It all started with Mark Halperin's brief note in Time Magazine, http://thepage.time.com/2009/02/03/poll-obama-approval-rating-drops/ , which stated "Poll: Obama Approval Rating Drops". It goes on to say that Obama's job approval level is 64%, "down from a pre-Inauguration high of 83%".
Chris Matthews on MSNBC and Anderson Cooper on CNN jumped on this information and promptly repeated it on each of their shows on Friday. What’s the problem? It combines information from two different polls that ask different questions and reaches an unsupported and erroneous conclusion.
The first poll deals with Obama's transition. Gallup asked people "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his presidential transition?" http://www.gallup.com/poll/113824/Obama-Wins-83-Approval-Rating-Transition.aspx the final metric for this was that 83% of the country approved of then President-elect Obama's transition efforts.
When President-elect Obama became President Obama, Gallup and other polling organizations started tracking his job approval ratings. His first rating came in at 68% for the period of January 21-23rd.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the question “How do you think President Barack Obama is doing his job?” is not the same question as "How is President-Elect Barack Obama handling his transition?"
The error gets even worse, because Halperin's suggestion of a drop from 83% to 64% doesn't even rely on unrelated polls from the same polling agency. For the 64% figure, he went to USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-02-02-poll-stimulus_N.htm#table whose January 30-Feb 1 poll shows Obama with a 64% job approval rating.
Mark Halperin and Time Magazine deserve the bulk of the criticism for coming up with and then printing this twisted analysis. Matthews & MSNBC and Cooper & CNN also deserve criticism for not bothering to vet Halperin's data and throwing it out there, in what I can only assume to be a rush in order not to be scooped by other networks.
A 19% drop in approval would be big news if it were true. Presenting this erroneous data as fact and drawing the conclusion that Obama’s approval is falling is irresponsible at best. A conspiracy theorist could easily conclude that these three media personalities and their networks/agencies were deliberately trying to create negative momentum for Obama and his new administration. At the least, this deserves a prominent retraction on air/print and an accompanying apology to viewers and to President Obama.