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Compared to What?

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One important question to ask whenever looking at poll results is, "compared to what?" In other words, since individual pollsters sometimes have "house effects" and since it can be hard interpret results based on vague answer categories, the best approach is to look at how any given result compares to a similar question asked by the same pollster previously.

Consider the result from the USA Today/Gallup poll showing 78% of Americans expressing approval for "the way Barack Obama is handling his presidential transition." That's obviously a big number, but Obama is certainly not the first newly elected president to experience a "honeymoon" of public support. How does it compare to past transitions? Fortunately, the Gallup summary includes this especially helpful paragraph:

That overall 78% approval rating compares favorably to the reaction Americans had to George W. Bush's transition, for which an average of 63% approved in January 2001, and Bill Clinton's transition, when an average of 66% approved from November 1992 through January 1993.

So the Obama transition approval number isn't just big, it's bigger than the last two transitions during which Gallup asked the question.

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