There is a silver lining in Obama poll numbers

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We are reminded almost daily that President Obama’s favorable poll numbers are at an all-time low. While that is unmistakably true, that’s only half of the picture. Let’s first take a look at the numbers. A Gallup poll pegged Obama’s August monthly approval rating at 41 percent, the lowest of his administration.

However, Gallup found that Congressional job approval was only 15 percent at the beginning of September, up two percentage points from the record-tying low of 13 percent in August. Stated another way, 84 percent of Americans disapproved of the way Congress was handling its job in August, a figure that has fallen only slightly to 82 percent so far this month.

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A poll conducted for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal (Aug. 27-31) found President Obama’s approval rating was 44 percent in August, the lowest level of his presidency and a long way from his highest rating of 61 percent in April 2009. A bare majority—51 percent—disapproved of the job Obama was doing in August and 5 percent were not sure.

The last time Obama enjoyed an approval rating of at least 50 percent among all Americans was the first week of June. Over the past three months, the steepest drops have been among better educated and high-income Americans, according to Gallup. Support among African-Americans over that period slipped from 89 percent to 83 percent. Obama’s support among Latinos fell from 56 percent to 44 percent, which is 2 percent greater than the 42-32 percent decline among Whites.

Another sign of trouble for Obama was the decline of support in the 18 to 29 age category, a key segment of his base. Over the last three months, support in that category has declined from 59 percent to 46 percent, a drop of 13 percent.

Not surprisingly, voters’ view on the direction of the economy has also soured. Only 19 percent in the NBC poll thought that the country was headed in the right direction. Another 73 percent disagreed, saying the nation was on the wrong track. Five percent expressed mixed feelings and 3 percent were not sure.

The most amazing finding in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is that while Americans give President Obama low approval numbers, they agree with his major proposals to lower unemployment, decrease the deficit and strengthen the economy.

When asked if they favor reducing the deficit by ending the Bush tax cuts for families earning $250,00 or more, 60 percent said the proposal is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable. Only 36 percent said it was totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to them. On the proposal to reduce the deficit by a combination of increasing taxes and reducing spending, 56 percent found the idea acceptable and 42 percent found it unacceptable.

When asked about the Republican proposal to reduce the deficit only through spending cuts and no tax increases, 34 percent found that totally unacceptable and 26 percent found it mostly unacceptable, with 3 percent unsure. Only 15 percent said it was totally acceptable and 22 percent mostly acceptable.

The public also favors key elements of Obama’s proposed jobs plan. According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Americans favor:

•Paying for long-term unemployed workers to train at private companies for eight weeks, and then giving the companies the option to hire them (62 percent say it is good idea, 17 percent say it’s bad and the remainder don’t know enough or aren’t sure);

•Funding a new road construction bill (47 percent favor; 26 percent oppose);

•Continuing to extend unemployment benefits (44 percent say it’s a good idea, 39 percent feel it is a bad idea) and

•Extending the payroll tax rate (40 percent favor, 20 percent oppose, 38 percent say they don’t know enough about it and 2 percent are not sure).

Interestingly, 37 percent of those polled by NBC consider Obama a moderate, 32 percent consider him very liberal, 16 percent say he is somewhat liberal, 7 percent consider him somewhat conservative, 2 percent say he is very conservative and 6 percent are not sure.

There was a mixed message on how voters will cast their ballot in the next election. Given a choice between Obama and an unnamed Republican opponent, voters said in the NBC poll that they were more likely to vote for the GOP candidate by a margin of 44 percent to 40 percent. But when Mitt Romney’s name is inserted, Obama narrowly defeats him 46 to 45 percent. When the candidate is Rick Perry, the Republican front-runner, Obama wins 47 to 42 percent.

In an attempt to paint Obama as politically impotent, critics point to Republicans capturing the old congressional seat of Rep. Anthony Weiner in New York as an example of a loss of support for the president among Jews. New York’s 9th Congressional District has the highest concentration of Jews in the country. As Gallup noted, 54 percent of Jews supported Obama’s job performance in a poll taken earlier this month. That’s 13 percentage points higher than his overall approval rating of 41 percent.

As a barrage of numbers are tossed around to discredit the prospect of Obama getting a second term, remember the maxim: Figures don’t lie, but liars will figure.

(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)

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