Ever since the latest PPIC poll came out last month, political advisers to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some newspaper pundits have made much of the results of the poll's "likeability" question.
When you add the percentage of people who say they either like Schwarzenegger and his policies, or like Schwarzenegger but not his policies, the total comes to 71 percent — or 24 points higher than the same poll found his approval rating.
The Schwarzenegger spin is that number shows that the governor has a reservoir of good will among voters that can still be tapped. Schwarzenegger campaign manager Steve Schmidt called the number "a leading indicator" and said that if he were a Democrat it would "send a shiver down my spine."
Perhaps. But take a look at today's LA Times/Bloomberg poll, mainly about immigration issues, reported on the front page of today's Times. It asks a similar likeability question about President Bush (with one significant difference that we'll get to later). It found that the percentage of respondents who either like Bush and his policies or like Bush but not his policies was 62 percent — or 21 points higher than the poll found his approval rating.
Not much difference from the Schwarzenegger differential.
But the key difference is in the wording of the options given respondents. Schwarzenegger impressively outscored Bush in the double-negative category — 34 percent for Bush, just 20 percent for Schwarzenegger.
But the Times/Bloomberg question asked respondents about the president whether they "don't like him or his policies."
The PPIC poll offered a harsher choice. It asked respondends whether they "dislike Arnold Schwarzenegger and dislike his policies." (Emphasis added)
To "not like" a person is one thing. To "dislike" a person is quite another. According to Webster, to "dislike" requires an element of distaste. That's a pretty high standard to reach in a polite society that is more than a little apathetic about politics.
It remains to be seen how much untapped good will for Schwarzenegger remains at large among the voting public in California. The governor's handlers assured us last fall that an alleged reservoir of good will for the governor would eventually bail out his special election initiatives. Back then, it was wishful thinking. It may still be.