A Closer Look at Today's Polling Results on Gas Prices

The Washington Post and ABC have published the results of a new Presidential approval poll, as part of a long-term tracking study.  The headlines in the WaPo, ABC News and Fox News alike announce that high gas prices are the reason for the weakness in the President's level of support.

Here is a sample of three headlines:

From Fox News:

"Survey: Obama's ratings drop as gas price soar"

From The Washington Post:

"Gas prices sink Obama's ratings on economy, bring parity to race for White House"

From ABC News:

"Election expectations move Obama's way, yet rising gas prices fuel GOP pushback"

In all three articles, "gas prices" are mentioned twice in the first three paragraphs.

I do not believe a word of this research, or the news articles reporting the results.  In the context of spinning the President's popularity, the pump price of gas is a bogus issue to cover up his weakness in other areas, and to create a divisive battle over energy policy.

A quick look at the survey (the link is below) conducted by Langer Research shows that Langer added the question about gas prices to the tracking study's questionnaire for the first time since Obama became President.  Gas prices were not probed in the previous 17 tracking studies conducted since April 2009, including the most recent research on February 4, 2012.

As a result, we have no idea what change has taken place in the respondents' perceptions and attitudes towards the President's handling of gas prices, and how that shift may have helped to shift the President's overall rating.  Nor do we know the relative importance of gas prices to Afghanistan or any other issue.

Nor do we see in the numbers any statistical difference between gas prices and "the federal budget deficit."  The numbers on these two issues are virtually identical. The worldwide headlines may just as well read, "Obama's Free Spending Ways Continues to Depress His Popularity."  Such a headline would be equally misleading.

The tracking study omits any question about jobs.  (I suppose there's no need to probe this.)  But the Langer Report does very helpfully provide the news desks with historical context for the President's gas price numbers.  On this one question, and only this question, we see the numbers for George W. Bush during the mid-2005 to mid-2006 period.  And yes, surprise, Bush's numbers are little worse.

Back in the 1970s and '80s, I thought political research was top-quality, on par with what Coca-Cola or Procter & Gamble would produce.   If a 23-year-old had written a report like these articles in Fox News and ABC, his 25-year-old boss would have torn it up.