09/21/2006 01:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Another Day, Two New Polls

The morning brings two new surveys: One from CBS and the New York Times (article, results, CBS analysis, results on Iraq/terror, elections) and one from Bloomberg and the LA Times (article, results). Both surveys are lengthy and the accompanying analysis of each goes into great depth on attitudes toward Congress, the upcoming elections, Iraq, and Terrorism among others. I want to take a quick look at the two measures we have been considering here for the last few days: the Bush job approval rating and the generic Congressional ballot.

First, let's add the new survey results to the table I posted last night showing how results from all national pollsters changed between August and September:


Both surveys indicate an increase in the Bush job approval rating, although the change is bigger in the LA Times/Bloomberg poll (+5, from 40% to 45%) than in the CBS/NYT poll (+1, from 36% to 37%). Given the obvious random variation across the various pollsters in the table above, the difference is not terribly striking. While the CBS/NYT approval rating is certainly a lot lower than the LA Times rating (see Charles Franklin on "house effects"), the change since August on both polls seems within the sampling error of the average change (+2.6) seen across all eleven pollsters.

Not surprisingly, the relatively small difference in the two trends makes a big difference in the coverage. The gain in the Bush approval rating is the lead in Ron Brownstein's article:

President Bush's approval rating has reached its highest level since January, helping to boost the Republican Party's image across a range of domestic and national security issues just seven weeks before this year's midterm election, a new Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

The first reference to the Bush job rating comes in the fifth paragraph of the New York Times article by Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder and reaches a very different conclusion:

The poll also found that President Bush had not improved his own or his party's standing through his intense campaign of speeches and events surrounding the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The speeches were at the heart of a Republican strategy to thrust national security to the forefront in the fall elections. Mr. Bush's job approval rating was 37 percent in the poll, virtually unchanged from the last Times/CBS News poll, in August.

Later the Times article offers an explanation for the contrast between this result and the apparent upswing in Bush approval reported by the recent USA Today/Gallup Poll:

The New York Times/CBS News poll began last Friday, four days after the commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and two weeks after the White House began its offensive on security issues. A USA Today-Gallup Poll published Tuesday reported that Mr. Bush's job approval rating had jumped to 44 percent from 39 percent. The questioning in that poll went through Sunday; The Times and CBS completed questioning Tuesday night. Presidential addresses often produce shifts in public opinion that tend to be transitory.

The obvious problem with that theory is that the LA Times/Bloomberg poll was conducted over essentially the same period (both ended on Tuesday, but the LA Times poll started a day later). A more likely explanation is simply that the real trend was slightly less than that measured by LA Times/Bloomberg and Gallup, and slightly more than that measured by CBS/NY Times. But I can also suggest one more theory. Like the Gallup poll, the CBS/New York Times poll changed the question order, adding new questions that appeared just before the job approval item at the beginning of the questionnaire:

1. I'd like you to compare the way things are going in the United States to the way they were going five years ago. Generally, would you say things are going better today, worse today, or about the same today as they were going five years ago?

     18% Better, 60% worse, 19% same, 3% DK/NA

2. And what is your best guess about the United States five years from now? Generally, if things go pretty much as you now expect, do you think things will be better, worse, or about the same as they are today?

     31% Better, 37% worse, 27% same, 5% DK/NA

These questions have appeared on CBS/New York Times surveys before, but not since January 2005. In the previous instances (January 2004 and January 2005), the questions about the direction of the country preceded the job approval question. I exchanged emails with Kathy Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News, and she explained that "we have usually put the [state of the country questions] first (so people won't automatically connect the time frame to the President)." Most pollsters (including yours truly) use the same rationale for asking the "right direction, wrong track" question up front, just before the president's job approval rating.

Of course, it is also possible that the ordering of the most recent survey primed negative attitudes about the direction of the country and knocked down the Bush approval rating a point or two. Similar to the issue raised yesterday, without a controlled experiment that systematically compares both orderings on a survey with an enormous sample size, it would be impossible to know for certain.

Meanwhile, both surveys show Democrats holding a wide lead on the generic Congressional ballot among registered voters: The advantage is 15 points on the CBS/New York Times poll (50% to 35%), and 10 points on the LA Times/Bloomberg poll (49% to 39%). CBS also reported "similar" results among the smaller subgroup of those who say they will "definitely vote" - Democrats lead 50% to 37%. The "definite" voter subgroup is *not* equivalent to the more rigorous CBS likely voter model, which they typically use when reporting surveys conducted closer to Election Day.

Keep in mind that the result among registered voters on yesterday's USA Today/Gallup poll had the Democrats ahead by nine points (51% to 42%) among all registered voters. It was only the results obtained when applying their likely voter model that showed a significantly closer race.

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