When asked a question often discussed with dread at family Thanksgiving dinners, a plurality of voters — 33 percent — believe President Obama is the worst president since World War II. In second place on the same question was George W. Bush with 28 percent. These are the numbers you will read in several headlines today. The thing is, the "worst president since World War II" results aren't really the worst numbers for the president in the Quinnipiac poll from which they're drawn.
Let's address the headlines first. In the Quinnipiac poll, Obama finds himself among a handful of post-war presidents who garner polarizing reactions from voters. Those presidents, roughly, are Kennedy, Reagan, and the three most recent: Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush. When asked to choose the best post-war president, for instance, Ronald Reagan snagged 35 percent of voters. But 18 percent thought it was Kennedy. Clinton took 18 percent of voters, and 8 percent think it's Obama, putting him in fourth place. (George W. Bush, for what it's worth, had just 1 percent of voters on this question).
If you look at the political breakdown by party of who is saying Obama is the worst, it falls strongly along party lines, with a little bit of help from independents: 63 percent of Republicans chose Obama, while 54 percent of Democrats said George W. Bush. Independents voted "for" both: 23 percent said George W. Bush was the worst, while 36 percent chose Obama. On a similar question directly comparing Bush and Obama, the expected partisan divide is even stronger:
Obama has been a better president than George W. Bush, 39 percent of voters say, while 40 percent say he is worse. Men say 43 - 36 percent that Obama is worse than Bush while women say 42 - 38 percent he is better. Obama is worse, Republicans say 79 - 7 percent and independent voters say 41 - 31 percent. Democrats say 78 - 4 percent that he is better.
So the core group of voters strongly opposed to everything Obama does think he's a bad president, and the people who voted for him have a more positive opinion of the job he's doing. That's not a surprise.
Which brings us to the number that's arguably the actual worst thing in the poll for Obama: "American voters say 54 - 44 percent that the Obama administration is not competent running the government." Politico's Mike Allen agreed, flagging that number as of most concern to the White House this morning. This is the second recent poll to give the president or his administration a bad rating on a "competency" question: an earlier NBC/WSJ poll found that just half of Americans believe Obama is a competent leader of the federal government.
Although the poll marked a slight uptick in his overall approval rating to 40 percent, the president didn't fare too well when respondents were asked to rate his performance on a bunch of crucial issues:
- Voters were 40 - 55 percent against his handling of the economy;
- They also were negative on his foreign policy, 37 - 57 percent. And on the related issue of terrorism? 44 - 51 percent.
- Same goes for healthcare: 40 - 58 percent against.
- He did better on the environment, with 50 percent of voters approving and 40 percent against.