Friday, May 12, 2006

Bush approval below 30% in Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive on Thursday became the first poll to find approval of President Bush below 30%. Their poll of 1003 respondents taken May 5-8 found approval at 29% and disapproval at 71% according to Reuters. Harris Interactive does not yet have a release about the poll on their website (as of 9:41 CDT 5/12). With a margin of error of +/-3% this result is not statistically different from the CBS/NYT and Gallup results at 31%. However, the psychology of being below 30% is probably more damaging than the 2% difference warrants. Certainly the coverage of this result will be celebrated on the left and ignored or belittled on the right. (See MysteryPollster's nice discussion of this here.) Even including the Harris result, my model of the trend (the blue line in the figure) stands at 32.4% approval. That is dropping rather faster than in April but is still not at 30% or below.

Harris Interactive also has a "house effect" estimate of -2.10%, meaning we would expect them to be two percentage points below the average poll result. Given that my model says approval on average is 32.4%, they are one and a half points lower than we would expect. That could easily be due to random sampling variation given the 3% margin of error for the sample size.

One interesting point about the Harris Interactive poll is that their approval question differs from most. Harris asks a four point approval item:
"How would you rate the overall job President George W. Bush is doing as president: excellent, pretty good, only fair, or poor?"
"Excellent" and "pretty good" are considered "approval". Most other pollsters use a dichotomous item. Gallup's is typical:
"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?"
The difference in wording is one possible reason for the house effect, but moreover I think the "only fair" option becomes very inviting to disappointed Republican's right now, as compared to choosing the blunt "disapprove" on the more common question. Depending on the inflection, "only fair" can sound more or less bad. And if you are a past supporter of the President who now wishes the White House were performing better, I think "only fair" would capture your feelings quite well. When approval is higher overall, you'd expect that most Republicans and conservative independents would be in the "excellent" or "pretty good" categories, and that "only fair" and "poor" would be mostly Democrats. But with approval at such a low level, the "only fair" refuge may be pulling more of these respondents. The result is that the Harris item produces results a bit less approving of the President. (Of course, if we had the raw data we could test this hypothesis. For now, it is just speculation.)

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