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Brendan Nyhan

Brendan Nyhan

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No Evidence Obama Deficit Speech Backfired

Posted: 04/19/11 02:14 PM ET

Yesterday, John Sides and I published an article cautioning journalists against overstating the importance of political events on public opinion (they rarely have a significant effect). Today -- as if on cue -- NBC's First Read newsletter did just that, suggesting that President Obama's approval ratings are down as a result of his deficit speech last week:

Did last week’s speech backfire? A new Washington Post/ABC poll -- which shows President Obama’s approval down to 47%, and with 44% believing the U.S. economy is getting worse (when employment is actually on the rise) -- suggests that the climbing gas prices have soured the public’s mood, big time... [T]his poll, as well as the Gallup surveys, also seems to confirm that the president’s speech last week might not have played well. For one thing, and this is true going back to the ’08 campaign, Obama usually doesn’t get rewarded when he comes off as too partisan (even though the left loves it). More importantly, last week’s speech was on a topic -- the deficit/debt -- that most Americans don’t find as important as the economy/jobs. And in the Post/ABC poll, Obama took a hit with independents, with 55% of them disapproving of his job. 


The weasel-worded claim that the Post poll "seems to confirm that the president’s speech last week might not have played well" gives the game away. In reality, the Post estimated that Obama's approval ratings are down four points from its last poll a month ago. Anything that happened during that period could be the cause of the decline. First Read also references a downward blip in Gallup's approval estimate for Obama, but fails to clarify that Gallup's polling, which is much more frequent than the Post's, flatly contradicts their thesis. Obama made his speech on April 13. Gallup's three-day average approval ratings for Obama were 44% for April 10-12 and 44% for April 14-16. Rasmussen polls show no significant before/after change either. So what's the evidence the speech didn't play well again?

Update 4/19 4:16 PM: Greg Marx notes in a comment on my blog that "Chuck Todd and the NBC crew are repeat offenders here; they pulled the same thing with the oil spill."

Cross-posted to brendan-nyhan.com.

 

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