Poll: Glenn Beck Enjoying Higher Favorability Than Rush Limbaugh

11/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver digs down into the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll and unpacks some interesting data on Fox News' paranoiac firebrand Glenn Beck.

The takeaway? For all the melodramatic on-air pyrotechnics that Beck indulges in, as far as the court of public opinion, Beck hasn't really made too many negative waves. If there's a "bad news" component, it is that 57 percent of those polled "either don't know Beck or are indifferent toward him."

But, in terms of generic favorability ratings, Beck fares pretty well: "While just 24 percent of Americans have a favorable view of him (13 percent strongly so), only 19 percent have an unfavorable one (14 percent strongly)."

In this regard, Beck is making out much better than the godfather of conservative talk, Rush Limbaugh:

Silver analyzes the findings:

The difference between Beck and Limbaugh is that Beck is much more of an anti-establishment figure. I have posited before that running perpendicular to the traditional liberal-conservative spectrum is an establishment/anti-establishment spectrum; Beck is conservative but anti-establishment. And that may be working out pretty well for him, since the country seems to be becoming more anti-establishment too.

This all dovetails back to a point I made yesterday: Beck adjusts and moderates his positions depending on his audience. Back when he was on CNN and the country was in the nascent throes of the financial apocalypse, Beck was a bailout fan, criticizing the government for not funneling more money to Wall Street. But now that time has passed and Beck has changed networks, he's become a fiery critic of bailouts (thus exploiting the anti-establishment sympathies that are rising on all points on the left-right spectrum). There's no intellectual consistency to be found in the two positions -- Beck just started espousing something different because doing so worked to his personal advantage.

When Beck joined Katie Couric for an interview and bizarrely suggested that he'd be a supporter of universal health-care advocate Hillary Clinton, he was, similarly, shrewdly probing for the affections of Couric's demographic. Couric, largely availed this effort by conducting what amounted to a softball interview in which none of these logical inconsistencies were ever discussed.

Over at The Feed, Eric Deggans criticizes Couric at length for this and pulls out another moment that illustrates Beck's moderating tactics:

Couric did spend a fair amount of time pressing Beck on what he meant by white culture when he said President Obama has a deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture. His answer to her: "I can't think of a way to answer that that isn't a trap."

Deggans asks: "But isn't it a trap of his own making?" Indeed, it is. When Beck can't avail himself of the advantages of being a moving target, he knows better than to stand in front of the bull's eye. And Beck's next line of defense is to point out that he's only ever raising questions, never saying anything definitively.

And so, Beck has managed to get as far as he has without accruing all of the negative public opinion that sticks to Rush Limbaugh. But this should not be surprising. This is precisely how pandering is supposed to work.

RELATED:
Glenn Beck, Post-Modern Conservative [FiveThirtyEight]
Katie Couric barely lays a glove on Glenn Beck in hyped Webcast interview [The Feed]

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