“Ryan Scores Lowest Poll Numbers Since Quayle,” shouted the USA Today headline. “Positive Views of Ryan Jump Higher After Pick,” answered the Washington Post.
Why the significant discrepancy in views about Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s selection for vice president?
Because views of the newly minted Republican candidate might jump sharply as he goes from a relative unknown to one of America’s most public faces and because polling — with its disparate sampling periods and varying methodologies — often produces widely disparate conclusions.
The USA TODAY/Gallup survey was taken on Sunday, the day after Romney introduced the Wisconsin congressman in front of a Navy ship in Norfolk, Va. The poll found that the Wisconsin congressman was seen as a "fair" or "poor" choice by 42% of Americans versus the 39% who thought he was an "excellent" or "pretty good" vice presidential choice.
That finding got fairly substantial play, particularly because of the comparison to Quayle, whose 1988 candidacy with George H.W. Bush remains widely known for its initial stumbles. Some 52% of those surveyed after the Quayle selection rated him as a “fair” or “poor” vice presidential pick. (That 1988 survey was of likely voters, while the recent survey was of the broader category of registered voters.)
Some of us at Politics Now suggested that the significance of the USA Today poll on Ryan could easily be overstated. It came very quickly (as the Ryan camp noted) on the heels of a choice who remained mostly unknown to the public.
Both the USA Today account of its own survey — and its regurgitation in multiple other outlets — also took considerably less notice of another finding: that almost half of Americans said they believed Ryan would be qualified to be president if something happened to a President Romney. Some 48% of registered voters told Gallup they felt that way versus 29% who did not and 23% who said they were undecided.
The Washington Post-ABC survey — based on adults surveyed Saturday and Sunday — flipped the findings about Ryan on their head. With slightly different categories than presented by Gallup, 38% of Americans expressed a favorable view of Ryan and 33% a negative one.
The Post story highlighted the fact that those with “no opinion” dropped sharply (no surprise) from before the announcement until afterward, with just 30% saying they didn’t know, compared to the 45% in the two days before the Ryan pick.
And those with newly formed opinions moved overwhelmingly to the pro-Ryan column. While 23% viewed him favorably before the selection was announced, that figure jumped 15 points to 38% approval afterward.
Not surprisingly, the Democratic National Committee put out an email blast on the Quayle-echoing USA Today findings. On Fox News, meanwhile, the Post finding that put Rep. Ryan on the move got more play.
With both camps furiously trying to bend public opinion about the 42-year-old congressman, the surveys will doubtless jump again. Sober observers will watch the long-term trends and get less than titillated about results of any individual poll, all of which remain — at best, we repeat — just snapshots in time.