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Whither the Obama Bounce?

4:13 PM, Feb 7, 2011 • By JAY COST
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The first poll I look to for presidential job approval is the Gallup poll. I don't know whether Gallup offers the best gauge of presidential support. Indeed, nobody can really know: the poll surveys support/opposition among all adults, and there is no independent arbiter to decide which pollster gets it right (contrast this with the exit polls, which can check how pre-election "likely voter" polls performed). Instead, Gallup is my first choice because it is the oldest. We can look at historical performance in the Gallup poll dating back to FDR, and thus get a sense of where President Obama stands relative to his predecessors in the same poll. On top of that, Gallup's numbers are usually reasonable, and the outfit is extremely generous in its provision of free cross-tab data. 

Whither the Obama Bounce?

The day-to-day Gallup tracking poll is extremely bouncy, but on a week-to-week basis the random fluctuations typically cancel each other out, and so it offers my most trusted snapshot of public opinion among all adults. Last week, the Gallup poll had the president's job approval at 47 percent, compared to 45 percent disapproving. This is the lowest it has been since Christmas, and it means that most (but not all) of his post-Election bounce has disappeared.

The second poll I look to is the Rasmussen poll, which samples "likely voters" and thus offers a good contrast with the Gallup poll of adults. Rasmussen finds the same basic result in the last week: numbers are down slightly from mid-January and more in line with where the president was on Election Day.

So, it appears the bounce is mostly gone. At least for now. Personally, I don't put a lot of stock in fluctuations like this, at least in terms of evaluating electoral prospects. The MSM made a big deal out of it -- it still is -- but to me I think this kind of shift has very little political relevance. Public opinion fluctuates because of the media environment. It happens all the time. What really matters, in my opinion, will be where President Obama is about 16 months from now, when the Republicans have settled on a nominee and the GOP message machine becomes active once again.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: President Obama's reelection hinges not on these fluctuations, but rather in the ultimate disposition of the three major issues -- jobs, the deficit, and health care reform. The bounce in the last few months has had nothing to do with any of these, which is why I haven't put much stock into it.

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