Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Obama’s Job Approval: A Cause for Concern

In Polls on September 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Presidential job approval ratings can fluctuate widely based on a rather wide variety of factors. Among these are the status of the economy, whether the U.S. is at peace or war, the presence of real or suspected scandal, etc.

While President Barack Obama’s administration has been free of any significant scandal, the U.S. is currently engaged in somewhere between two and three wars, and is suffering from a painfully slow-growing economy and a 9.2 percent unemployment rate.

While the President’s approval rating has generally fluctuated in a relatively narrow band that has ranged from the mid-50s to the mid-40s for the last two years, the trend in recent weeks has become troubling for Democrats seeking office in 2012.

Yesterday’s daily Gallup presidential approval tracking poll shows Obama’s job approval rating now slipping to 39 percent. The Gallup poll takes a rolling three-day average of opinions expressed by 1,500 adults nationally. The margin of error in the survey is +/- three percent.

While Obama continues to receive broad support from African-Americans, his approval rating among Hispanics and whites has lingered at record lows in the past two weeks. Gallup noted that Obama’s approval rating among postgraduates and high-income Americans has seen a particularly steep decline since the late May-early June time period, which was the last time his average weekly job approval rating registered at least 50 percent.

At this stage of his presidency, Obama’s standing with Americans doesn’t compare very favorably with other post-WW II presidents. At the 940 days in office mark (Aug 20), here is how Obama compares to the other Presidents, since Harry S. Truman when polling of this type began:

  • Obama                  40%    Standing for re-election in 2012
  • Truman                54%    Re-elected in 1948
  • Eisenhower        71%    Re-elected in 1956
  • Kennedy              62%    Assassinated in 1963
  • Johnson              48%    Did not seek re-election in 1968
  • Nixon                   49%    Re-elected in 1972
  • Ford                      53%    Defeated for election 1976 (polled at 857 days in office)
  • Carter                   32%    Defeated for re-election in 1980
  • Reagan                 43%    Re-elected in 1984
  • Bush, G.H.W.    59%    Defeated for re-election in 1992
  • Clinton                 46%    Re-elected in 1996
  • Bush, G.W.         59%    Re-elected in 2004

Only Jimmy Carter fared worse than President Obama at this point in the term. The average for the 12 presidents after 940 days in office (857 for Ford) is 47.8%. Thus, Obama is almost eight percentage points below average at this point in time.

The low approval numbers do not mean that the President is doomed to lose his re-election campaign. History shows us that Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton were all below 50% approval but went on to win impressive re-election victories. In fact, historic landslides were even recorded for Nixon and Reagan. Conversely, two Presidents with some of the highest approval ratings, George H.W. and George W. Bush, both registering a strong 59% positive ranking at this commensurate time during their terms in office, did not fare as well in their re-election campaigns. As we know, George H.W. Bush was defeated for a second term, and his son won a close battle against a below average Democratic candidate.

While President Obama can certainly rebound and win a second term in office at the end of next year, the low approval ratings must be a cause for concern in his campaign camp. Watch for the President to make significant moves to improve his standing in the coming weeks.
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