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PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact: Democrat's blog post exaggerates Crist's dip in approval ratings

The man who ran President Barack Obama's successful presidential campaign in Florida has crunched the numbers in the state's high-profile U.S. Senate race and come up with a bold prediction:

Charlie Crist, the state's governor and a no-party candidate, will not win.

In a blog post published last week, Democratic operative Steven Schale said Marco Rubio is amassing enough of the Republican vote to keep Crist out of the U.S. Senate. But that's not Crist's biggest hurdle, Schale wrote.

"The bigger problem is (Crist) is falling into the same place as many other long time office holders: his personal approval numbers are plummeting," wrote Schale, who is supporting but not working for Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek. "Absent some significant and unfortunate event that would thrust him back into the spotlight, the odds of him finding 15-20 points of political approval in the next nine weeks are slim, at best."

Schale's message has been spread by both Democrats and Republicans on the Internet. We wanted to see if it was true.

Looking at the polls

Pollsters measure Crist's performance two ways: his job approval rating (approve or disapprove) and his personal favorable rating (favorable or unfavorable).

The website Pollster.com accumulates polls of several organizations, plots their results on a graph and keeps a rolling average. It has tracked Crist's personal favorable rating since October 2008 and his job approval numbers since September 2008. This is the polling site Schale used to back up his claim.

A crude examination of both questions shows Crist is receiving less support.

About 60 percent of voters approved of Crist's job performance in September 2008. The percentage remained relatively unchanged until June 2009, when Crist's job approval rating began to decline. Polls bottomed out at a little over 50 percent in February 2010 before rebounding slightly. The most recent polls have Crist's approval number closer to 55 percent.

Crist's favorable/unfavorable rating has fewer poll samples to examine. The Pollster.com aggregation shows a slow but steady decline since October 2008. Polls in late 2008 had Crist's favorables in the high 60s but most polls now put Crist's favorable rating in the low to mid 50s.

We're not sure either result constitutes plummeting. In fact, opinions of Crist haven't really changed that much in eight months, according to the Pollster.com trend lines. Merriam-Webster defines plummet as to "fall perpendicularly."

That said, a more detailed examination of the polls that make up Pollster.com shows a bigger problem with making generalizations about the data.

Quinnipiac, for instance, has polled Crist's favorable rating 12 times since late 2008. Crist peaked at 68 percent favorable in a February 2009 poll before dropping to 48 percent favorable in early April 2010. But his favorable rating has rebounded some and sits at 53 percent, according to Quinnipiac's most recent poll.

What happened between the bottom in April and now? Crist left the Republican Party.

Quinnipiac's job approval ratings mirror the same pattern — started in 2008 at 61 percent, bottomed out in April 2010 at 49 percent, but rebounded to 56 percent by August. That's just a 5 percentage point drop — from a poll with a 3 percent margin of error — in almost two years.

"A 56 percent job approval rating, in this economy, for a sitting governor, is very good," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Now take the Rasmussen polls, which show big swings in favorable/unfavorable ratings of Crist. In March 2010, Crist had a 49 percent favorable rating, and a 48 percent unfavorable rating. In Rasmussen's last poll in July, his numbers had dramatically improved. Rasmussen reported a favorable rating of 69 percent, Crist's highest rating in any poll since October 2008 and the highest-ever rating for Crist in a Rasmussen poll.

Ipsos, which conducted polling for the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13 in May and August, said Crist's job approval rating has remained steady at a little over 50 percent.

That "is pretty decent considering the amount of time he's been in office and his decision to leave his party," said Julia Clark with Ipsos.

Our ruling

Bottom line, polls are numbers and depending on what poll you're looking at and what time period you're examining, you can reach different but defendable positions. Rasmussen had Crist's job approval rating at nearly 70 percent in July, the second-highest it's ever been.

Quinnipiac polled Crist's job approval rating down 5 percentage points since 2008. The polling group found that Crist's favorable rating, meanwhile, dropped 20 points from 2008 to 2009 before rebounding.

Schale said Crist's personal approval numbers are "plummeting." Pollster.com's tracking of several polls starting in October 2008 shows that Crist's favorable rating has declined among voters from around 70 percent to between 50 and 55 percent. But Crist's position in voters' minds hasn't changed all that much for most of 2010, and has even rebounded a little in some polls, according to the same figures.

His job approval ratings, meanwhile, haven't changed that much in nearly two years. We rate Schale's claim Barely True.

The statement

Charlie Crist's "personal approval numbers are plummeting."

Steven Schale, Democratic strategist, in a blog post

The ruling

But Crist's position in voters' minds hasn't changed all that much for most of 2010, and even has rebounded a little in some polls. We rate Schale's claim Barely True.

PolitiFact: Democrat's blog post exaggerates Crist's dip in approval ratings 09/05/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 5, 2010 9:21pm]
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