Rush Limbaugh a Well-Known but Highly Polarizing Figure

by Mark Gillespie

Conservatives, liberals differ in opinions of talk-show host

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Radio talk-show host and commentator Rush Limbaugh is scheduled to return to his nationally syndicated show today. For the past five weeks, Limbaugh has been in a recovery program, after admitting to an addiction involving prescription painkillers. It is unclear to what degree the extensive news coverage of Limbaugh's addiction -- which he announced live on his radio show after a series of media reports linked him to a federal drug investigation in South Florida -- may have hurt his popularity with Americans. But a new Gallup Poll conducted Nov. 10-12 shows that just 34% of Americans at this time hold a favorable view of Limbaugh, while 51% hold an unfavorable view.

Of course, it should be noted that Limbaugh's conservative views and controversial statements in the past may well be a contributing factor in those ratings. For instance, 51% of political conservatives hold a favorable opinion of Limbaugh -- compared to just 12% of liberals. At the same time, 35% of conservatives now hold an unfavorable view of Limbaugh (along with 75% of liberals).

Limbaugh's radio show has often been credited with helping to influence the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 elections. To be sure, he still has a significant degree of influence with Republicans and is a favorite target of criticism from Democrats, as reflected in the widely differing views of Limbaugh among Republicans, independents, and Democrats:

Opinion of Rush Limbaugh
Nov 10-12, 2003

Limbaugh's appeal is also slightly higher among men than among women.

Limbaugh Most Well-Known Among Political Commentators Tested

Limbaugh's success over the years has created a market for political commentary in the media. However, other commentators have yet to achieve Limbaugh's level of recognition among average Americans.

As an example, the same poll asked Americans their opinions of several other "darlings" of the media -- those often called on to comment on political issues, as well as to write best selling books outlining their views of life in America and the world -- Ann Coulter, Al Franken, and Dennis Miller.

Conservative commentator and author Coulter appears to be a relatively unknown personality to most Americans, despite her having had three best selling books and her flamboyant appearance on television talk shows. Over three-quarters of Americans don't know enough about her to have an opinion. Unlike Limbaugh, however, her favorable and unfavorable ratings are roughly identical, at 11% and 10%, respectively. Coulter is not well-known even by conservatives, among whom she receives a 16% favorable and 7% unfavorable rating. Among liberals, the ratings are essentially reversed, with 16% unfavorable and 8% favorable.

Liberal commentator and author Franken is a little better known than Coulter, perhaps because of his years on "Saturday Night Live," but he is not nearly as well-known as is his nemesis Limbaugh (about whom Franken wrote the book "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot"). More than 6 out of 10 Americans don't know enough about Franken to have either a favorable or an unfavorable opinion, although his image skews toward the negative side among those who do know him -- 16% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Franken, while 22% hold an unfavorable opinion.

Interestingly, awareness of Franken is lower among the young and the old -- 61% of those aged 18-29 say they have never heard of him, and 60% of those 65 and older say the same. This is likely because those in the middle -- aged 30-64, with an emphasis on those aged 30-49 -- are most likely to have watched Franken's television appearances in the 1970s, '80s and '90s on "Saturday Night Live."

Franken's move into political commentary -- which even includes an idle comment about a possible Senate campaign in the future -- is more recent and equally polarizing. Among liberals, 29% have a favorable opinion and 12% have an unfavorable opinion of Franken. Among conservatives, 9% have a favorable opinion and 29% an unfavorable one.

Comedian, talk-show host, and erstwhile football commentator Dennis Miller is relatively well known; 61% of Americans know him well enough to have an opinion. While describing himself as conservative, Miller might best be described as an "equal opportunity" commentator -- criticizing both liberal and conservative views equally. For this reason, his favorable ratings are relatively high among Americans (41% favorable and 20% unfavorable); he enjoys a 48% favorable rating among liberals (and moderates), while 34% of conservatives share that opinion. His unfavorable opinion rating is consistent among all three groups at around 20%, while conservatives are slightly more likely to have never heard of him (36%, compared to 27% of liberals and 23% of moderates). Miller is much better known and more favorably evaluated by men than by women.

There has been speculation about Miller running for the Senate in California next year, possibly as a Republican. At this point, however, Miller's image is no more favorable among Republicans than it is among Democrats.

Winfrey, McGraw More Popular

While talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey and protégé Dr. Phil McGraw have occasionally taken views that might be considered controversial, both shy away from political commentary. As a result, their images are significantly more positive than their contemporaries in the political field. Winfrey regularly rates as one of the most admired women in Gallup's annual polls, so it comes as little surprise that 73% of Americans hold a favorable opinion of her. There is a difference in her ratings among various political ideologies (81% favorable among liberals, 75% among moderates, and 68% among conservatives), but they are far less polarized than those of more politically oriented personalities.

McGraw's rise in popularity is more recent, as shown by his 48% favorable rating -- higher than anyone's other than Winfrey in this survey. Just 16% hold an unfavorable view, and 26% have never heard of him, leaving room for favorable opinions -- or unfavorable opinions -- of him to rise over time. In addition, McGraw is not a polarizing personality in political terms -- with consistent favorable ratings of 44% among conservatives, 49% for moderates, and 52% among liberals.

Both Winfrey and McGraw, not surprisingly given their position as daytime talk-show hosts, generate much more positive reactions from women than from men. Oprah Winfrey has an 84% favorable rating among women, compared to a 61% favorable rating among men (30% of men, interestingly, give Winfrey an unfavorable rating). McGraw has a 58% favorable rating among women and a 35% favorable rating among men.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Nov. 10-12, 2003. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Next, we'd like to get your overall opinion of some talk show hosts, political commentators, and authors. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people -- or if you have never heard of them. First, ... How about... [RANDOM ORDER]

A. Ann Coulter

 


Favorable


Unfavorable

Never
heard of

No
opinion

2003 Nov 10-12

11%

10

69

10



B. Al Franken

 


Favorable


Unfavorable

Never
heard of

No
opinion

2003 Nov 10-12

16%

22

49

13



C. Rush Limbaugh

 


Favorable


Unfavorable

Never
heard of

No
opinion

2003 Nov 10-12

34%

51

9

6



D. Dr. Phil McGraw

 


Favorable


Unfavorable

Never
heard of

No
opinion

2003 Nov 10-12

48%

16

26

10



E. NOT ASKED

F. Oprah Winfrey

 


Favorable


Unfavorable

Never
heard of

No
opinion

2003 Nov 10-12

73%

20

1

6

1992 Mar 26-29

78%

14

2

6



G. Dennis Miller

 


Favorable


Unfavorable

Never
heard of

No
opinion

2003 Nov 10-12

41%

20

30

9

1992 Mar 26-29

16%

9

63

12



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