Just passing along a stat that blew the conservasphere’s collective mind when it started circulating last night on Twitter. Mmmmmm, that’s good bias.
Obama job approval is almost identical to Bush's in Sept 2006. Bias is just as much what isn't reported as what is. pic.twitter.com/BfxRSfq2Ub
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) September 16, 2014
Just last Thursday, for example, Gallup found Obama’s approval rating at a record low of 38 percent, yet none of the three broadcast networks bothered to mention this on their evening or morning newscasts.
Such coverage is in stunning contrast to how those same newscasts relentlessly emphasized polls showing bad news for George W. Bush during the same phase of his presidency. Media Research Center analysts reviewed every reference on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts to public opinion polls from January 1 through August 31, 2014, and from the same time period in 2006. Eight years ago, the networks aired 124 evening news reports which cited public opinion polls about either President Bush’s overall approval rating or his handling of specific policies. In 2014, those same broadcasts produced only nine reports which mentioned public opinion surveys related to President Obama.
In Bush’s case, the networks routinely highlighted his falling approval ratings to illustrate his political weakness, and regularly cited polling data showing public disapproval of policies such as the Iraq war. This year, even as President Obama has suffered his own political meltdown, the networks have spared him from such coverage.
Their refusal to mention O’s slide sometimes extends to their own polls, notes Noyes. Through the first eight months of the year, NBC conducted five national polls; “NBC Nightly News” allegedly failed to mention the data on Obama’s job approval all five times. Gadzooks.
Obvious question: Are there any explanations for the disparity besides simple ideological bias by left-learning news bureaus who don’t want to make the Democrats’ task in the midterms harder than it already is? I can think of two, one weak and one a bit more solid. The weak one is the fact that Dubya enjoyed stratospheric job approval shortly after 9/11, well beyond what even the popular Obama saw when he first took office. There is, I guess, something extra newsy to the fact that Bush fell from a greater height. I’d be curious to know, though, how much of the coverage circa 2006 focused on that angle (my guess: near zero) versus how much took a straightforward “can you believe how much the public hates this guy?” approach (my guess: nearly all of it). Bush’s sky-high job approval was long, long gone by the time 2006 began; he had dipped below 50 percent approval in the RCP average as early as February 2004 as Iraq fatigue started to set in, in fact. Why would network news still be marveling two years later how far he’d fallen? It was already a fact of life.
The stronger explanation is that there’s been enough of a difference in Obama’s and Bush’s respective trajectories in year six so far that the networks might justifiably take a greater interest in Dubya. The best way to see what I mean is to click and scroll through the side-by-side daily approval rating comparison that RCP’s been keeping. Right now at this point in their presidencies, Bush and Obama are nearly identical — 40 percent approval for Dubya versus 41.3 percent for O — but their paths to this point are very different. Obama’s been steady in the low 40s for ages; Bush, by contrast, crashed through the 40 percent floor early in 2006 and had many weeks of sub-40 polling, the worst of which was in mid-May when he reached 33.8(!) percent. (You can see the difference in graph form in Gallup’s comparison of their numbers.) Obama at that point was more than 10 points higher. Bush rebounded late in the summer of 2006 to cross the 40-percent line again, but you can understand why reporters’ eyes would pop more at the crash Bush experienced than the steady malaise of O’s second term.
But don’t let them off the hook just yet. If it’s eye-popping numbers you want, how about this one yesterday from Gallup?
With two years to go in Hopenchange, trust in the executive is just about as low as it ever was during the Bush years and is headed straight for Watergate territory. Trust in the federal government to solve international problems is now actually lower than it was under Bush. That data seems … kinda newsy to me, given that The One ran on a platform of restoring faith in the presidency after Dubya had allegedly mangled it almost beyond repair. If those numbers don’t grab you, though, how about the fact that O’s approval rating on foreign policy, specifically, has turned into a dumpster fire, chronically mired in the mid- to low-30s with the Economist having tracked him at 31 percent(!) in late July? A man who got elected promising to rebuild relationships abroad and make the world safer and more peaceful should, one would think, be doing better at this stage than disapproval ratings in the high 50s or low 60s. That seems like a newsy angle for the networks newscasts too. Why isn’t it being covered? Any theories?