June 18, 2002
Fun With Polls

The Brothers Judd link to an interesting Gallup article, which, among much else of interest, gives the following numbers:


2002 Mar 18-20
(sorted by "approve") Approve--Disapprove

John F. Kennedy: 83--7--10
Ronald Reagan: 73--22--5
elder George Bush: 69--26--5
Gerald Ford: 60--19--21
Jimmy Carter: 60--28--12
Bill Clinton: 51--47--2
Lyndon Johnson: 39--34--27
Richard Nixon: 34--54--12

I've added the third number in each row, the 'other' number, those who don't know, don't care, refuse to answer, or can't make up their minds. A lot of this is probably 'don't know' and 'don't care', since the numbers tend to be much higher for those further in the past. But some of it must be 'can't make up my mind', particularly for Ford (in office too short a time to make much difference either way) and Johnson (civil rights hero, Vietnam villain).

Sorting by approval rating looks plausible at first glance, but the huge variations in the 'other' category skew things. Isn't the difference between approval and disapproval more significant? This ranges from +76 for Kennedy to -20 for Nixon.

Of course, if you calculate the differences, Clinton (+4) drops from third-to-last down to second-to-last place, behind even Lyndon Johnson (+5). Think about that: if this poll can be trusted, Americans believe that the worst president of the last 42 years, other than Richard Nixon, is William Jefferson Clinton. (Making the time-span 70 years wouldn't help, since Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower would all rate fairly high to very high, certainly better than Johnson or Clinton.)

It could also be argued that the ratio between the approval and disapproval numbers would be a better measure than the difference. Clinton loses here, too, since a 51-47 approval-disapproval rating means that the total number of people who approve of Clinton is 8.5% larger than the number of those who disapprove, while Johnson (39-34) still has 14.7% more admirers than detractors. (That last is a little hard to believe, but I suppose Gallup knows best.)

For many years, Alabamians have had a saying, "thank God for Mississippi". The two states have traditionally ranked 49th and 50th in personal income, literacy rates, doctors per capita, and other good things, and 2nd and 1st (in that order) in incidence of venereal disease, percentage of families living in double-wides, number of individuals subsisting on roadkill, and other bad (or at least embarrassing) statistics. (The saying is now less accurate, since both states have lately gotten stiff competition from Louisiana and Arkansas. They still tend to be in the top 5 for bad things and the bottom 5 for good ones.) Former president Clinton can and should get down on his knees every night and say "thank God for Richard Nixon".

(This entry was expanded and partially rewritten at 7:08 PM.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at June 18, 2002 02:15 PM

Here in NH we say "Thank God for James Buchanan", otherwise Franklin Pierce might be the worst president of the 19th Century.

Posted by: oj on June 19, 2002 12:27 AM