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Skewed Polls Produce Skewered Pols

By Isaac MacMillen

The popularity of President Obama remains at extremely high levels—and you had better support him, too, to avoid missing out on this historic moment. Or so the latest Washington Post/ABC poll would lead you to believe.

The numbers purport to show that 68 percent of Americans support Mr. Obama, who has only 25 percent opposing (with 7 percent undecided). All throughout the poll, Americans are portrayed as offering great support to the new President's agenda. Yet at the very bottom of the data list, the percentages of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents reveal that all is not as it appears above—for a disproportionate number of Obama-leaning citizens were interviewed.

While the Post/ABC poll gives 36 percent Democrats, 24 percent Republicans, and 34 percent Independent, another poll offers a significantly different set of percentages.

According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, the numbers are much closer to 40.9 percent Democrat, 32.6 percent Republican, and 26.6 percent unaffiliated. And the ratio of Americans who at least somewhat approve to those who disapprove is 59-40. Quite a far cry from the 68-25 ratio claimed in the sample-skewed poll that the Post/ABC unveiled.

These differences are indeed significant. Historically, Rasmussen has been one of the most accurate pollsters, correctly predicting the 2004 national vote totals to within less than 0.5 percent. Dr. Panagopoulos of Fordham University, ranks Rasmussen as tied for first place for accuracy of its last national 2008 election poll. Post/ABC is rated number 14 (17 if ties are included) out of the 23 national pollsters examined.

The Post/ABC poll's exaggeration underscores a trend among media outlets, however. Beginning with the primaries and lasting through the general election, a greater-than-life aura has surrounded much of the reporting on Barack Obama, with the result that a peer-pressure/bandwagon effect has been created. As exemplified by the Post/ABC poll, President Obama is portrayed as having the support of vast majorities of Americans, thus putting pressure on those who would oppose him—or are anything less than enthusiastic—to join in the procession or risk “missing out” on this “great moment.”

While the election of Barack Obama was a historic event in many ways, the near-deification shown by his supporters has the potential to backfire, especially as his solidly liberal agenda begins to take shape. Polling numbers can be engineered to look high for only so long; eventually even they must conform to reality.

Until then, however, the hype will continue. As a Chicago Sun-Times poll revealed, more Americans view President Obama as their hero than even Jesus Christ, which is impressive for a nation where at least three quarters identify themselves as Christian. It's no wonder; Barack Obama's image has been plastered all over the nation as a deity unto itself.

Skewed polls are not the only means used by the media to influence public opinion. Reports of “bipartisan outreach” have been floating around ever since Mr. Obama took office. And yet his outreach strategies have appeared to offer not much more than a listening ear. When meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the stimulus, the President encouraged some Republican ideas, but, as the meeting drew on, flatly stated his now-famous comments: “I won. So I think on that one, I trump you.”

While a president can make concessions, there is only so much that an opposition party can take when it opposes a policy based on fundamental ideological differences. And yet the popularity of the President reaches even to Congress, as Congressional Republicans have made it a point to avoid attacking Mr. Obama, and are instead directing their attacks at Democratic Congressional leadership.

While such a high presidential profile can reap political rewards in the short run, it risks ultimately alienating the population as they grow weary of hearing such hyped-up rhetoric without commensurate results. Additionally, the aura of untouchability created can have drolling effects on free speech.

In fact even now the cracks are beginning to appear. Concerned Americans have begun to speak up about the seemingly omni-present president. Dr. David Gergen, Harvard professor and former advisor to both Presidents Reagan and Clinton, has stated that Mr. Obama is risking overexposing himself. A fiscally moderate Catholic Archbishop gave a speech warning against the “spirit of adulation bordering on servility” that he had observed in regards to the President. Even liberal Newsweek ran a story calling for President Obama to “stop doing so much TV.”

And just yesterday, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), the longest serving senator in the history of the US, criticized the President for what he sees as a power-grab. According to the Senator, the appointment of so many policy czars would result in a decrease of congressional oversight, as past history has indicated that they will often cite “executive privilege” when testifying before Congress.

Whether these warnings will cause Americans to jump off the bandwagon before it either ascends to Olympus or crashes and burns remains to be seen. But the fact remains that, if the past is precedent, the Obama popularity must be viewed as temporary. Americans historically have awakened to their popular leaders' clay feet. They have invariably, over time, rejected the media-induced auras of invincibility, and evaluated Presidents based solely on policies and performance.

And when that happens, President Obama's poll numbers will come down, fast. Especially those contrived from the outset.

Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.


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