Fictional TV presidents more popular than Obama: Reuters-Ipsos poll

Mon Mar 23, 2015 8:35am EDT
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Whether it's the earnest Josiah Bartlet from "The West Wing" or the manipulative Frank Underwood in "House of Cards," Americans prefer television presidents to their real-life POTUS, President Barack "No Drama" Obama.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll taken this month found 54 percent of Americans held an unfavorable opinion of Obama, known for his cool and cautious presidential style, while 46 percent were favorable.

In contrast, asked to imagine that David Palmer of "24" was president, 89 percent of those who had seen the real-time Fox counterterrorism drama said they held a favorable rating of the decisive president played by Dennis Haysbert.

Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet of "The West Wing" - beloved by Democrats, including many who work in Obama's White House - was rated favorably by 82 percent of its NBC viewers.

In the dark universe of "Battlestar Galactica" on SyFy, president Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell, drew a 78 percent favorable rating among fans of her quest to find earth and escape the Cylons, a race of humanoid killer robots.

With Americans sharply divided along partisan lines, it is unlikely that any real-life president could achieve sky-high favorability ratings, said Tevi Troy, a presidential historian and author of "What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted," a study of popular culture in the White House.

"Pretty much half the country is going to be predisposed against you just because that's the way we line up with Republicans and Democrats," Troy said.

Unlike fictional presidents, with their camera-ready looks and perfect timing, real-life presidents sometimes fumble.   Continued...

Kevin Spacey as President Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Reuters/Netflix