NOVEMBER 21, 2013-The latest CBS poll on President Obama’s job approval rating was bad news for the White House, showing that just 37% gave him positive job approval marks. The truth is, the news is actually worse. This is because CBS went out of its way to soften the blow in its poll by weighting down – significantly – the percentage of Republicans who participated in the survey.
The raw data displayed at the very end of the CBS poll – their partisan weighting information is always the very last thing in their poll reports – shows that their sample actually included 28% Republicans, but the polling brain trust at CBS actually weighted Republicans down to 23% in their sample. That is a five-point reduction in the sample. And it so happened that 90% of Republicans said they gave Obama a negative job approval rating. You could assume, therefore, that Obama’s raw job approval rating in the CBS poll was probably three points WORSE than reported after the weighting process.
So, consider CBS to have actually found that Obama has a 34% job approval rating.
Of course, this is far below where he has been in the past, and mirrors the mark at which, according to Gallup, President Bush stood as he was leaving office. Maybe this is why CBS is undertaking such gymnastics to keep Obama as high as possible.
The job is getting more difficult by the day for CBS, largely because Obama is showing dramatic weakness across the political spectrum. Among his base of Democrats, just 73% gave him positive marks as president. The really bad news comes from how political independents feel about Obama – just 29% give him positive marks as the nation’s leader. And this survey includes a sample of 48% independents. I personally think that is far too many independents to include in a survey about politics.
CBS collected in its raw sample 42% who categorized themselves as independents, which one can understand, given the current political atmosphere. Just about everyone is upset with one aspect of leadership or another in Washington, and given the choice, I could see how 42% of a national sample would want to disassociate with D.C. But if your goal is to replicate the political make-up of the nation with the intention of replicating election-year circumstances, your sample should NOT have even 42% independents, let alone the 48% to which the CBS poll was weighted.
If you wanted to replicate a national election-year voter sample nationwide, your sample would include, at the very least, one-third Dems, one-third GOP, one-third independents. If you took the raw CBS sample of 1,010 respondents and applied this weighting, you might even find that Obama’s job approval could be as low as 32%.
But no matter. New polls come out every day, and the trend line is clear: Obama is in deep trouble, and it is very hard to construct a scenario in which he is able to recover. He has built an administration that is so scandal-ridden – or at best rife with incompetence – that actual recovery in public opinion is less likely by the day. The problem with second-term presidents is that by the time they get past their second election, the American people have largely reached a final conclusion about them as leaders, and that impression is very, very difficult to change for the better. Americans are almost always disappointed with the second-term performance of their presidents, regardless of party, and the best presidents can do under the best of normal circumstances is to keep the downward glide path of public opinion from growing too steep.
But Obama is in free-fall, and he will have to work hard just to turn this public opinion plummet into a descent that approximates a mere glide path.