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Gallup vs. Gibbs: Polling Company Teaches Petulant Press Secretary How to be Politic

2:40 PM, Dec 8, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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When he's not getting in fights with reporters asking questions about the social secretary, Robert Gibbs is now getting in fights with...poll numbers. Gibbs had this to say about Gallup, whose daily tracking poll found Obama at his lowest point yet yesterday-47 percent:

"If I was a heart patient and Gallup was my EKG I'd visit my doctor," Gibbs said. "If you look back I think five days ago we were, there was an 11 point spread, now there's a one point spread."

Gibbs continued, "you know, I mean I'm sure a six year old with a crayon could do something not unlike that. I don't put a lot of stake in, never have, in the EKG that is the daily Gallup trend. I don't pay a lot of attention to meaninglessness."

Robert, Robert calm down. Just take a deep breath for one second. Now see? This happens with my son. He does the same thing.

It's so meaningless that he had to take two painfully clumsy metaphoric swipes at it for the national press? Methinks he doth whine too much.

Frank Newport of Gallup, no doubt reveling in the company's rapidly increasing name-recognition, responds the way, well, a seasoned press secretary might. He's matter-of-fact, respectful, calm, all in such a way that slyly rebukes the White House for its pettiness. I wonder if he's looking for work:

I'm certain Gibbs didn't intend to impugn the value of presidential job approval polls in general. It appears he was reacting more to the fact that the president's approval numbers are not stable, but, in fact, in a period of some change. More specifically, Gibbs was reacting to our report Monday highlighting the fact that, while there was a short-term positive uptick in Obama's job approval ratings after his Afghanistan speech last week, his ratings through the weekend fell back.

But this type of movement is the nature of the beast. Gibbs said that if Gallup were his EKG, he would visit his doctor. Well, I think the doctor might ask him what's going on in his life that would cause his EKG to be fluctuating so much. There is, in fact, a lot going on at the moment -- the healthcare bill, the jobs summit, the Copenhagen Climate Conference, and Afghanistan.

We live in a representative democracy. Our politicians are accountable to the people. Certainly the accountability that matters most is on Election Day. But keeping tabs on the people's views of their elected representatives between elections is vitally important - and something in which the people of the country are demonstrably interested. We at Gallup are fortunate to have the capability to interview random samples of Americans on a daily basis. This helps us closely monitor the ways in which presidential actions are being received by the national constituency.

Of course, it's not just Gallup that finds this important. I'm sure the White House was just as interested as we were in how the president's major speech at West Point last week played to the American public. Our tracking helped provide the answer.