Is Obama's approval rating really at 54 percent?

A new poll by AP-GfK has Obama’s approval rating at 54 percent. I reported a few weeks back on how the poll might be engineered to favor Obama. Today, I have some shocking news as to how the AP-GfK poll was framed when Bush was president.

With regard to the new Obama poll, the question immediately preceding Obama’s approval question reads as follows:

When you think about how things are going in your life in general, would you say you are very happy, somewhat happy, neither happy nor unhappy, somewhat unhappy, or very unhappy?

The results from that question: “Total Happy,” 79 percent. The “Total Unhappy” is only 15 percent.

I wanted to know if that question preceded the approval question for George W. Bush in previous AP-GfK polls. The Associated Press and GfK didn’t enter into partnership until September of 2008, but I was able to find two AP-GfK poll results involving Bush from 2008.

Before getting to the Bush poll questions, I would note two well-known aspects of the culture. One, most people want to project to others the impression of personal happiness. And two, many people now believe that the President is responsible for helping them across the board, i.e., making them happy.

The structure of the questioning helps to create the desired result. First a person confesses that she is happy while holding a tacit belief that the President is somewhat responsible for her happiness. The very next question puts words to the tacit belief: I’m happy, so “yes, I approve of the President.”

It’s subtle, yes, but psychological influence often is subtle. As an attorney, I’ve been trained in the tactics of response elicitation. When attorneys do cross examination they often set up their desired response with the preceding question or questions.

Now, on to the AP-GfK Bush poll questions.

Here is a link to an AP-GfK poll in November of 2008. Here is another AP-GfK poll in December of 2008. Interestingly, this is the question immediately preceding the Bush approval question in both polls:

Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction or in the wrong direction?

No question about personal happiness preceded the Bush approval question in either poll. In fact, no question about happiness was asked in either Bush poll.

The AP-GfK poll results are more widely broadcast than other poll results because of the AP’s wire service. When you turn on your computer you’re likely to see headlines like, “A grouchy public sticking with Obama.”

Additionally, 1,006 people are surveyed from across the United States. Democrats are more heavily surveyed (43% to 31%) and we really don’t know why because we don’t know how many calls were made to each state and city. If the headmasters of AP-GfK wanted to skew the results a disproportionate number of calls could have been made to San Francisco and Boston and we would have no way of knowing.

I think the most recent Rasmussen poll results that show Obama’s approval rating at 46 percent and his disapproval rating at 53 percent are more consistent with the level of anger and discontent people are expressing toward Obama across the country.

In fact, an AOL Internet poll of Nov. 11 asks the question, “Do you approve of President Obama's job performance?” With 210,045 participants, the results were 77 percent “No;” 23 percent “Yes.”