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Missouri poll gives thumbs-up on Obama's speech to students, but divided otherwise

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 8, 2009 - Missourians appear to be fine with President Barack Obama addressing school children today, but otherwise they're split over his performance in office. And there's definitely a generation gap.

So says a new statewide SurveyUSA poll released over the weekend in Kansas City for KCTV.

The poll appears to be the first one conducted by any Missouri media outlet that asks the public how they feel about the health-care debate and Obama's scheduled speech to school children.

Those polled also were asked about their opinion of Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri's two U.S. senators, Republican Christopher "Kit" Bond and Democrat Claire McCaskill. All three got mixed reviews.

Parts of the poll queried 600 people, while the questions about his school speech polled 500. The poll of 600 -- conducted the last week of August -- had a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, meaning that any individual number could be that much higher or lower. For 500, the margin of error was 4.3 percentage points. (The 500-person poll was conducted last Thursday.)

But an editorial word of caution, before detailing the results.

Based on many experts' views of the partisan breakdown in Missouri, this poll may have queried too many Democrats and not enough Republicans. In the 600-person samples, 41 percent identified themselves as Democrats, while only 30 percent said they were Republicans. Of the remainder, 23 percent called themselves political independents. (The remaining 6 percent presumably weren't sure or declined to say.)

The 500-person sample had a difference of 12 percentage points between Democrats (34 percent) and Republicans (22 percent), with independents in the majority (38 percent).

Many political experts in Missouri have recommended over the years that the state's partisan breakdown in polls be closer to one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third independent.

With all that in mind, the results are still quite interesting.

Among them:

* 63 percent of the 500 people sampled last Thursday said they thought it was appropriate for Obama to address the nation's school children on TV, compared to 33 percent who said it was not appropriate. That 30-percentage-point gap is well outside the margin of error.

There is a stark generational and political gap. Almost three-quarters of those polled who were 34 or under (who were most supportive of the president throughout the poll) supported the address, compared to just over a majority of those polled who were age 65 or over. (The 65-and-over crowd viewed Obama less favorably than other age groups throughout the poll.)

Among the Democrats, 90 percent viewed Obama's speech as appropriate, as did 56 percent of the independents. But a majority of the Republicans polled opposed the speech.

* The Missourians polled were split on Obama's job performance. Of the 600 people polled in late August, 48 percent approved of his performance while 52 percent did not.

But again, age was a major factor among those polled. Obama got a positive rating from a majority of those age 34 and under. His numbers got worse with each older group. Only 39 percent of those polled who were 65 or over said they approved of Obama's performance as president.

* On health care, the poll surveyed only people in the Kansas City area, not statewide. I

* Bond and McCaskill got virtually identical results in the statewide poll of 600 people. Just over a majority of those polled gave each a favorable rating. (51 percent for Bond, and 52 percent for McCaskill.)

McCaskill's negative rating was slightly higher -- 43 percent to Bond's 39 percent. But the difference is within the margin of error.

* Nixon didn't fare any better in the poll. His approval rating: 50 percent. His disapproval rating: 41 percent.

Nixon also has a generation gap -- but opposite of Obama's. Only a third of those polled who were 34 and under had a favorable opinion of the governor. But the elderly love him. Two-thirds of the 65-and-older crowd gave Nixon favorable marks.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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