< More Popular Than Jesus

Transcript

Friday, December 02, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Pollster lingo for a politician's popularity rating at any given time is favorability.  Voters are asked: do you like your public official right now? Pollster Tom Jensen at Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling recently embarked on a modest quest to figure out who exactly Americans are still able to agree that they do like, because at the moment generally they aren't giving the love.

TOM JENSEN:

These days it's pretty much across the board the truth that if you're a Democrat, Republicans hate you; if you’re a Republican, Democrats hate you. We've only found three or four senators this entire year who are respected by both Democrats and Republicans.

The, the two who really jump to mind are the women from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. For the most part next year you're gonna see 95 percent of Republicans voting for Republican candidates, 95 percent of Democrats running for Democratic candidates.

Americans just really aren't even giving much thought to politicians in the other party.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Okay, here is the lesson that really jumped out at me. As you mentioned, the Maine senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were among the most popular politicians in the country, ranking above 65 percent favorability. These people are resolute moderates, which suggests that the place where people can most agree is on moderate candidates.

TOM JENSEN:

And I think that Americans really desire to have an independent candidate. But whether there's an independent candidate who can come up with a message that really appeals to those disaffected moderate voters and has the resources without a party machinery behind them to run a strong campaign is the tough part. You can't survive a party primary in this day and age without being pretty liberal if you're a Democrat or being pretty conservative if you’re a Republican.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Why did you decide to start polling the favorability ranking for Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers?

TOM JENSEN:

Sure. When we go in and poll a state, we certainly ask about the presidential race and the senate race. But we also like to ask some fun, more offbeat questions. And what we found in Wisconsin is that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is viewed favorably by 89 percent of voters in his state. And at the time, that was the highest level of favorability we’d found for anyone in any poll we'd ever done, anywhere.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And you decided to throw out the usual crowd of people you rank to figure out if there was anyone, anywhere who could beat Aaron Rodgers, right?

TOM JENSEN:

After seeing that astounding poll result regarding Rodgers, we went on Twitter, we went on our blog and said, who out there do you think could possibly nationally have better than an 89 percent favorability rating.

And we got a bunch of suggestions, folks like Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ,  George Washington, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, Gandhi, and even Santa Claus.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I assume Santa Claus beat Rogers?

TOM JENSEN:

No, Rodgers actually beat Santa Claus by a pretty good margin.

[BROOKE LAUGHS]

We found that only about 70 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Santa Claus. Clearly, he’s got a lot of folks he's gonna need to work on in order to get his popularity back to the level where he might want it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And interestingly, you found that Santa Claus does better with the GOP. You found that George Washington wasn't ranked as favorably among African-Americans, maybe because he was a slaveholder. You also found that Martin Luther King didn't rank as highly among whites as he did among blacks.

TOM JENSEN:

What we ultimately found in this poll was that only two people nationally did do better than Aaron Rodgers, and those were Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ.

And the thing that the two of them had going for them was absolutely everybody liked them, no matter what your demographic group was – Democrats, Republicans, white, black, women, men.

But then Aaron Rodgers in his fourth year as an NFL quarterback did beat out George Washington because of Washington's weakness with black voters. He beat out Santa Claus because of Santa Claus’ weakness with Democrats.

[BROOKE LAUGHS]

He beat out Martin Luther King because of Martin Luther King's weakness with white voters. So clearly, leading your team to the Super Bowl will give you a level of popularity that even these folks who we think of as American icons can’t match.

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BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Tom, thank you very much.

TOM JENSEN:

Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Tom Jensen is the director of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, North Carolina.

BOB GARFIELD:

That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary, with more help from Doug Anderson, Gianna Palmer, and Liyna Anwar. And our show was edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Dylan Keefe.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Katya Rogers is our senior producer.

Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD:

I’m Bob Garfield.

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