Monday, March 13, 2006

Bad Numbers, Despite Great Numbers

President George W. Bush has taken a beating in recent polls, which, in the words of the late Edgar Stiles, just doesn't make sense.

A recent CBS News poll found that

59 percent of U.S. adults disapproved of Bush's job performance. His 34 percent approval rating was the lowest since he took office in 2001, eight points lower than in January. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

. . .

Bush's approval rating is far below those registered by three of the past four two-term presidents in February of their sixth year: Dwight Eisenhower (64 percent), Ronald Reagan (63.5 percent) and Bill Clinton (57 percent). Only Nixon, at 27.5 percent in February 1974 -- six months before he resigned -- was less popular than Bush is now.
I neither trust nor like polls, especially when you consider how the media have made polls the story rather than reflections of the stories. But at least there was a time when polling data, whether good or ill, at least had a loose affiliation with the facts of the day. Bush's current low poll numbers make it painfull clear that they reflect the negative perception fostered by the MSM rather than fact-based public perception of the president's job performance.

Take, for example, the latest economic news. By all accounts, the American economy is booming. Bloomberg News reports that February witnessed the addition of 243,000 jobs to payrolls nationwide, and that, while the unemployment rate did rise by one-tenth of a percent since January's job numbers were released, it rose from 4.7% to 4.8%. I encourage others out there to correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that any unemployment rate at or below 5% (or even slightly above 5%) meant that the economy was essentially at full employment.

Some might say that these negative poll numbers reflect other negatives, and that those negatives are swamping any boost he might ordinarily be getting from good economic numbers. As a counter to that argument, I would put forward Bill Clinton as proof that that hypothesis is lacking. During even the lowest points of Clinton's administration, particularly during impeachment, Clinton's numbers remained remarkably high, a fact which many attributed to the solid economic numbers of the late 1990s.

At the end of the day, I think poll numbers are irrelevant. They are ends-oriented ventures disguised as objective, statistic-based snapshots of public opinion; rather than being random and chaotic, they are heavily massaged and, to some extent, pre-determined by the tone of the questions asked. And I will guarantee you that history will quickly forget what what CBS News had to say about the president during a week-long poll conducted in March 2006. Nonetheless, it is maddening as a bystander to see misleading and substance-less polling data being passed along as reality.

Simply stated, the bad numbers do not reflect the great numbers.


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