For most of 2009 PPP and Gallup have evidently been polling two different countries. Our March poll had Barack Obama's national approval rating at 55%. Theirs at the same time had it at 62%. In April we were at 53%, they were at 63%. In May we were at 55%, they were at 65%. In June we were at 52% and they were at 61%. In July we were at 50%, they were at 60%.
Now, after showing Obama's approval ten points behind them all year, they're at 50% and we're actually at 52%, actually finding him slightly more popular.
How the heck do you explain that?
I'm pretty sure it's because people are more honest with automated polls than they are with live interviewers. I don't think Obama's approval rating was ever really as good with independents and especially Republicans as some polls were showing it. But I think folks were being more charitable to him in live interviews than their true feelings a) because they felt like they should pretend they were at least giving a new President a chance and b) because they were hearing all the time about how popular Obama is and let's face it, people don't want to be different.
We showed Obama's approval with Republicans at only 14% as far back as March, at a time when most other pollsters were showing it in the high 20s or even the 30s. We find it at basically the same place now- 16%- but now every other survey from the last three weeks that pollster.com has on its Republicans only chart also shows it lower than 20%.
It's a similar story with independents. In March we already had him polling in the low 40s with them, but most polls in a similar time frame had him in the middle to upper 50s. We still have him in the 40s with them, and so does every other poll that's come out this month that Pollster has it broken out for.
There has not been a similar discrepancy between our numbers and others among Democrats. In March most everyone, including us, had him in the high 80s or lower 90s, and now most polls show him around the mid 80s.
Here's what I think: Obama never really had the approval of very many people who didn't vote for him. I'm really not sure why he would have- he made it pretty clear what he stood for last fall and if folks didn't like it enough to vote for him then, I'm not sure why they would have approved of his job performance at any time this year. And I think our polling (and Rasmussen's) has pretty much reflected that throughout 2009.
So why are the live interviewer numbers converging with ours now? Health care, the town halls, and the greater level of dissatisfaction coming across in the media has made Obama disapproval more socially acceptable and I think folks now are letting their true feelings out when they get polled regardless of whether they're talking to a real person or IVR.
I don't think Obama's numbers are really crashing- I just don't think his true level of approval was ever that high to begin with. I think he has seen some drop in popularity, but a very modest one, probably in the 3-5 point range.
That's my theory anyway- someone smarter than me would have to figure out how to prove or disprove it.