Egypt and Obama’s Approval Numbers

President Obama's approval numbers have dropped 9 points since the Egypt crisis broke out.

Scott Rasmussen is touting a major drop in President Obama’s approval among likely voters in the wake of the events in Egypt:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 23% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty percent (40%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -17 (see trends).

The president’s Approval Index ratings have fallen nine points since Monday as the crisis in Egypt unfolds. Most of the decline comes from a fall in the number who Strongly Approve of the president’s performance (30% on Monday, 23% now). However, for the first time since mid-December, the number who Strongly Disapprove has moved back over the 40% mark for five straight days. The Strongly Disapprove total had been above 40% for most of 2010 but fell to the high-30s after the president and Senate Republicans reached a deal to extend the Bush Administration tax cuts.

Rasmussen’s numbers are controversial, in that they tend to skew Republican, mostly as a function of applying a “likely voter” screen even for polls having nothing to do with elections. Regardless, this is a comparison of trends within a single poll, so that’s not particularly important.  (Although, amusingly, that doesn’t stop Rasmussen from devoting several paragraphs to defending his company’s accuracy.)

What do these numbers tell us? Probably not much.

The situation in Egypt has been riveting and people who care want their president to Do Something Now. Because, after all, American presidents are in charge of deciding who runs every country on the planet and have magical powers to grant the wishes of protesters everywhere, especially if they’re fighting for freedom.

Alas, Obama is more cautious than the average president. Going back to the campaign, he went into virtual hiding whenever a crisis broke out, let everyone else stake out definitive positions, and emerged a few days later to deliver his considered opinion.  From the Russian invasion of Georgia to the financial crisis to the Afghanistan Surge to Egypt, that’s his M.O.  It’s aggravating because most of us are accustomed to an instant information world. But I don’t recall him suffering lingering damage for waiting until things settled down a bit to make a decision.

That pattern is likely to hold here. In this particular case, I happen to think he’s played it exactly right.  His first statements were cautious: insisting that the right to peaceably protest be respected, calling for democratic reforms, calling for nonviolence, but refusing to insist on an outcome.  As things turned violent, he ratcheted up the pressure. Now, he’s quietly pushing Mubarak out. While it seems like this has been playing out forever, it’s actually been only 9 days.

Ultimately, this is likely to play itself out quickly and without a lot more bloodshed. And, like Lebanon, Georgia, and Iran be quickly forgotten by the average American.

Beyond that, the “Strongly Approve” and “Strongly Disapprove” numbers  are fluctuating well within their normal range.

After his post-inaugural honeymoon wore off, his Strongly Approve numbers seem to have settled in to the 25 to 30 percent range, with occasional deviations of no more than 5 percent.  His Strongly Disapprove numbers have more wiggle room, but seem to hover around the 40 percent point, seldom dipping below 38 or spiking above 45.  We’re well within those zones even now.

And his overall approval numbers are similarly well within the normal band:

Given the horrid state of the economy, the fact that 45 to 50 percent of the public consistently approves of Obama’s performance is simply remarkable.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    Agreed, with one caveat. Lebanon, Georgia and Iran sink back and get forgotten since we had little influence in Iran anyway and Lebanon/Georgia are tiny countries with little international importance. Egypt, OTOH, is the linchpin for peace in the immediate area. If the new Egyptian government is more hostile towards Israel, that could hurt his approval later. Not that there is much we can do about it.


  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    When it comes to political theater, Hosni Mubarak is a master. My bet is that he will survive this round of unrest, retain power as usual, and have Obama searching for a way to spin that he supported Mubarak all along.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    The people who want things now may not always be up on the details.

    Egypt has a constitution of sorts and if Mubarak simply resigns no amendment to the constitution can be legally made and the succession essentially goes from bad, to worse, to worst. Probably the best move is to keep Mubarak technically, legally in the job while handing power over to a coalition to set up a constitutional reform and the September elections.

    That would be the nuanced, rational, effective but emotionally unsatisfying (to me, too,) kind of solution Obama prefers.

  4. Terrye says:

    He is down in Gallup too. It might be that the rise in approval numbers was transitory and was an emotional reaction to the Tucson speech and the compromise over taxes.

    I think Rasmussens is no more controversial than polsters who continue to give Democrats a huge advantage in demographics when they obviously lost some numbers in the last year.

    The truth is many independents are not partisan and are in fact swayed by events. So bad news means the numbers go down and good news or a pretty speech means the numbers go up.

    Maybe Obama should deliver another oratorical masterpiece and wow us all with his verbal prowess.

    As for Mubarak, he might hang on until September, but I think his days are numbered. He is 82 years old for heavens sakes.

  5. Smooth Jazz says:

    “Rasmussen’s numbers are controversial, in that they tend to skew Republican…What do these numbers tell us? Probably not much.”

    Well, Gallup Daily Tracking is showing the same pattern for Obama JA: Down, down, down. Indeed, his most recent Gallup number is worse that Rasmussen (45%) and no one has ever claimed Gallup “skews Republican”. I’ll take Gallup anyday over the DailyKOS/PPP numbers you guys like to tout.

  6. reid says:

    In other news, a cat farted in Romania, and Obama’s numbers dropped three points… is this finally the end for him?

    Stupid politics. And I don’t trust a pollster that would “tout” anything.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Forget the President. Doug’s posting about Palin and Egypt. Isn’t that who matters?

  8. ponce says:

    “Well, Gallup Daily Tracking is showing the same pattern for Obama JA: Down, down, down. ”

    Gallup has Obama up one point today!!!

    What did he do right yesterday?!??!!!

    I’m kidding.

    Look up the word “stochastic” if Obama’s recent numbers baffle you.

  9. David says:

    What happened to “sooner rather than later” and “right now.” Obama has made a fool of himself. He keeps trying to determine which way popular sentiment is going and then makes his proclamation only to see the sentiment change. He has no moral compass only a political one.

  10. anjin-san says:

    > Doug’s posting about Palin and Egypt. Isn’t that who matters?

    To you apparently. You seem quite hung up about it.

  11. MM says:

    What happened to “sooner rather than later” and “right now.” Obama has made a fool of himself. He keeps trying to determine which way popular sentiment is going and then makes his proclamation only to see the sentiment change. He has no moral compass only a political one.

    he quite clearly is doing too much, not enough and supporting the wrong people.

    Repeat for whatever happens in Egypt on any given day.

  12. […] Steve M continues: Yeah, yeah, it’s Rasmussen — though, as James Joyner notes, the numbers have worsed in the new Rasmussen poll compared to old Rasmussen polls. […]

  13. Jeugenen says:

    Mubarak thinks, Barak Obama is a “very good man”; Satanyahu thinks, Barak Obama is a very bad man. Mubarak and Satanyahu will soon be seeing each other in Hell; and the World sings God Bless America.