The political media is ever so fond of trafficking in all manner of polls, one of which is the oft-cited approval rating. In general, I subscribe to the idea that these sorts of polls are often abused as an inadequate shorthand for the public mood, but I can see their value. The press is supposed to have an adversarial relationship with politicians, and declining fortunes in approval rating are the sturdiest brickbat they can swing at a president. During the last years of the Bush administration, wield it they did, clucking over each historic low.
On yesterday's Hardball, Chris Matthews dug into the first major decline on President Barack Obama's fortunes, noting what he considered to be a statistically significant drop of nineteen points.
MATTHEWS: Time now for The Big Number. With it comes the warning that honeymoons don't last forever. Just three weeks ago, 83% of Americans approved of the way Barack Obama was handling his job as President-Elect. Now amid some tough decisions, President Obama's in the new USA Today/Gallup poll down to a still groovy but not still heavenly 63% job approval. Which translates to a 19-point drop in 3 weeks. Message from Ben Franklin: [unintelligible] get some things done, Mr. President. A stitch in time saves nine. Obama's nineteen point approval rating drop says get going with the program. That's tonight's big number.
Aside from the subtraction error, there seems to be some internal disagreement at MSNBC over the significance of this poll:
TODD: I'm sorry, I can't get all worked up over "Oh my Gosh, it went from 83%, before he was President at all" -- don't forget, that was a silly number at the time, and at 66%, I can tell you this: any day they are above 60, the White House is happy.
For the time being, I'm going to go with Chuck Todd on this. I see that crazy high, pre-presidency approval rating as having more to do with the general good will and buoyant mood that accompanied the Inaugural. The Daschle matter has got Obama in the midst of his first spate of rough news, so I'd look to the next round of approval polls for a measure of how well or how poorly the public is taking it.
Actually, if you want to source that drop from 83%, I'd say that it probably came from all those people stuck in the Purple Tunnel of Doom. Still, I'd be interested in hearing what you readers think! So leave a comment and answer whether this is a hiccup, or a bump in the road.
UPDATE: Just in case Todd's remarks leave the matter in need of underscoring, let's heed the emphasis that emailer Michael Ellis brings to bear on the point: the sky-high number was a rating of how Obama was handing the transition. Here's the Gallup Poll itself, tracking what looks to be a mere three point drop in approval rating. As Ellis astutely points out, a comparison of the transition approval to Presidential approval is classic "apples and oranges."