Obama, it's not as if people are rushing to the GOP. In fact, 72 percent of registered voters in the poll say they have little or no confidence in the Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions for the country's future. This includes about a half of Republican respondents.

The negative numbers for the GOP represent one clear reason Democrats have been so eager to frame the November elections as a choice between parties, not as a simple report card on their performance.

I caught a bit of Laura Ingraham this morning on Today discussing the poll numbers and realized she was making a bit of a fallacy in her argument.

Her basic argument was that support for Democrats in Congress and President Obama were so low that the voters would remove the Dems and vote in Republicans to take over the House.

However, looking at the data, I see that only 26% of respondants say that they trust Republicans a good/great deal. Don't these numbers suggest that voters are a) in general dissatisfied with both parties and b) that they are still likely to keep a majority of Democrats in the house?

To follow-up on the last answer, yes, there's ample reason for all elected officials to be concerned about general dissatisfaction hitting home. Fully 62 percent of voters say they're apt to look around for new representatives in the fall; that's the highest number saying so in Post-ABC poll back to the late 1980's.

I'll leave the likelihood of a Democratic majority to the prognosticators, but will point out that in the poll, a slim majority, 51 percent, of voters say they'd prefer a GOP takeover, to have Congress be a brake on Obama's policies. Among independents, 54 percent would prefer Republicans in charge.

It seems that the WP and ABC have cherry picked numbers from your polling once again to try to protray President Obama in the worst possible light. After looking at the data there seems to be very mixed numbers for both parties. Would it not be better to just publish the poll data without trying to spin it one way or another?

We release *every* question we ask, in exactly the order we asked them. This is for transparency reasons, and so that you can come to your own conclusions about the data. The link is here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postpoll_07132010.html

I see the story we wrote as decidedly mixed for both sides.

The top of the story emphasizes Obama's numbers, as the general dissatisfaction has now swept him up, and his approval rating on the economy has slumped seven points in a month. Comps to the GOP is high and and on the A1 graphic.

Where do you think we erred?

Like many in your poll, I have lost confidence in Pres. Obama, just like I lost confidence in President Bush, Republicans in Congress until 2006, Democrats in Congress since 2006, and the leadership of both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

Who else is left to poll about?

You are not alone. In the poll, 36 percent of voters say they have little or no confidence in Obama, the Democrats in Congress and the Republicans in Congress ... none of the three. There are clearly trust issues these days in American politics.

For more, check out the Pew Research Center's recent poll on the topic; they've also compiled available historical trend, which is critical. Link here: http://people-press.org/trust/


Why do your poll samples regularly include a population where Democrats outnumber Republicans by an average of 7-9%? Democrats typically number in the low to mid 30's in your poll samples, while Republicans number only in the mid-20's; I seem to recall the most recent national election being a 52-48 split. The imbalance in your poll sample could make these results even worse for Presidnet Obama.

Each time out we poll a random sample of adults, reaching people on conventional and cellular telephones. The approach means that our resulting samples are representative of the overall population, plus or minus. We show more people identifying as Democrats than as Republicans because more people identify as Democrats than as Republicans. Don't mean to sound flip, but it is what it is. Our numbers are also very similar to others ... see this compilation at pollster.com http://www.pollster.com/polls/us/party-id.php.

In the 2008 election, the exit poll showed Democrats with a seven-point advantage among voters nationally. Before the election, our numbers were virtually identical.

But you're certainly right, that if the sample were too Democratic, then the results would be much worse for Obama: 82 percent of Democrats approve of how he's handling his job, a mere 15 percent of Republicans agree.

All this poll means is that the November 2010 election will be the nastiest in 100 years.

Could be. It's certainly off to a rough start.

Can it be that the disapproval is because we as Americans have become unrealistic as to what our government can/should do. For example, we talk about the unrealistic spending but not many states really contributed to the infrastructure of our bridges, roads, etc. Now, we are at a point where it is necessary because of the dangers (and the countless water pipe ruptures, sinkholes, etc) and states look to the Federal Gov't for money to fix it. Everyone talks of the amount of money being spent but it seems that states seem to always have their hands out to the Feds.

Really good question. Reminds me of the title of one of my favorite political books: "Tax Revolt: Something for Nothing in California. It's the story of Proposition 13, and once again a must read. In my case, I now plan to re-read. 

Is there any indication of specific choices that Obama has made that people disapprove of? Because without specifics this seems more like an indication of general voter angst than anything else.

Part of it is certainly general angst/anger, but the president does come under harsher reviews in some areas than others. Among the issues tested in this poll, Obama's worst is on his handling of the federal budget deficit, where 56 percent disapprove. Nearly as many, 54 percent, now give him low marks on dealing with the economy. The president fares slightly better on health care and on regualtion of the financial industry. The top rating in the poll is on how he's doing as commander in chief. Some 55 percent approve of how he's doing in this role.

Why won't you and the news reporters disclose to the viewers/readers how many people you polled and the way in which the questions were asked? Many of us know that polls cost money and you only poll between 500 - 1000 people. The results do not represent half the country because you've not polled half the country. Isn't it false advertising to to say "Majority doubt..." when you wont disclose the number of people you polled.

We polled a random sample of 1,288 adults, including interviews with 1,151 who say they're registered to vote. We included this information in the story, on the graphic and at the top of the questionnaire, which is posted in full here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postpoll_07132010.html

Okay, it's not really an error, but I'd like to see full demographic data on the polling sample. I've noticed that polls tend to over-represent older voters and under-represent younger voters. Only 12% of the recent Pew poll that included questions on enthusiasm were between 18-29, while 60% were over 50, even though it was a poll on registered voters and those numbers are not representative of registered voter demographics. I'd like to see how the Post poll stacks up.

Happy to post, but you wouldn't see much info in the demographics, as we, and all other public polls I know of, adjust final samples to Census parameters. So all you'd see is an adult sample that matches up with the adult population. Now, how voters or "likely voters" divide is a different question. Older adults are far more likely to be registered to vote and to participate than are younger ones, so the breakdown naturally skews. Feel free to e-mail me if you want additional info. Will do my best to provide.

Uh...dude, does that mean 10% of your sample was worthless to this poll (though I'm sure they're nice people!) because they're not registered to vote?

We almost always do "general population" surveys, including those who are and are not currently registered to vote. But for some questions -- particular those about 2010 -- we chose to ask only registered voters their opinions.

Are the iPhone voters and cell phone people equally represented here with the standard phone calls?

Those who have cut the cord and joined the ranks of the cellphone-only are included, regardless of their choice of device.

I have never been asked my opinion in a poll... And I don't know one person that likes Obama... And I know alot of people. I believe the polls are skewed to give the liberal media the answers they want. So this poll is false... His numbers are much lower.

If you have a telephone, you have the same chance as anyone else to be called (lucky you). However, with a couple hundred million adults in the country, the odds are very low. If we do call at random, we certainly would appreciate your answering.

Thanks all. Apologies for not getting to all your good questions (and complaints).

Have a great afternoon, Jon

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Jon Cohen
Jon Cohen is The Washington Post's director of polling.

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