Favorable/Unfavorable Views of Rush Limbaugh

02/27/2009 01:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Much discussion of the influence of Rush Limbaugh in the conservative movement and the Republican party these days. This week a Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll discussed demographic differences, and there has been some buzz about the gender gap found in that poll. But let's put this in some perspective.

Polling on Limbaugh began in March 1993, and I've now found 16 national polls asking favorable or unfavorable views of him, with PPP the latest.  Gallup and Democracy Corps have also asked this question within the last 4 months. 

Point number 1 is obvious. Rush burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, and immediate enjoyed a base of favorable supporters, amounting to 25-30% of the public. Initially there was substantial lack of awareness of him as well, as we'd expect with new media figures. Those unaware or unable to rate him were over 40% initially. But as his visibility exploded, this lack of awareness shrank sharply to about 20%, where it has remained ever since 1995.  

But growth of awareness was not accompanied by a gain in favorable audience. Instead, favorable response has remained virtually unchanged since the early 1990s. Favorability has fluctuated between 25 and 30%. What has grown is unfavorable evaluations--- from 30% before awareness expanded to a stable 50% unfavorable rating that has also been largely stable since 1995. 

So the first point of perspective is that Rush's base has remained stable and consistent from the beginning. He has not gained any share of favorable evaluations since 1993. That strong base of listeners has been hugely valuable to him but his influence does not rest on gaining widespread admirers. Rather it rests on devoted listeners who have stayed with him for 15+ years, which is a remarkable achievement.  It is this ability to speak to the base (CPAC this weekend for example, as I'm hearing him say as I write this). And I assume that's how he would like it. Broad inclusiveness is not the strategy.

Second point of perspective: The PPP survey is way out of line with 16 years of polling on this. PPP finds only 10% unable to rate Rush, while other polls remain around 20% unaware. Gallup in January found 11% not heard plus 16% unable to rate. Democracy Corps in November found 13% not heard and another 13% neutral.  So PPP seems to have tapped a population more willing to rate or more aware than other national polling. This is an IVR poll with the very low response rate such polls generally have. 

As a result, while discussion of the demographic breaks in the PPP survey are interesting, the levels of favorability reported among both men and women is substantially greater than  any other poll taken over the past 16 years. PPP found 46% favorable. The highest since 2000 is 34% by Gallup in 2003, and the three polls since then have been 26%, 23% and 28%. 

Bottom line, PPP has substantially overstated the level of favorability Rush enjoys among the public. His popularity and influence don't rest on the size of his supporters as a percent of the population but rather their loyalty and their share of radio listeners, a different population than adults nationally.