A new Reuters-Ipsos poll shows that Americans would rather have a president who doesn’t have to deal with gridlock or Earth or having to think about policy without patriotic music swelling in the background. While only 46 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of President Obama, 89 percent of people who have seen the show 24 have a favorable opinion of President David Palmer. Eight-two percent of West Wing watchers have a favorable opinion of Jed Bartlet, an economics professor who gives fiery speeches to no one in cathedrals and managed to become president in a completely fictional world. President Laura Roslin, who ruled over a planetless band of humans on Battlestar Galactica, has a favorability rating of 78 percent among the show’s viewers.
Even fake presidents who killed people and have annoying habits of breaking the fourth wall manage to have better favorability ratings than a president who has to make unpopular policy decisions. Frank Underwood from House of Cards has an approval rating of 57 percent among the show’s viewers. (The fact that the people who tune into these shows tend to like the characters makes one wonder what Obama’s favorability rating might look like among those who watch every single one of his speeches.)
Being fictional is not the only way a politician can improve their standing with the American public. Deciding not to be a politician anymore also does wonders for your approval rating. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush all have favorability ratings over 50 percent, according to Gallup. Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating skyrocketed after she ended her 2008 presidential campaign, but it has steadily climbed downward as it has become obvious she’d like to run again.
Once Obama leaves the White House and is allowed to limit his life in politics to giving Jed Bartlet–esque speeches about the way the world should be and not explaining how the realities of government make it impossible to get to that hypothetical hopey-chagey place quickly, it seems likely that Frank Underwood will no longer look so great in relief.