“Poll Finds Edge for Obama Over G.O.P. Among the Public”

That’s the headline on the N.Y. Times’s home page.

Of course, headlines don’t always reflect the actual article, but here’s how the article starts:

WASHINGTON — 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.

This seemed like an interesting and somewhat contrarian conclusion, so I decided to look at the polling questions.  It turns out that  if you look at the actual poll, the results say no such thing.  What the poll does tell you is that Obama is more popular than Congressional Republicans.  On the other hand, Obama is more popular than Congressional Democrats, too.  Obama is not going to be running against Congressional Republicans.  Congressional Republicans are going to be running against Congressional Democrats, and Obama is going to be running in 2.5 years against a Republican who almost certainly won’t come from the ranks of Congressional Republicans.

The poll also shows that the public blames the Bush Administration more than it blames the Obama Administration for the nation’s economic troubles.  But the poll also shows that nearly as many Americans identify as Republicans than as Democrats, and that the percentage of people who prefer a smaller government with fewer services has increased substantially since Obama took office, to a 56-34 majority.  That’s hardly good news for Obama and his agenda, especially given that the poll surveyed everyone, not just likely voters, and likely voters lean Republican compared to the general public.

The poll, more generally, neither shows that Obama is doomed to political oblivion, nor that he has a clear “edge over [the] GOP.”  It would have been interesting if the poll had asked voters whether they preferred Obama in a series of head to head matches with GOP figures like Palin, Romney, and McCain.  If Obama had won such head to head matchups handily, the poll would show a real edge over the GOP.  But the way the actual poll was reported reflects either wishful thinking, or an overzealous desire to “make news.”

UPDATE: A reader points to a very pertinent Gallup Poll from early February (but apparently just released) that asked registered voters (again, not likely voters, who track more Republican) whether, if the election were held today, they would vote for Obama or “the Republican candidate.”  The results were Obama 44, Republican 42, with a margin of error of 4.  And Gallup has Obama with a higher approval rating that does the Times, and most other polls.   Right around when the Times was proclaiming Obama’s non-existent “edge,” the pro-Obama Huffington Post reported the Gallup poll with the headline “DANGER AHEAD: Obama Virtually Tied With GOP in 2012 Poll.”

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