The latest New York Times-CBS poll was reported by Adam Nagourney and Dalia Sussman for Friday's front page -- "Public Wary of Obama on War and Health Care, Poll Finds." The news wasn't great for Barack Obama's agenda, though Nagourney, the paper's chief political reporter, performed some helpful spinning for the president.
Revealingly, the poll still gives the president a 56% approval rating, one of his highest recent numbers. The Gallup poll, for example, has him in the low fifties of late, and Rasmussen Reports has him at 51% today.
One possible reason for Obama's relatively high standing is the Times' opaque "poll weighting" methodology. The "weighting" formula applied by the pollsters in this latest poll increased the gap between Democrat and Republican respondents from a "raw" six-point gap in actual respondenst (34%-28% Democrats over Republicans) to a 15-point chasm in the "weighted" final poll (37%-22% Democrats over Republicans).
Those raw figures showing a six-point gap come from the CBS version of the poll, which unlike the Times version shows the actual, "unweighted" numbers of Democrat and Republican respondents as well as the "weighted" numbers used in the poll itself.
Here's the relevant excerpt from the very end of CBS's .PDF version of the poll:
Total Respondents 1042
Total Republicans 289 234 (22%)
Total Democrats 357 385 (37%)
Total Independents 396 423 (41%)
Notice how the "Unweighted" Republican number fell, while the "Unweighted" Democratic number rose?
Strangely, the paper's "weighting" process almost always end up heavily favoring the Democrats. The last NYT/CBS poll, reported on July 30, also had a large party identification disparity, though less severe than in today's poll, and so did the one before. Weighting is standard polling practice, but the Times version hugely favors Democrats.
From Friday's front-page story:
President Obama is confronting declining support for his handling of the war in Afghanistan and an electorate confused and anxious about a health care overhaul as he prepares for pivotal battles over both issues, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
But Mr. Obama is going into the fall having retained considerable political strength. At 56 percent, his approval rating is down from earlier in the year but still reasonably strong at this point compared with recent presidents.
More Americans are starting to credit his stimulus package with having helped to revive the economy. And Mr. Obama retains a decided advantage with the American public over Republicans on prominent issues, starting with health care.
The poll found that an intense campaign by Mr. Obama to rally support behind his health care plan -- including an address to Congress, a run of television interviews and rallies across the country -- appears to have done little to allay concerns.
But the poll suggests that Mr. Obama is in a decidedly more commanding position than Republicans on this issue as Congressional negotiations move into final stages. Most Americans trust Mr. Obama more than Republicans to make the right decisions on the issue; 76 percent said Republicans had not even laid out a clear health care plan.
Perhaps because the media hasn't covered it?
Nagourney then pointed out Obama's approval rating (56%) is similar to that of Ronald Reagan's at the same point in his presidency (53%) and higher than Bill Clinton's (43%), while noting it was down from 68% in the spring.
Buried in the last three paragraphs is an oversimplified take on conservative opposition to both health care "death panels" and the use of tax money to provide health benefits to illegal immigrants:
And there is abundant evidence that critics of the bill made progress over the summer while the White House stayed largely silent: about one in four respondents said they believed that health care legislation would create organizations to decide when to stop providing medical care to the elderly -- so-called death panels -- despite an all-out effort by Mr. Obama to debunk the claim, which is false. Three in 10 say the bill would use taxpayer money to provide health care benefits to illegal immigrants.
In fact, Mr. Obama has specifically rejected any effort to have the bill cover health insurance for illegal immigrants.
But with no enforcement provisions to verify citizenship, which Democrats have refused to include, what is to stop illegal immigrants receiving government health benefits? Illegal immigration is also illegal, yet there are millions of people in the country illegally because of insufficient enforcement.
Despite the Times' optimism on the prospects for government-controlled heatlh care, its own poll shows people are resistant to the idea. Here's Question 20 (there's a .PDF version of the entire poll here).
Question 20. Which of the following three statements comes closest to expressing your overall view of the health care system in the United States: 1. On the whole, the health care system works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better. 2. There are some good things in our health care system, but fundamental changes are needed. 3. Our health care system has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it.
By 70%-30%, respondents rejected the "completely rebuild" option: Nineteen percent favored only "minor changes," while 51% wanted "fundamental changes." Only 30% wanted to "completely rebuild" the system. That shows lots of dissatisfaction with American health care, but that's different from starting anew.
That 40-point gap (70%-30%) matches the highest disparity ever found in a CBS-NYT poll on the question. Back in September 1993, during the debate over Clinton care, the gap was a mere 13 points, with 55% wanting either "minor changes" or "fundamental" changes" and 42% favoring the "completely rebuild" option. In other words, people may not be satisfied with health care in America, but they are less dissatisfied then they've been in a while.
Even in a poll heavily weighted toward Democrats.