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A lesson about presidential polling and online surveys

Presidential polling

The public's opinion doesn't just help companies making new products and distributing paid surveys. It's an incredible tool to gauge how well-liked politicians are and whether or not the people think those public servants are doing a good job.

But what constitutes doing a good job? Political ideologies may be more polarized now than ever before, according to a collection of polls from the Pew Research Center. Those differences of opinion affect what the people consider is a good job or a bad job, and this inevitably sways polls.

For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been a major point of contention across the aisle. Republicans may consider its adoption a mistake, thus causing President Obama's approval rating to drop, while democrats may approve of the changes, which may tip the scales back. The same completed task has dramatically different effects on citizens' feelings. Therefore, public opinion polls aren't always the greatest indicator of presidential success.

Nonetheless, the numbers do tell a story. You'll be seeing dozens of polls, and you'll even see a few paid online surveys about politics on Opinion Outpost in the months ahead. Keep a few facts in mind ahead of time.

Obama's approval rating floats around mid-40s 
According to polls provided by Rasmussen Reports, 47 percent of likely U.S. voters approved of President Obama's performance as of July 31. That has more or less been a constant over the president's past two terms, as his approval rating has tracked roughly around the mid-40s. At his lowest point, approval ratings among the total number of respondents stood around 42 percent, and his peak of approval reached roughly 55 percent.

However, the source also tracked other levels of approval citizens agree to, and this shows a harsher divide. Around one-quarter of respondents strongly approve of the president's job performance while nearly 40 percent strongly disapprove of his job performance.

The divide gets wider
The Pew Research Center conducted a broader analysis of this trend by studying approval ratings of presidents going all the way back to the Eisenhower administration. What the numbers show is that voters have become far more polarized throughout the years. Democrats have become more staunchly opposed to republican presidents and republicans have given harsher critiques of democratic presidents.

Back in Kennedy's administration, 49 percent of republicans approved of the president - a democrat - while 84 percent of respondents from his own party approved. The gap widened drastically under Reagan, who garnered the approval of 31 percent of democrats and 83 percent of republicans. By the time George W. Bush took office, roughly 81 percent of republicans approved of him while just 23 percent of democrats shared the same feelings.

Now, with Obama in office, 81 percent of respondents from his own party approve of his performance while a miniscule 14 percent of republicans feel the same. 

As the Republican debate opens on Aug. 6, remember that those opinion polls may not tell the whole story. Online surveys may be incredibly reliable, but things get a little more complicated when politics are involved.

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