The latest New York Times/CBS poll is getting a lot of attention. Here is the money quote from the accompanying article:
Despite improving job growth and an extended Republican primary fight dividing his would-be opponents, President Obama is heading into the general election season on treacherous political ground, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
At a time of rising gas prices, heightened talk of war with Iran and setbacks in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama's approval rating dropped substantially in recent weeks, the poll found, with 41 percent of respondents expressing approval of the job he is doing and 47 percent saying they disapprove — a dangerous position for any incumbent seeking re-election.
That is bad news with some excusive padding stuffed into the middle. The Times might have also pointed out the conventional wisdom that the debate over contraception insurance was supposed to boost the President in the polls. Well, the news isn't all bad on that front.
Mr. Obama appears to be retaining much of his gains among important demographic groups, erasing inroads that Republicans made in 2010, especially among women. But his falling approval rating in the last month extended to his handling of both the economy and foreign policy, the poll found. And his weakening position cut across all major demographic groups, even among those with which he has kept an edge over his Republican challengers: independents, moderates, college graduates and younger voters.
It is difficult to see how Mr. Obama could really be "retaining much of his gains among important demographic groups," if "his weakening position cut across all major demographic groups." But if, as the Times says, he is retaining gains among women it might be that the contraception controversy did him some good. That, however, is not what their own poll shows.
In February, the President's approval rating among men was 45% and among women 53%. In the March poll, the numbers are 41% each. That's a loss of four points among men and 12 points among women! How, exactly, is that "retaining his gains"?
The President's approval rating declined 8 points among Independents, down to 39%. He lost 9 points among moderates (56-47%); a devastating 18 points among 30 to 44 year olds (52-34%); 16 points among households with yearly incomes between $30 and $50,000 (50-34%). What Demographic group is he retaining? I could only see a gain among voters making more than $75,000 a year. That'll do the trick!
The paragraph above is a textbook case of what Mickey Kaus calls "cocooning". That means spinning lies to protect oneself from reality. Of course, it's only one poll, and some others.
Sharp as the drop in Mr. Obama's approval rating was in the Times/CBS News poll, it was not in isolation. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, released on Monday, also reported a drop in Mr. Obama's overall approval rating, to 46 percent from 50 percent last month. The latest tracking poll from Gallup, also released Monday, showed Mr. Obama with an approval rating of 49 percent.
The Times poll is devastating. To be sure, "polls capture only a particular moment in time, and can be influenced by the way questions are asked or the mix of people who are surveyed," as the Times says, in a desperate attempt to discredit its own findings. Did the Times suddenly change its polling language to the disadvantage of the President?
I am not counting on anything right now. Maybe the economy is about to zoom upward. Maybe Obama will send Seal Team 6 to kill the Joker. Maybe Mitt Romney will turn out to be as bad as Santorum and Gingrich say he is. But if these polls are right, this looks like the beginning of an incumbent collapse of Jimmy Carter proportions. It's no wonder that the Times is telling lies about what its own poll shows.
I don't know what drove the President's numbers down so dramatically over the last month. Gas prices are indeed a factor that every voter with a car can understand. However, no single factor is likely to deeply wound a candidate unless the voters are already disposed to dump him. If they are so disposed, so much as a wet rabbit may be enough to start the muddy surface sliding downhill.
One thing is for certain. The conventional wisdom that the contraception debate would doom Republicans is not yet confirmed.