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Polling Methodology: Job Approval Ratings

Trends More Important Than Absolute Numbers

When comparing Job Approval ratings between different polling firms, it’s important to focus on trends rather than absolute numbers. One reason for this is that different firms ask Job Approval questions in different ways. At Rasmussen Reports, we ask if people Strongly Approve, Somewhat Approve, Somewhat Disapprove, or Strongly Disapprove of the way the President is performing his job. This approach, in the current political environment, yields results about 3-4 points higher than if we simply ask if people if they approve or disapprove (we have tested this by asking the question both ways on the same night). Presumably, this is because some people who are a bit uncomfortable saying they “Approve” are willing to say they “Somewhat Approve.” It’s worth noting that, with our approach, virtually nobody offers a “Not Sure” response when asked about the President.

At the other extreme, some firms ask people to rate the President on a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor. They then add Excellent and Good together to come up with a Job Approval rating. This tends to generate much lower numbers (about 5 points or so lower than simply asking if people “Approve” or Disapprove”). In this case, the difference may be that people who some people who say the President is doing a “Fair” job would answer a different question by saying they “Approve” of his performance.

We believe that there is no perfect way to ask the Job Approval question. Consistency and trends matter more than specific numbers. We believe there is great value in seeing the number who Strongly Approve and Strongly Disapprove of the President’s performance and that’s why we ask the question the way we do. There is also great value in seeing the number who say Excellent or Poor in other firms’ surveys. At the same time, simply asking Approve or Disapprove yields a different set of information that is also useful in assessing the environment. Still, a look at all data over a long period of time shows that all of these forms of asking about Job Approval show the same trends.

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