"Overexposed" Obama In Danger Of Rising Poll Numbers

11/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The chattering classes inside the Washington Beltway have decided amongst themselves that when all else fails, they can always revert to their "least common denominator" story about President Barack Obama -- that he is in danger of being "overexposed." You don't have to look very far to find this viewpoint on television, in print, or on the radio. It's like talking about the weather, for the political punditocracy. There's only one problem -- there's not a shred of evidence to back up the idea that President Obama using the bully pulpit (as often as he likes) is somehow a bad thing for him. But that doesn't stop it from being talked about endlessly, whenever Obama is in the same zip code as a news camera.

To be fair, Obama was all over the Sunday morning talk shows this week. [Amusing note: This used to be called "the full Ginsburg," in reference to the first person to ever appear on all the talk shows in one week (Ginsburg was Monica Lewinsky's lawyer), but few remember this catchy term these days, I guess.] In any case, Obama was following up a recent speech to a joint session of Congress, and so the "overexposed" storyline was trotted out again by the media.

The funniest of all of these tut-tuttings from the media was on "Fox News Sunday" (my motto: "I watch it so you don't have to"). At the start of their panel of "journalists," this was the first talking point out of the box (Brit Hume: "[Obama] risks overexposure and I think, in addition to that, this [i.e., the Sunday media blitz] isn't working").

They then pivoted -- without the slightest hint of irony -- to exploring why Obama really, really should have appeared on "Fox News Sunday." To sum up: Obama is dangerously overexposed, and he made a big mistake by not coming on our show, too. I am always astonished at the Republican propensity for doublethink, but this was a new one on me, I have to admit.

A little background is necessary here. Fox refused to show Obama's speech to Congress, and instead ran one of those contest/reality shows. All the other networks ran Obama's speech, but Fox did not (their cable branch did, but not the broadcast channel). So the White House snub of Fox was definitely deserved. This is actually par for the course in normal media/White House relations (for any president, in fact, no matter the party). The White House was not shy about pointing this out, after the Fox News Sunday host said before the weekend that the Obama administration was "the biggest bunch of crybabies" he'd ever dealt with. The White House released their own statement concerning why the president wasn't appearing on Fox this week: "We figured Fox would rather show 'So You Think You Can Dance' than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform. Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again, not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon."

Heh heh. Gotta admit, that still makes me chuckle.

Ahem. But getting back to reality (away from Fox, in other words), virtually nobody mentioned what has been happening to Obama's poll numbers of late. In July and August, when Obama was largely absent from the national stage in the healthcare reform debate, his poll numbers took a serious dive. Since he spoke to Congress, his approval rating has been inching back up again. Meaning that the "danger" of "overexposure" is that people start supporting him in larger numbers. Oh, the horror!

Now, that's a pretty sweeping generalization, I realize. And I could be eventually proven wrong on this. The movement within the polls is admittedly only a few percentage points -- within the margin of error, in most cases. You can check the daily graph at RealClearPolitics to see the current state of things, and then decide for yourself. But this is why I normally don't comment on day-to-day polling, instead covering each month (at after it happens -- one little blip in a poll line does not a trend make, in other words (which is the danger of watching polls too closely). But still, this chart shows a definite end to Obama's slide in the polls, although it may be too early to tell whether he's just plateau-ed at the low 50s, or whether he has indeed turned it around and is heading north of 55 again soon. Time will tell.

But even if Obama has turned things around and starts posting numbers between 55 and 60, don't expect the media to realize that their entire "overexposed" story has been turned on its head. One bright moment of reality did intrude on Fox News Sunday last week, when Mara Liasson, in response to the question of whether the White House thinks Obama is overexposed, said (the transcript I read had an extraneous "not" in Liasson's second paragraph, which I removed only after checking the tape, to verify that she had not indeed said it):

No, they don't worry about overexposure, and they're asked this a lot. I mean, I think he is hugely exposed. There's no doubt about it. He's exposed more than any other president, by design.

But this notion that he's overexposed says that if somehow he was out there less, his policies would be doing better, and I don't think that's true. If he doesn't get everything he wants in health care, it's not going to be because he was on TV too much.

I do think that we are in a different media environment now, and they believe strongly that the media environment is so fractured that he has to try to reach every single audience wherever he can, whenever he can.

And also, they believe that when he does talk in a big set-piece speech like the address to the joint session of Congress that it does help him. And as a matter of fact, we have seen in polling since then that some of the disparity in intensity between the people who were for his health care plans and against them has leveled off. So I think -- they think this does him good.

Of course, she had to qualify that last point, from "I think this does him good" or even (gasp) a factual statement of "this does him good," to "they [the White House] think this does him good."

Needless to say, no matter how she put it, the Fox gaggle immediately ignored her point, and went on to discuss why Obama should have overexposed himself even more by coming on their show.

Now, opinion polls take a few days to ask their questions of the public, and then a day or so to crunch numbers. So we won't see this Sunday's appearance reflected in the opinion polls until -- at a minimum -- the end of this week. If his numbers go up even further, the media will drop (until next time Obama appears on any camera anywhere) the "overexposed" storyline, likely in favor of another one of their perennial favorites: "The Comeback Kid." Assuming, of course, that the media actually notices what is going on, which is a pretty big assumption these days, I have to admit.

After watching the media long enough and closely enough, these things actually become pretty easy to predict. For everyone watching. But not, apparently, for the groupthink which passes itself off as "journalism" on our nation's airwaves.


Chris Weigant blogs at:


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