Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Most media polls are showing President Obama's job approval in the 59 percent to mid-60 percent range, but not pollster John Zogby, who says Obama's rating has dipped below 50 percent.

Contrary to many of the other major presidential surveys such as the venerable Gallup Poll, which puts Obama's number at around 60 percent or higher, Zogby's poll (mid-March) showed that Obama's job performance fell. His findings are significant for a number of definitional reasons and are worth a closer look.

In his most recent survey, the pollster said that "49 percent rate his job performance as excellent or good, and 50 percent as fair or poor (less than 1 percent were not sure). That is a dip of 3 points from the previous poll," Zogby said last week.

His numbers, as with other pollsters, show a huge partisan divide in how Americans rate Obama at this point in his young presidency. Ninety-one percent of Democrats score Obama favorably, compared with only 14 percent Republicans.

On job performance alone, 87 percent of Democrats rate him excellent or good, compared with just 9 percent of Republicans.

But if Gallup scores Obama's job performance at 60 percent or better, why are Zogby's numbers so much lower?

Zogby told me that he uses a scale that ranges from excellent to good on the positive side versus fair to poor on the negative. "If you look at the fair rating for Obama, that was 12 percent. If you split that, because some people think fair is approve, then you're up in the mid-50s," he said.

In Zogby's differential rating scale, "fair is a negative because it doesn't get you anywhere. Presidents don't run on the basis of saying reelect me, I did a fair job," he told me.

Other polls put their fair responses into their favorable percentage, and thus produce a larger approval number for the president in their surveys.

Obama's numbers have declined for several reasons, according to Zogby. For one thing, "expectations are very high," he said.

That's largely Obama's doing. He raised them by saying he could and would wipe away every problem the country faced: Fixing the economy, raising spending for a huge range of social-welfare problems, cutting middle-class taxes, enacting national healthcare, and developing alternative-energy sources to end our dependence on foreign oil.

It didn't take long for many Americans to realize that he could not do all of these things at once, and may not be able to some of them at all.

The other major disappointment was Obama's over-the-top claim that he would be able to bring warring political factions together in Congress and usher in an era of bipartisanship -- something for which he was not known for doing during his brief Senate apprenticeship.

"The message was supposed to be consensus problem-solving, and I think voters see a reversion back to hyper-partisanship," Zogby said.

Can Obama get his numbers back? "Sure, but right now the economic-stimulus package looks as if it's spending and people haven't seen the results," he said.

Promises are one thing, but delivering on them is quite another. And as things stand now, Obama's presidency has had a rough takeoff, to say the least, including a sloppy vetting process in his Cabinet and sub-Cabinet nominees. Critical posts at Treasury and elsewhere remain unfilled in the midst of the worst recession in decades.

His cap-and-trade energy taxes are going nowhere in this Democratic Congress. Democratic budget chiefs have erased proposed revenues for his two signature policy proposals on energy and healthcare reform. The money to pay for his middle-class tax cuts after 2010 remains in doubt. And polls show growing doubts over the huge deficits his budget would heap on a cash-strapped economy.

This week's revealing Washington Post poll found "the nation's overall mood remains gloomy, and doubts are rising about some of the administration's prescriptions for the economic woes. Independents are less solidly behind Obama than they have been, fewer Americans now express confidence that his economic programs will work, barely half of the country approves of how the president is dealing with the federal budget deficit, and the political climate is once again highly polarized."

Meantime, the administration is attempting to tighten the regulatory reins over an economy that sees higher, punishing tax burdens in its future to pay for Obama's grandiose spending plans and a monster federal debt that will make President Bush's budgets tame by comparison.

Obama was swept into the presidency on a luxurious buffet of spending promises for virtually every political constituency in the country that flocked to his banner. Voters wanted to believe he could do these things without imposing any costs on them.

Now we know he wants to charge seniors more for their Medicare prescription-drug benefits, reduce tax deductibility rates on home mortgages and charitable contributions, and increase taxes on small businesses and on the capital gains investors earn on their retirement investments. And that's just for starters.

The downward slide in his polls is only just beginning.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.