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

Americans Prefer Fictional TV Presidents Over President Obama

(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.

Republican Ronald Reagan, who was an actor before turning to politics and eventually becoming president, was an exception, Troy said.

"His media people would say how great it was that he always hit his marks," said Troy, who was a top domestic policy adviser in Republican George W. Bush's administration.

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.

Even Obama likes Underwood. "This guy's getting a lot of stuff done," Obama quipped during a December 2013 White House photo-op with Reed Hastings, Netflix's chief executive.

"I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient," Obama said.

There was one result from the online poll, conducted from March 5 to 19, that could give some solace to Obama: He is more popular with Americans than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Seventy-six percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of Putin, according to the poll, while 24 percent were favorable.

To explore the related Reuters/Ipsos polling:

Take a peek at some of the actors who've played the commander in chief and other high-profile political figures:

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

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in Season 3 of Netflix's "House of Cards."

Photo via David Giesbrecht for Netflix

Kevin Spacey in Season 3 of Netflix's "House of Cards."

Photo via David Giesbrecht for Netflix

Actor Martin Sheen stars as President Josiah Bartlet on NBC''s West Wing which airs Wednesdays on NBC (9-10 p.m. ET).

Photo via David Rose, NBC/Getty


24, Dennis Haysbert, '11:00am-12:00pm' (Season 3)

Photo via Isabella Vosmikova/Fox, courtesy Everett Collection

24, Dennis Haysbert, Jude Ciccolella, Gregory Itzin, 'Day 4: 2:00am-3:00am' (Season 4)

Photo via Michael Desmond/Fox, courtesy Everett Collection

Kiefer Sutherland and Dennis Haysbert, 2001

Photo via Alamy

Jamie Barber, Mary McDonnell in Battlestar Galactica, 2004

Photo via Alamy

Mary McDonnell as Laura Roslin

Photo via Frank Ockenfels/Syfy/NBCU Photo Bank, Getty 

Tony Goldwyn in Scandal. From the creator and executive producers of 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Private Practice' comes a drama revolving around the life and work of a professional crisis manager and her dysfunctional staff.

Photo via Danny Feld, ABC/Getty Images

ABC's 'Scandal' stars Tony Goldwyn as President Fitzgerald Grant.

Photo via Craig Sjodin, ABC/Getty images


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