Is NPR Not Covering Obama's Slip in the Polls?

NPR's Ombudsman office keeps a finger on the blog pulse, and occasionally finds items criticizing NPR that are spot on, but others that aren't correct.

That's why a recent post on NewsBusters.org, a conservative media watchdog site, raised a few eyebrows.

"It is a strange paradigm among much of the mainstream media that plummeting poll numbers are of far greater import for Republicans than they are for Democrats," wrote Lachlan Markay, the post's author. "That, at least, is the logical conclusion of the relative silence of major media outlets on the steep decline in President Obama's poll numbers compared with the decline in President Bush's."

Could it be true, as Markay stated, that NPR has neglected to report President Obama's decline in the polls?

We did some research.

It turns out that Markay's post was partially accurate. NPR did not report on the specific Allstate/National Journal poll on Jan. 15. But Markay's general sentiment — that NPR doesn't report negative polls on President Obama — was not accurate.

On Jan. 14, NPR's Liz Halloran reported a Pew Research Center for People & the Press survey, noting that the president's job approval ratings were at 49 percent. And that his approval rating on health care had dropped from 51 percent to 38 percent.

Days later Weekend Edition Sunday reported on a drop in the president's poll numbers:

"Ken Rudin: And now it seems like, if you look at the polling numbers - and I can give some polling numbers - The Washington Post has President Obama with a 53 percent approval, CBS 46 percent approval. These are not good numbers, certainly not as good as they were when he was riding so high back in the last spring."

And Weekend All Things Considered also commented on the shift:

"Guy Raz: [...] Originally, he was at around 70 percent approval, now down to 50 percent, just under that.

Mara Liasson: Yes. Obviously, he started at an unnaturally high level.

Guy Raz: Mm-hmm.

Mara Liasson: But being under 50 is the danger zone for presidents as they enter the midterm elections. The presidential approval rating and the unemployment rate are probably the two most significant indicators of how a majority party will fare in the midterms."

On Monday, NPR's Scott Horsley, who covers the president, reported on his sagging poll numbers.

NPR's Mara Liasson reported Wednesday on Morning Edition that President Obama, with a 50 percent approval rating, has the second-lowest national approval rating of any modern president at this point in his presidency. [President Reagan was only slightly lower at 49 percent.] In the same show, NPR's Don Gonyea noted that a new Indiana poll gave the president a 44 percent approval rating with 53 percent disapproving.

And Horsley, also did a newscast spot that day saying:

"Some of the same voter frustration and desire for change that helped propel Mr.Obama into the White House last year has now turned against the President. His approval rating has fallen from almost 70 percent at the time of his inauguration to around 50-percent. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says with double-digit unemployment, it's little wonder the public is frustrated. Gibbs says the President is frustrated too."

Polls are valuable to journalists and the public because they capture a numeric concept of public opinion. But there are so many polls conducted that not all of them will make it into the news cycle — and the quality and credibility of polls range from excellent to poor.

Although Markay raised a provocative observation, a quick search of NPR's coverage reveals that a particular poll might not be cited, but listeners are learning about the dramatic slip in approval for the president.

Assistant to the Ombudsman

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: