Obama Less Popular Than Fictional Presidents, More Popular Than Putin


A new poll indicates that most fictional Presidents are more popular than the real thing:

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.


Morally challenged fictional presidents also topped Obama’s favorability ratings in the Reuters-Ipsos poll.

Of those who watch ABC’s steamy drama “Scandal,” 60 percent had a favorable view of Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant, the philandering, scotch-swilling president played by Tony Goldwyn.

Frank Underwood also beat Obama.

In “House of Cards,” Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, kills a passed-out congressman by leaving him in a running car in a garage, and pushes a journalist into the path of a subway train.

Imagining Spacey’s scheming character as president, 57 percent of respondents who have seen the Netflix political thriller said they held a favorable opinion of him.

There was some good news in the poll for President Obama, though. While he’s not as popular as fictional Presidents, he is more popular than Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has a 76% unfavorable rating in the poll.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gustopher says:

    Is there a partisan breakdown? Because our Republican friends have a bit of a crush on Putin…

  2. James Pearce says:

    The fictional presidents they should have compared him to are President Romney and President McCain.

    For instance:

    60 percent had a favorable view of Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant,

    They’re judging him based on how entertaining he is. I mean, when he straddled his Supreme Court justice on her deathbed and strangled her to death with his own hands, I personally loved that.

    But if the actual President of the United States acted like that……….

  3. Pinky says:

    A good reminder of two things:

    Some polls are nonsense.
    Some people answer polls nonsensically..

    I wish that (b) happened only on (a), but unfortunately that’s not the case. Ideally, of course, I wish that (a) didn’t happen either.

  4. John Peabody says:

    low-value post.

  5. aFloridian says:

    @James Pearce:

    Oh wow. I completely forgot about that. I’m about seven episodes into Season 4 but haven’t watched it in months.

    Yeah, what this really tells me is that American TV viewers/voters are stupid. We already knew that though, didn’t we? Fitz and Underwood are shells of human beings. Underwood seems to be a functional president as of Episode 4/5 of Season 3. Kind of delusional, but then again he’s a murdering sociopath. Fitz is just a disaster. Dude is as schizophrenic as the make-it-up-as-we-go-along Shondaland show he’s on. Kerry Washington plays one very good looking woman (albeit a rather annoying one sometimes) but MAN! have some pride, some gumption, and some decency.

    Roslin was also kind of a loose cannon in my opinion. Difference there was it was a complex situation and we also saw there weren’t really any other candidates. Adama was a great general but he NEEDED a foil like Roslin to do right.

    Now Bartlett? It’s no coincidence that the most “realistic” of these shows has the president I could stomach the most. He’s a man of letters who understands the importance of history, he’s a man of faith, of tolerance, of temperance. Frankly I’d vote for him if he ran in 2016.

    That said, thanks to Aaron Sorkin he and his staff have a grating tendency to be your textbook preaching, condescending, self0-righteous lily-white liberals. And some of their social policies would get me pretty riled up – their inherent fear of guns for example (there’s a middle ground between Bartlett & the George W. Bush clone he beat to get his second term).

    Two final asides: I’ve not yet finished West Wing, as I’m currently watching it, but it is amazing the way it feels like two shows. So relevant, witty, and topical prior to September 11. After that, and the preachy, uncomfortable Very Special Episode to start Season 2(?) it just doesn’t feel the same. I guess it’s because the attacks made the show a fantasy where the attacks did not touch and taint every aspect of our lives and their governance. Maybe that changes as it goes along, but I don’t think so.

    Second, I’m not really proud that I can write this post and literally be familiar with every single show mentioned. That would not have been true 10 years ago, but thanks to Netflix and our Golden Age of TV, I have gone from watching maybe two hours a week to at least an hour every night with plenty of binge watching mixed in…

  6. C. Clavin says:

    The ODS is strong with this one.

  7. Pinky says:

    @aFloridian: I’m kinda proud that I haven’t seen any of them.

  8. What about President Thomas Whitmore and President President Bill Mitchell?

  9. @Pinky:

    I’m kinda proud that I haven’t seen any of them.

    Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own A Television

  10. Tillman says:

    That this poll didn’t have Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho is a travesty.

    And let’s be honest: aside from the survivalist overtone to the whole proceedings, the essential differences in background between a black male and a white female, the essential biological differences between a human and whatever precursor alien those people were, the incredibly high disparity in both the number and importance of population governed, and cancer, what practical difference is there between Barack Obama and Laura Roslin?

  11. LC says:

    Why is President Jack Marshall left out?

  12. Pinky says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Hey, I never said I didn’t waste time on Hulu. 🙂 Lots of time.

  13. @LC:

    Oh, don’t forget President Tom Beck. Only the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman could deliver a presidential speech that makes me calmly and stoically accept humanity being wiped out by a comet.

  14. wr says:

    Someone should do a poll on how many pollsters have too much free time on their hands…

  15. James Pearce says:


    I’m about seven episodes into Season 4 but haven’t watched it in months.

    I stopped watching when Joe Morton was revealed to be her father. It’s not out of any enmity. I’ll catch up later. (Too many shows!)


    I’m kinda proud that I haven’t seen any of them.

    If they have Scandal on Hulu…watch it. It’s deliciously bad. And I mean that in a good way.

  16. de stijl says:

    I have a feeling that President Greg Stillson (The Dead Zone) would poll pretty high amongst a certain subset of the population.

  17. What next, running polls in Great Britain to see if King Joffrey I is more popular than Elizabeth II?

  18. Tillman says:

    @James Pearce:

    I stopped watching when Joe Morton was revealed to be her father. It’s not out of any enmity

    Oh don’t worry, he’s possibly the best character on that show.

    You know how everyone on Scandal has a penchant for delivering put-down speeches? His are the most glorious.

  19. al-Ameda says:


    Is there a partisan breakdown? Because our Republican friends have a bit of a crush on Putin…

    We have a winner.

  20. Pinky says:

    OK, I got something for you all. I was wondering, House of Cards is based on a UK show, right? And there’s an upside-down flag in the corner of the accompanying photo. So, how do Brits signal distress when their flag is symmetrical? Turns out I was wrong:


  21. wr says:

    @Tillman: If you like him in Scandal, you should check out his audiobook performance of Invisible Man. Absolutely brilliant.

  22. Tyrell says:

    Here are some top notch performances as portrayals of real presidents: Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey as Lincoln, Tom Berenger and Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt, Jeff Daniels as General Washington , Gary Sinise as Truman, Charlton Heston as Colonel Jackson at New Orleans.

  23. Kylopod says:

    @Tyrell: Dan Hedaya, as Nixon.

    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself. And yes, Dick is a must-see for political junkies.)

  24. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Gustopher: They were the ones who liked Underwood the best–far more proactive than even Putin, who only throws his opponents in jail, not under subway trains.