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Americans say Obama is the worst president since World War II. That’s not his real problem.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University rumbled around the Internet on Wednesday morning, and with good reason. The University's description of the survey begins, "President Barack Obama is the worst president since World War II, 33 percent of American voters say." And then, for good measure, it continues, "America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the 2012 presidential election, 45 percent of voters say, while 38 percent say the country would be worse off."

One takeaway from that: Romney's support has slipped two points since the 2012 election, when he got 47 percent support. We're not trying to be flip about the poll, which is the latest in a long line showing that Americans are generally unhappy with the direction of the country. But as with so much else, the more interesting details lie underneath the exciting headlines.

We'll start with that "worst president" thing. Quinnipiac helpfully includes a similar question that it asked in July of 2006, when then-president George W. Bush's poll numbers were in the middle of their long slide downward. Here are the worst presidents since World War II as identified by American voters in 2006 and in 2014.

July 2006 July 2014
  1. George W. Bush (34 percent)
  2. Richard Nixon (17 percent)
  3. Bill Clinton (16 percent)
  4. Jimmy Carter (13 percent)
  1. Barack Obama (33 percent)
  2. George W. Bush (28 percent)
  3. Richard Nixon (13 percent)
  4. Jimmy Carter (8 percent)

No one has benefited more from the Obama presidency, it seems, than Bill Clinton. Or perhaps, there's an element of partisanship at play.

Let's switch to the Mitt Romney number. This isn't new; a Post poll found the same thing last year. What jumped out at us in the new data, though, is what happens when you consider the age of the respondents. Here's how people answered Quinnipiac's question about if the country would be better or worse off under Romney, by age group. (In each of the charts that follow, the blue bar is the response more favorable to Obama. So here, it indicates  those who think the country would have been worse off under Romney. Gray bars are usually "other;" on this one, they're "the country would be the same.")


People under 50 are more likely to think that the country is better off with President Obama -- but less strongly than those over 50. That chart, incidentally, looks something like this one, which is the exit poll data on the overall vote from the 2012 election.


You can see how the margin of support for Obama has eroded in each age group. The overall trend, however, is the same. Older voters like Obama less.

That pattern holds up on issue after issue.



And it holds up on the "who's the worst president" question, too. (On this one, the blue bars are Bush and the gray bars are Nixon.)


When asked to compare the last two presidents, the same.


On most of the issue questions, the same pattern holds, with some notable exceptions. On the environment, young people overwhelmingly approve of Obama.


But health care?


It's probably safe to assume that the erosion of Obama's poll numbers is related to the question above, or the number of people in his base that also disapprove of his handling of the economy.


That's what's a problem for Obama, not people thinking he's the worst president or wishing they'd elected Mitt Romney. Speaking of, Quinnipiac has another bit of historical data in its overview of this poll. In July 2010, the pollsters asked whether the country would have been better off under John McCain than Obama -- only 18 months into his first term.

A plurality said it would be.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.

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