The Polls: The Components of Presidential Favorability

By Cohen, Jeffrey E. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2000 | Go to article overview

The Polls: The Components of Presidential Favorability


Cohen, Jeffrey E., Presidential Studies Quarterly


Public opinion toward the presidency and its incumbent is complex and multifaceted. A rich understanding of public views of the president would include knowledge about public expectations, public reactions to presidents and their actions, evaluations of job performance and leadership, as well as assessments of the person in office and the implications of those personal assessments on public regard for the incumbent. As students of the presidency, we have barely tilled this terrain except for the burgeoning and now massive literature on the dynamics of presidential approval. Without reviewing or citing that literature here, it is fair to say that presidential job approval moves up and down in reasonable fashion, being influenced by the (perceived) state of the economy, foreign affairs crises, and important events, while presidential attempts to manipulate approval levels through symbolic and publicity events, although sometimes creating marginal effects, tend to be ephemeral. Still, the importance of job approval to the president is debated in the literature. Many suggest it to be a vital source of presidential influence, while others argue a more limited role.

The case of Bill Clinton in 1998 and early 1999, the period of the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings, is instructive in helping us assess what we know and do not know about public opinion toward the presidency. During that period, some pundits and observers predicted the end of the Clinton presidency, that he would be convicted of the impeachment charges levied against him, citing the fact that his favorability poll results had taken a nosedive. Others pointed, in contrast, to his high job approval ratings, which seemed to gain ground over the course of that fateful year, as reason to expect his survival to the end of his constitutional term of office. Still others were perplexed by the disconnect between his approval and favorability ratings. It was clear, however, that no one really had a firm grip on public assessments of the president.

One reason for the lack of knowledge and consensus about the role of favorability, or what some term likeability, is that unlike the more familiar Gallup-styled job approval question series, data on presidential favorability are less prevalent. However, as I have reported in two earlier articles in this journal (Cohen 1999a, 1999b), the commercial polling outfits have been tracking presidential favorability for nearly a decade now. These firms use widely different question formats, and the questions posed themselves seem vague and ambiguous and, thus, might not elicit solid data with which to work. But by using techniques developed by Stimson (1999), one can construct a reasonably well-behaved favorability series, as I have demonstrated (Cohen 1999b).

Still, it is not all that clear what these favorability items mean. In this article, I address three questions: (1) At the individual level, what is the relationship between favorability and job approval? (2) Who likes and dislikes the president, and how does this compare with who approves and disapproves of his job performance? and (3) What are the components of favorability?

The analysis presented here relies on a unique poll taken in February 1997 by the Gallup organization. That poll asked a battery of questions related to favorability, which gives us an opportunity to investigate some of the sources of (un)favorable attitudes toward the president and hopefully come to better understand their meaning.

The February 1997 Gallup Poll

The February 1997 Gallup Poll asked respondents a battery of questions related to favorability. The poll begins the favorability series with its standard question: "Next, I'd like your overall impression of some people in the news. As I read you each name please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of this person--or if you never heard of him or her." The survey asked about Bill Clinton and then Hillary Rodham Clinton. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Polls: The Components of Presidential Favorability
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.