New York Times survey finds Obama edge over GOP ... until you look at the data 

Here's the lead and following two graphs for The New York Times story on the results of its latest joint public opinion survey with CBS News:

"At a time of deepening political disaffection and intensified distress about the economy, President Obama enjoys an edge over Republicans in the battle for public support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

"While the president is showing signs of vulnerability on his handling of the economy — a majority of respondents say he has yet to offer a clear plan for creating jobs — Americans blame former President George W. Bush, Wall Street and Congress much more than they do Mr. Obama for the nation’s economic problems and the budget deficit, the poll found.

"They credit Mr. Obama more than Republicans with making an effort at bipartisanship, and they back the White House’s policies on a variety of disputed issues, including allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military and repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy."

Reading those graphs might well lead one to conclude that, while the president certainly has some problems, his difficulties are less severe than those facing Republicans and he enjoys significant public support on his major policies.

But a dramatically different picture emerges when you dig into the data.

Take, for example, question number three where the survey asks people if they think the country is "generally going in the right direction" or has "pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track," a question this particular poll has been asking since the first Bush administration.

The highest approval point since 1991 was right after 9/11 when 64 percent said the country was going in the right direction, while the lowest point was the abyssmal seven percent who said so in October 2008 during the economic meltdown.

How has the public responded during Obama's first year in office? His high point came in May 2009 with 45 percent saying he had the country headed in the right direction, while 48 percent said it was going the wrong direction.

But the worse news for Obama is the fact the right track percentage has been headed steadily down ever since, reaching its lowest percent under him in the most recent survey at 33 percent. Fully 62 percent of the respondents said the country is headed in the wrong direction under Obama.

Donald Douglas at American Power blog notes other questions and responses that suggest the president's position with the public is vastly more negative than the Times' leads its readers to believe. A strong majority, 56 percent, say they prefer a "smaller government with fewer services," and nearly 60 percent say "government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals."

But the bad news for Obama and his political supporters in the New York Times/CBS News poll gets even worse the more you read in it.

When asked if they approve of the way Congress - which is controlled in the Senate and House by Democrats who strongly support Obama's policies - three-fourths of the respondents disapprove, with a mere 15 percent approving. Similarly, asked how much they trust the government, 81 percent said only some or never.

Just to drive the point home even deeper, the very next question asked the respondents if they thought most Members of Congress should be re-elected. Exactly eight percent said yes, while 81 percent said no.

More evidence that the worst thing you can say about a Member of Congress these days is not "Democrat" or "Republican," or "liberal" or "conservative."

It's "incumbent."

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Mark Tapscott

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