Polarize Me

Spirit in my psyche

Double in my role

Alter in my image

Struggle for control


Rasmussen’s Approval Index (the difference between those who strongly approve and those who strongly disapprove of the job the president is doing) has frequently been used along with the president’s overall approval; numbers which, of late, indicate that his charm is wearing thin.


The approval index is a curious number despite not being in itself a complete measure of the president’s performance (for example, its value could be negative while overall approval is still 60%).  What makes it worthy of attention is that it encompasses the majority of the polling data.  Of four possible options (strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove and strongly disapprove), the approval index owns between 60 – 75% of all the data: only one person in three doesn’t have a strong opinion of the president!


What if the approval index could be manipulated to show the extent to which all that opinion is dividing the nation, instead of simply a parallel measure of overall approval?  Take a look at the familiar chart that can be found on Rasmussen’s website.


 obama_index_august_25_2009.jpg picture by trebuchet_bucket



Now look at the same chart but with the approval index plotted out.


 appindex.jpg picture by trebuchet_bucket


You can see how Obama has gone from “The One™” to “The Worthless One II™”*. 


But, as previously noted, all this shows is the slow, cold, burn that is shaping Obama’s presidency and legacy (I know it’s early and Clinton did turn things around after his approval fell to 40% but allow me some gloating…)


If the approval index is calculated in a slightly different way, it can vividly show the stunning polarization this country has seen over the last eight months.  I base this on the following assumption: if a solid majority have a strong opinion on any issue, there is likely to be polarization.  Further, when that opinion is evenly split (50-50), you could say that polarization is at a maximum.  Applying this to the approval index, we would see more division when its value is near 0.  Thus, the “Polarization Index” is created by measuring how far the approval index is from 0, then subtracting from 100 (to yield a high value when the approval index is near 0).  The result is this.


polarizationindex2.jpg picture by trebuchet_bucket


So far, this is fairly intuitive: at inauguration its value is lower, when many were willing to “give him a chance” and were thus more united in favor of the president.  As that sentiment wore off, and Obama’s duplicity and radical views became more visible, the nation has become more divided.  The origin and persistence of protesting, from tea parties to town halls, correlates well with the increasing polarization. 


If Obama and the democrats continue their “contempt for Americans” tour unabated, I’d expect the nation to become less divided, as we unite in opposition – and if the last couple weeks are any indication, that may already be happening.  Given the hole the democrat party has dug for itself, I don’t see high approval and less division for either the party or Obama in the foreseeable future.  The best scenario may be to do nothing on the most divisive issues and salvage some approval, but the nation will remain fairly divided in that case. 


The writing on the wall for the democrat party has been apparent for some time, as November 2010 rapidly transitions from “a potentially bad year for democrats” to “an unprecedented slaughter” depending on how they play their cards.  This is one more way to visualize it.


* The Worthless One being Michale Medved’s reference to Jimmy Carter


Background notes

As noted earlier, using the approval index as a measure of polarization is meaningful only when strong opinions form most of the polling data.  In Obama’s case, the percentage of those polled with strong opinions (strongly approve + strongly disapprove) has been high and remarkably consistent given the large changes in overall approval.


percstropin.jpg picture by trebuchet_bucket 

If this was not the case, trying to quantify polarization would be more complicated (weights to account for variations would be needed).  Additionally, there is an implication that people are going straight from “strongly approve” to “strongly disapprove”.  Another way to see it is to look at the all of the approval data – that is, include “somewhat approve” and “somewhat disapprove” on the chart.


approval-alldata.jpg picture by trebuchet_bucket 


Again, the “somewhat approve/disapprove” options have been remarkably flat.    Incidentally, it also shows what happens when you use the tactics that Obama used to get elected:  hardly a mandate to “fundamentally transform the US”, but more a movement to kick out any resemblance of the Bush administration.  Otherwise, all those folks who “strongly approved” in the beginning wouldn’t have totally reversed course if they were ideologically on board with Obama. 


Finally, for comparison, Bush’s approval index in November 2008 was -30, with 56% of those polled having a strong opinion (13% strongly approve, 43% strongly disapprove).  Unfortunately, there is no earlier data for a more rigorous comparison, but Bush’s polling data, at least at the end of his presidency, did not elicit the level of strong opinion that Obama has so far.