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The media myth of Obama's "falling poll numbers"

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The release of an Associated Press poll last week that showed President Obama enjoying a healthy job approval rating of 53 percent didn't generate much news beyond the wire service and produced even less commentary among the media's chattering class. Then again, neither did another piece of polling news from January, which showed Obama basking in the glow of a 56 percent job approval rating.

The cold shoulder was expected, though. Why? It's simple: the results didn't fit the script.

Adopting the polar opposite narrative from the Bush era when pundits and reporters seemed obsessed with trying to boost the president's standing, Beltway scribes today have made it plain that when it comes to Obama and polling, good news is no news.

Feeding off right-wing talking points, political journalists love to push the idea that Obama's polling numbers are in the tank and that he's fading fast. It's all part of the preferred, CW narrative that his entire presidency is slipping away. (It must now be "save[d]," according to Newsweek.)

Does the White House wish Obama's job approval rating was higher? I'm sure advisers do. Is there anything unusual in Obama's approval number, other than the fact that it nearly doubles the rating his predecessor left office with? No, not really.

Indeed, the news media's ongoing hand-wringing about Obama's polling numbers and how he's only around 50 percent (it's "tepid" and cause for "worry") is rather odd considering former President Bush served nearly his entire second term with an approval rating below 50 percent and left the presidency with an almost incomprehensibly low 22 percent approval rating.

Also note that for the majority of Bush's first year in office (i.e. up until September 11, 2001), his approval rating remained pretty much exactly where Obama's has been since late last summer: hovering around 50 percent. But do you recall a media obsession about Bush's super-soft poll numbers back during the spring and summer of 2001?

Neither do I.

More queries: Has there been any dramatic shift in President Obama's approval number since late last summer? No. (See below.) Has the press in recent months, busy echoing right-wing falsehoods, often pretended that there has been a sizable shift? Without question. (Rush Limbaugh, last month: "If Mr. Obama hasn't noticed, his approval numbers are in a free fall.")

Just take a look. From The New York Times, December 19, 2009:

After weeks of frustrating delays and falling poll numbers, Mr. Obama decided to take what he could get, declare victory and claim momentum on some of the administration's biggest priorities, even if the details did not always match the lofty vision that underlined them.

Washington Post, January 19:

On Wednesday one year will have passed since President Obama's inauguration. Much of the tidal wave of assessments has been negative: Falling poll numbers. Unfulfilled promises.

Miami Herald, January 29:

Amid declining poll numbers and political fortunes, President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to reconnect with the fickle state that helped put him in the White House and urged voters to keep the faith despite Florida's withering recession.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, February 23:

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a (more...)

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