When Bush Plummets in Polls, It's News--Obama, Not So Much

January 17th, 2010 2:17 PM

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. 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.

According to an Allstate/National Journal poll released Wednesday, 50 percent of Americans would vote against President Obama if the presidential elections were held today. Only 39 percent say they would vote to re-elect the president.

But so far, this stunning development--given the President's sky-high approval ratings upon entering office--has gone seemingly unnoticed by the major television networks and most prominent print publications. Aside from some prominent blogs (whose coverage is by no means substandard), the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Washington Examiner are so far the only major outlets to report on the poll, according to a google news search (as of 2:00 PM).

Contrast this non-coverage to the extensive coverage garnered by the declines in President Bush's polls in 2003.

"The percentage of registered voters who say they would support President Bush in 2004 fell below 50 percent for the first time," read the first sentence of CNN's online coverage of a poll it conducted with Gallup and USA Today.

The Associated Press spotlighted the same poll, also noting that his numbers were "lower in several [other] polls."

In discussing the other polls, the AP actually revealed that Bush's numbers at that point were better than Obama's are now. 42 percent of respondents in a June 2003 poll, according to the AP article, said they would definitely vote for reelection, while 31 percent said they would definitely vote against him the following year.

In the Allstate/National Journal poll, on the other hand, 37 percent said they would definitely vote against Obama, compared to only 23 percent who said they would definitely vote for his reelection.

Yet the mainstream media continued to discuss Bush's plummeting numbers in dire terms. The numbers showed "growing discontent among Democrats and independents [that] signals serious political problems" for the President, wrote Richard Benedetto for Gannett in discussing the aforementioned CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll.

NBC News also touted the "bad news for the president [Bush]", citing a Newsweek poll that showed that if "the election were held today, 44 percent say they'd vote to re-elect Mr. Bush, while 50 percent say they would not."

Even National Public Radio jumped on the Bush-poll-numbers-signal-disastrous-drop-in-public-opinion bandwagon. Spotlighting a Pew poll, NPR hosted the Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, who noted that Bush's numbers were "pretty awful"--45 percent said they would vote for his reelection, while 43 percent said they "might" vote for the Democrat (the party did not have a nominee at the time).

NPR's coverage demonstrated even more parallels between Bush's numbers and Obama's, given that Pew also found, and Kohut made sure to note, that Bush had a 32 percent approval rating on health care. Interestingly, this is almost the same as the current approval rating for Obama's and congressional Democrats' health care plan (a recent CBS News poll shows a 36 percent approval rating).

The coverage of President Bush's poor approval ratings dramatically outweighs that given Obama's even more dramatic loss of good will among American voters. The parallels are striking, but while the mainstream media seemed to jump at the chance to cover Bush's drop in the polls, very few major media outlets are even discussing Obama's weak standing among the public.

We are left only to believe that either unpopular Democratic presidents are not really news but unpopular Republican ones are, or that much of the media doesn't want people paying attention to the fact that Obama's reelection prospects are looking very grim, and we're not even a year into his presidency.