Obama's really unpopular!

Conservatives find new evidence to support their favorite theory

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 8, 2009 2:15PM (EDT)

In an article elsewhere on the site today, we're talking about myths about President Obama that have persisted after the election, or in some cases that got their start after he was inaugurated: He can't survive without a teleprompter, he's a socialist -- no, wait, he's a fascist who's creating his own Hitler Youth and on and on.

There are other myths we didn't get to, of course. And one of those, a perennial favorite, is back. You see, despite all the hype from the liberal media, the truth is that Obama is actually unpopular. In fact, the Washington Times reported Saturday, "For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama has hit zero."

The Times wasn't the only one picking up on this. Other outlets, like Fox News' new Fox Nation site and World Net Daily, had similar stories. All were based on Rasmussen Reports' unique way of measuring a president's approval rating, what the firm calls the Presidential Approval Index. The index factors in only two numbers: The amount of respondents who say they "strongly approve" of the job the president is doing and the amount who say they "strongly disapprove." The latter is subtracted from the former to come up with the final result.

This is not the usual way of measuring presidential approval. Most pollsters, including Rasmussen, include four categories: strongly approve, approve, disapprove, strongly disapprove. Rasmussen says it believes its index "is a better measure of public perceptions than the overall approval ratings." There's no reason to doubt the company about that -- it's a good pollster, whose work is generally respected. But, like many of its results, it ends up being pretty convenient for conservatives who want to have a low number to point to in making the case that Obama isn't as popular as everyone says.

At the same time, it is undoubtedly true that Obama's rating in Rasmussen's index has been trending downward ever since he was inaugurated. (It's back up to +7 today, but that's still decidedly lower than it was back in January.) But that's what happens at the start of a new administration. You can get an arguably more accurate picture of Obama's approval rating by looking at something like Real Clear Politics' aggregate, which factors in numbers from a wide range of pollsters. That, too, shows Obama hitting a low, but it's a much higher low -- 59.5 percent approval versus 34.7 percent disapproval, a 24.8 point spread.

For further perspective, you could also take a look at a blast from the past. Say, Jan. 5, 2009, when then-President Bush's index rating, according to Rasmussen, was at -30.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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