Americans aren’t feeling the presidential love these days. President Barack Obama has been down in approval polls for quite some time now, hovering in the low 40 percentiles for much of 2014, and hitting his all time low of 38 percent job approval in 2011 most recently — according to Gallup. On average, compared with other presidents during this time in their presidency, he isn’t doing that far below the average. However, a new poll from Quinnipiac University listed President Obama as the worst U.S. president since World War II, worse even then the runner up: George W. Bush. Richard Nixon had 13 percent of respondents calling him the worst president, with Jimmy Carter taking 8 percent and George W. Bush with 28 percent to Barack Obama’s 33 percent. Only 8 percent called Obama the best president, while Harry Truman and John Kennedy both received no votes putting them as the worst presidents, and Ronald Reagan received 35 percent of votes for being the best president.
The numbers looked at a pool of 1,446 registered voters, 26 percent of which were Republican, 31 percent Democrats, 35 percent Independents, and 7 percent listed as other. It also showed 45 percent of respondents saying that Mitt Romney would have made a better president than Obama has, with 38 percent saying the nation would have done worse under Romney. “Over the span of 69 years of American history and 12 presidencies, President Barack Obama finds himself with President George W. Bush at the bottom of the popularity barrel,” said Tim Malloy, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. But is that really what people think?
With Quinnipiac’s data causing such a stir, it’s important to take into account a few things about the available data and about how people respond to polls when viewing some of the more sensational headlines. Slate points out that the poll is largely influenced by how — or more importantly, if — Democrats and Republicans divide their votes. For example, if you view the poll as a partisan split, with Democrats likely to vote positively for Obama, and Republicans to vote negatively, the disadvantages are glossed over. If you look at the questions as a depiction of how divergent preferences are within a party, you have a more accurate picture of why the ultimate splits are somewhat skewed.
Republicans voted highly positively for Reagan across the board, with 66 percent voting for him as the best president. Compare this to Democrats, who have a tendency to live multiple presidents and to have differing preferences, and much like in a congressional election where two strong left or right candidates split the vote, the results are thinned as they are spread out.