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‘The Approval Gap’

Brian Frederick’s debunking of Andrew Malcolm’s claim that “the approval gap between Barack Obama and Sarah Palin is shrinking” is well done, although Malcolm’s much-linked argument has probably gotten too far around the Web to be really demolished. Frederick’s main point, however, is solid. Public figures have “favorable” ratings; they also have “approval” ratings. The first gauges how much voters like them, and the second gauge how well they’re doing at their jobs.

One example of how the divergence squeezes candidates came in 2000, when most voters approved of President Bill Clinton’s work, but most had an “unfavorable” view of his post-impeachment character. That flummoxed Al Gore’s campaign when it thought about how to handle Clinton. According to Gore campaign vets like Bob Shrum, Clinton was toxic in states that he’d won twice and where the economy was booming, like Iowa.

Since Sarah Palin doesn’t have a job outside of her book tour, her “favorable” rating is all she has. Not only is it lower than Barack Obama’s favorable rating, it’s lower than a credible national candidate can really stand — Republicans argued that Hillary Rodham Clinton might be unelectable as a presidential candidate when her “unfavorable” rating was a good 10 points lower than Palin’s.

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