The big lie about the big lie of Obama’s job approval rating

Photo: Jim Mone/AP

As if on cue over the weekend, Democrats came up with a new talking point in an election that many consider a referendum on the Obama presidency.

The media has been telling a lie, they said, about Obama’s alleged plummeting job approval rating.

It was started on Friday, apparently, by Eric Boehlert at Media Matters.

The news media reminders arrive almost daily now: President Obama’s approval rating is low and going lower. McClatchy Newspapers highlighted the “dropping approval ratings,” while the Washington Post declared “President Obama’s approval ratings have plunged to record lows.” The Christian Science Monitor noted the numbers have “plummeted.” The Washington Examiner stressed the president’s approvals were “sinking to historic lows,” while an Atlantic headlined announced, “”Obama’s Sinking Approval Could Drag Democrats Down With Him.”

The portrait being painted by an array of media artists is unmistakable: Obama’s approval ratings are not only weak but they’re going down, down, down.

But it’s not true.

The part about Obama’s “dropping” and “sinking” polling numbers simply isn’t accurate, not matter how many times it’s repeated inside the Beltway echo chamber.

Does the White House wish Obama’s job approval rating was higher? I’m sure his advisers do. Does polling indicate that Democrats face the possibility of deep losses next week in the midterm elections? Yes. Does that mean the press should just make up narratives about the president’s approval rating simply because it fits in, again, with anti-Obama spin that Republicans are pushing?

The message seems clear, Obama’s popularity isn’t sinking and he isn’t a politically weakened president.

Literally, that’s true. But as with most things surrounding campaign propaganda, it hides a particular truth: His popularity has already sunk.

It’s true that Obama’s 41.8% approval rating isn’t far removed from the 42.6% of January 1st, according to the tracking by Real Clear Politics. But there’s more to the story. It’s down significantly from 53.8% when he was re-elected in 2012. And it’s certainly down from the 61.8% job approval rating when he took office.

In fact, Obama’s popularity has only been worse than it is right now one other time: last December when it hovered around 40%.

The Real Clear Politics numbers are also an average of other polls, a fact that didn’t stop Media Matters from plucking one — Gallup — to buttress its assertion. In doing so, however, it ignored less favorable polls — CBS, for example — that shows Obama job approval rating has plunged by about 10 percent during his second term.

Obama’s numbers are only slightly higher than George Bush’s in 2006, but Bush was a very unpopular president, too. Obama’s ratings are significantly lower than both Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s at the same point their presidencies.

The website, Addicting Info, has joined in, noting that Obama’s lowest ratings are still higher than the lowest ratings of any president since John F. Kennedy. This is true. Here are the low points of other presidents, according to Gallup.

Harry Truman 22%
Eisenhower 48%
Kennedy 56%
Johnson 35%
Nixon 24%
Ford 37%
Carter 28%
Reagan 35%
George H.W. Bush 29%
Clinton 37%
George W. Bush 25%

But there’s another side to this angle, too. Obama’s highest ratings are still lower than those same presidents.

Truman 87%
Eisenhower 79%
Kennedy 83%
Johnson 79%
Nixon 67%
Ford 71%
Carter 75%
Reagan 68%
George H.W. Bush 89%
Clinton 73%
George W. Bush 90%

Obama never had job approval ratings in a Gallup poll higher than 65%, just behind Nixon (You can play with the numbers here).

The numbers — and the media — aren’t lying: the president is at the bottom of his popularity and no amount of playing with the calendar can make that a lie.