Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gallup moves Bush approval up to 33%

A now slightly stale Gallup poll, taken 5/8-11/06, moves approval of President Bush up slightly to 33% approval, 61% disapproval. This poll seems to have gotten crowded out over the weekend by the NSA telephone records story, and a subsequent Gallup poll for USAToday. Hotline carried the poll results today, and Gallup now has them on their front page. I've not seen a story in USAToday based on these results.

With the addition of this Gallup result (and the previously released Newsweek poll that interviewed 5/11-12/06, discussed here yesterday) the president's approval trend estimate stands at 32.4%, up a tenth from yesterday's 32.3% estimate.

I haven't plotted Gallup's track record in a while, so this is an opportune moment to look at it. The Gallup "house effect" is a slightly positive 0.82%, compared to the average of all polls. From the figure it becomes apparent that this effect was greater in early 2005 but has declined over the past months to more closely mirror the overall approval trend. We saw here that Gallup's trend in party identification was steeper than most in the first half of 2005, suggesting that some of the decline in the house effect may have been due to a shift in the percentage of Republican identifiers. Since January, the Gallup track has followed my trend estimate very closely, in fact.

A couple of months ago I differed with Gallup over whether President Bush's approval ratings had stabilized. With the clarity of hindsight, I think this plot makes it clear that what appeared to be stability for four polls (all 36-37% approval) was in fact pretty close to the continued decline my trend estimate was arguing for at the time. In fact none of those four polls is at all far from the trend-- they just bounce around it in what gives the impression of a plateau but is in fact just a +/-1% noise around the trend. This is why small movement in closely spaced polls should not be taken as a sign of "stability."

The Gallup poll of 5/5-7/06 that found approval at 31% is almost exactly 2% below my estimated trend for the time, another example of random fluctuation, though in this case one much seized upon to further the story of President Bush's declining approval. As my trend makes clear, approval HAS continued down at a substantial rate. However, the Gallup and CBS/NYT estimates at 31% and the Harris estimate at 29% appear a bit premature. They are well within the margin of error for the trend, but should be balanced by the higher readings from CNN and Newsweek (and the somewhat earlier readings by Cook and Fox.)

My trend estimate of 32.4% approval should be bad enough for those who are cheering declining approval, and 32.4% should be no comfort to the president's supporters. When either side seizes on polls a bit below or a bit above that estimate they are building their hopes on random chance, a chimera certain to turn on on them.

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