Since I wrote yesterday about not overinterpreting a single poll, I figure I should probably say something about the CBS/NYT poll that came out later in the day and which showed a much more dramatic approval rate drop and a much lower current number (41%).
What should we make of it?
Let me make a distinction I've made before, which is between us as observers and the operatives who must act on incomplete information. For observers, the right answer is simple. The truth is we shouldn't pay any attention to individual polls as long as there are polling averages available. The NYT poll may or may not indicate something new going on (and note that it was a five-day survey that began last Wednesday, so take that into consideration too; see also Jamelle Bouie on the poll methodology). If it does, we'll know soon enough. It is worth noting that unlike the WaPo/ABC poll, this one is in fact south of Barack Obama's current approval rating range.
On the other hand, if you're the Obama White House or the campaign...actually, there's nothing much for them to do, either. At best, they can look for hints about what to test, but they would be making a mistake by overreacting to every poll, too, and for the most part if they have strong evidence that they're doing the right things now, then changing course would probably be a mistake. Note that "doing the right things" won't necessarily produce a win. It's possible that the conditions of the election will make winning impossible. All the campaign can do is to maximize it's vote; it can't affect what that maximized total will be.
Meanwhile, I'll note some differences in the NYT and CBS write-ups of the survey. While the Times quite reasonably began with the job approval numbers, which were in fact the biggest news in the survey, Jim Rutenberg and Marjorie Connelly also included the WaPo and Gallup numbers in the 9th paragraph, thus providing needed context (as Brendan Nyhann pointed out). CBS, on the other hand, did not mention those other polls in either their broadcast or text versions. Even worse, CBS emphasized (in both versions) that this was a "new low." That's true in their own poll -- but Gallup's low is 38%, and others have been as low as 36%. That the infrequent NYT/CBS poll didn't happen to be in the field at those points, or happened to get a higher number, doesn't justify emphasizing "new low" -- it's absolutely misleading. Also bad in the CBS version, especially the broadcast story was the focus on gas prices. The truth is that CBS has no idea at all why Obama's approval rating has fallen in this survey, but their report presented it as clearly a function of gas prices. The Times did mention gasoline and other stories in the new last week, but did not make or imply any clear causal connections.
Obviously, there are constraints on broadcast news that don't apply to newspapers (and especially to online versions of those newspapers). And yet CBS's text version is almost as bad as its broadcast report.
I'll end with a question: I very rarely watch broadcast news, and I haven't for years now. Is it always this bad?