Obama Approval Still In Danger Zone

President Obama is polling at 46.8 percent, below the level needed to win re-election.

President Obama is polling at 46.8 percent, below the level needed to win re-election.

Gallup’s Lydia Saad (a family friend):

The president’s latest quarterly average is based on Gallup Daily tracking from April 20 through July 19. Across that time, his three-day rolling average approval ratings have been as high as 53% and as low as 42%, with the most recent readings falling on the lower end of that range.

Obama is in the company of several former elected presidents who averaged sub-50% approval during their 10th quarters in office. This includes three former presidents who won re-election — Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan — and one, Jimmy Carter, who lost. On the other hand, of the three presidents with exceptionally high average approvals at this stage, George H.W. Bush was ultimately defeated, while Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush prevailed.

This is the sixth straight quarter Obama has received less than majority approval. As a result, his average job approval rating has been below 50% for more of his presidency than it has not. However, both Clinton and Reagan experienced seven months of sub-50% average approval ratings in the middle of their first terms, indicating this is not a disqualifier for re-election.

Additionally, the lowest quarterly average ratings for Clinton (41.4%) and Reagan (38.8%) during these periods were lower than Obama’s lowest quarterly average to date (44.7%).

The top man on the list lost, as did the bottom guy. Bush was coming off the high of the victory in the Gulf War and the economy was about to go into recession. Carter inherited a lousy economy, managed it poorly, and was yet to face his biggest disaster in the Iran Hostage Crisis.  The second lowest guy on the list, Ronald Reagan, went on to a landslide victory.

Unlike Obama, both Reagan and Clinton saw some improvement in their average approval ratings between the 9th and 10th quarters. However that momentum was not continued in the next few quarters, so the importance of the 10th quarter shift is unclear.

After persisting below 50% through most of 1983, Reagan’s average quarterly approval rating jumped above 50% in his 12th quarter (spanning surveys conducted between Oct. 20, 1983, and Jan. 19, 1984). Clinton and Nixon made this leap in their 13th quarters, less than a year prior to being re-elected.

Conversely, George H.W. Bush experienced a steep decline in his approval ratings during 1991 — the year before he was defeated — and by his 13th quarter — the beginning of 1992 — he dropped well below 50%, never to recover. Jimmy Carter saw his dismal 1979 average approval ratings improve in 1980, his re-election year, but never beyond 48%.

The 13th quarter, January through April of the election year, seems to matter:

The five presidents above 50 percent in the 13th quarter were re-elected; the two below were not. Lydia concludes:

President Obama’s job approval rating averaged just under 47% in the latest quarter, continuing a pattern of sub-50% approval ratings for him that started early in 2010. While this is not an auspicious indicator for a president’s re-election in the final months leading up to election, it is still too early to say what it forebodes for 2012. There is not a consistent enough pattern in the quarterly approval averages of prior presidents to say whether a 46.8% average approval in the 10th quarter points toward re-election or defeat. History suggests Obama’s 12th and 13th quarter ratings are likely to be much more valuable in this respect.

Let’s stipulate that 7 election cycles is a small sample size. But it constitutes the entire data set of modern-era presidents who were elected and sought re-election. (John Kennedy was murdered in his 12th quarter, Lyndon Johnson didn’t run for re-election, and Gerald Ford wasn’t elected.) So it’s dangerous to draw definitive conclusions from this history.

Still, the best evidence we have is that the approval of the sitting president is the decisive factor in popular elections–not the candidate running against them or, indeed, the dynamics of the re-election campaign. We pundits put an enormous amount of emphasis on personality and day-to-day events because we obsess over the news as it happens. Additionally, we naturally view the contest as a horse race, looking to see who’s ahead, who’s gaining, and who’s losing speed. Normal people, though, really aren’t paying any attention.

Presidential popularity isn’t fixed. George H.W. Bush’s plummeted 32 points from the 10th quarter to the 13th and Ronald Reagan’s went up 10 points. Right now, though, Obama is slightly below where Jimmy Carter was in his 13th quarter. History seems to say that he needs to get up into the 51 range to keep his job. That’s doable: Reagan did it from 2 points further back and Nixon and Clinton did it from essentially the same point. And the House Republicans are doing their best to help.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Public Opinion Polls, US 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.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    You wouldn’t want him to peak too soon.

  2. hey norm says:

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  3. Rob in CT says:

    Of course, with 9% unemployment.

    The election is over a year away. I hate how long our political campaign season is.

  4. hey norm says:

    Yesterday you incorrectly (according to the author of the study) slam Franken.
    Today you claim Obama’s in danger based on a ton of inconclusive, caveat-ridden, statiistics.
    Hmmm – wonder what’s on tomorrows menu?

  5. hey norm says:

    Here’s an interesting counter to this post…I was going to paraphrase it but I’m too busy.
    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/07/gallup-pollster-obamas-approvals-soar-above-his-predecessors.php?ref=fpb

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    As I’ve said before the Republicans still have to run a candidate that the voters think will do a better job than Obama. There is certainly nothing to indicate that is guaranteed.

  7. PJ says:

    I’m still a bit unsure about how voters in 2012 will decide to elect a president from the party that one year earlier wrecked the economy?

  8. ponce says:

    President Obama is polling at 46.8 percent, below the level needed to win re-election.

    McCain and what’s her name only got 45.7% of the vote.

    Speaking of that, isn’t it time for both Palin and Israel to make an attention getting fuss about something?

  9. James Joyner says:

    @hey norm: I’ve repeatedly stated that I think that Obama is the heavy favorite to win re-election. And I close the post noting that the House Republicans are doing everything in their power to boost Obama’s numbers.

    All I say here is that Obama has steadily been in the danger zone: below 51 percent. I note that other presidents have been around where Obama is now–and, in Reagan’s case, slightly below–and won. But that Obama needs a boost.

    The main takeaway is that 13th quarter poll numbers are huge, if not definitive. Which means that the opposition candidate and the ins-and-outs of the campaign are actually much, much important than we (and I include myself in that) tend to intuitively think.

  10. Wayne says:

    Re “Republicans are doing everything in their power to boost Obama’s numbers”

    The numbers don’t support that. Obama’s approval ratings have been trending down of late. Yes Congress approval ratings have been declining to. However voters will be voting for or against Obama. Voters don’t vote for or against Congress as a whole but only for or against their representatives that are in Congress. Even if voters disapprove and vote out their representatives, it doesn’t help out Obama approval.

    That said there is still over a year lift and much can happen. It would be foolish to bet the house on Obama winning or not winning reelection.

  11. ken says:

    Obama is a lousy president. He is a decent guy and perhaps his style would have suited a president during an era of growth and prosperity, but he is poorly suited to be the nations leader today. Today we need a leader and not a compromiser.

    Obama is too young and inexperienced to grasp the vital necessity of maintaining the ‘full faith and credit’ of the USA. Under his stewardship the political consensus to maintain our credit has been shattered. I blame Obama for first of all not realizing how important the consensus is, and secondly for sitting on his hands while the opposition to maintaining the consensus grows ever stronger.

    The problem though is that anyone the Republicans offer is going to be a thousand times worse than Obama.

    We are screwed.

  12. jan says:

    @ken:

    I agree with you that Obama is a ‘lousy’ president. Ironically he is like a Sarah Palin in drag. Both are attractive, popular, having little experience on the political front lines, and are ideologues in their own political groove.

    Having said this, I think it is still Obama’s to lose. He has the bully pulpit, and most of the MSM at his back, pushing hard to reelect him. I really don’t think talk radio or even FOX news has nearly enough clout, with the average voter, to counter the cushioning write-ups or safety nets most journalists offer Obama, to date.

    So, if I had to bet on it, Obama will probably secure a 2nd term….this time he will not have to veer to the center of anything, and can go full steam ahead with his policy-making, whether it’s good for the country or not!

    I also am not impressed with the GOP line-up for ’12. In the beginning I thought Mitch Daniels would run, and he offered some prudent fiscal ideas to the mix. But, he didn’t step up. So who knows who the mystery candidate will end up being.

  13. Eric Florack says:

    So, let’s make sure we understand this.

    * Obama’s approval rating has been below 50% for the last five quarters in a row.
    * Yet, we are told that what the America people want is compromise with the ideals Obama represents?

  14. An Interested Party says:

    Under his stewardship the political consensus to maintain our credit has been shattered.

    How’s that? Surely you aren’t saying it’s his fault that we have a bunch of tea bag loons who don’t think the debt limit is something worth voting for?

    …and are ideologues in their own political groove.

    Oh yes, the President is such an “ideologue”…that’s why he is working for some kind of compromise with the Republicans that includes massive spending cuts…please…

    So, if I had to bet on it, Obama will probably secure a 2nd term….this time he will not have to veer to the center of anything, and can go full steam ahead with his policy-making, whether it’s good for the country or not!

    Yeah, you and your ilk will be carted off to the reeducation camps after he secures a second term…

    So, let’s make sure we understand this.

    That’s your first mistake…you don’t understand at all…certainly the American people don’t want the brand of hard-core conservatism that you are selling…

  15. jan says:

    @An Interested Party:

    certainly the American people don’t want the brand of hard-core conservatism that you are selling…

    The American people certainly don’t want what you and your ‘ilk’ are selling either. Wow, the democratic party has really gone off the rails.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    The American people certainly don’t want what you and your ‘ilk’ are selling either.

    You have no idea what I’m selling, darling…

  17. Eric Florack says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Oh, but we do… and we’re living with the disaster it creates, just now.
    We’ve had left of center… Obama…. and Center-left… Bush….. and both proved to be at least problematic, particularly where the budget is concerned.

    We find ourselves at a crossroads, much as we did with Jimmy Carter… where the American people are ready to elect real conservatives because they see clearly now as few other times, what disasters liberals and those who compromise with them, can be to our country. The only outstanding question is will the GOP actually offer up conservatives, including for POTUS, or will they offer us center left again? If the latter, I fear we may not survive the result.

  18. jan says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Eric, so who would like to be the republican candidate in ’12?

  19. An Interested Party says:

    We find ourselves at a crossroads, much as we did with Jimmy Carter… where the American people are ready to elect real conservatives because they see clearly now as few other times, what disasters liberals and those who compromise with them, can be to our country.

    Of course, you have no proof to back up this fantasy claim…this is all just a projection of your worldview, which has been shown to have little basis in reality…

  20. Wayne says:

    Re “Of course, you have no proof to back up this fantasy claim…this is all just a projection of your worldview, which has been shown to have little basis in reality”

    This is coming from An Interested Party. Talking about irony.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Not really, Wayne…Florack consistently implies that there is some huge hard core conservative majority out there that is just pining away for hard right politicians to do what they want…however, there is no evidence to support this fantasy…

  22. mannning says:

    Just a few facts about the last three presidents and their all inclusive spending:

    Clinton………………………$564 Million per day over 8 years

    Bush…………………………$1.2 Billion per day over 8 years

    Obama……………………..$ 4.6 Billion per day over his term, so far.

    What idiot wants this current trend to continue? Source: GAO

  23. Eric Florack says:

    @mannning: Well put. Quite so… and the quotes I posted the other day, which I’ll post here again are not cause for comfort:

    Public debt is as bad a thing as many people believe… it’s basically money we owe ourselves.– Paul Krugman

    Deficits have been demagogued for 30 years nnow as being the great horrifying boogyman that’s going to kill us—- Digby Parton, Nutroots Nation

    There’s plenty of money out there. Don’t fall into the trap of this whole deficit argument. The only question is how to spend it. – Van Jones, Obama “green jobs” czar

    Social Security doesn’t need to be fixed— MoveOn.Org

    Your mention of Bush is quite correct. There’s a number of fiolks who like to insist the spending problem with Bush was the war. Sorry, wrong answer. Billions on “No Child Left Behind….” (which gained us nothing) an 80% increase in farm subsidy, Billions on Methanol production payoffs, Medicare drug entitlement expansion, the most expensive highway projects bill in history, (until Obama) and otherwise around 95billion ion pork spending he signed off on.

    I’ve been on record for years suggesting that Bush is no conservative. He certainly proved that, in spite of the left’s constant harping about how he was the next messenger of Hitler.
    The fact is, that we are in trouble as a nation to the exact extent that we have tilted left since Reagan. Clinton and Obama tilted left by intent, Bush by acquiescence. Bush showed us there is little to no value in compromise with the left. That’s a lesson that was fresh in the minds of the Republican voter when they sat on their hands in the last general, letting yet another centrist, McCain, flounder.

    @jan: I could do a far better job than most of them, sadly.

    Of course, you have no proof to back up this fantasy claim…this is all just a projection of your worldview, which has been shown to have little basis in reality…

    So, how do you read the polling data, then? Is it your contention, for example that Obama didn’t go far left enough?

  24. An Interested Party says:

    The fact is, that we are in trouble as a nation to the exact extent that we have tilted left since Reagan.

    Oh yes, of course, because our country had absolutely no debt at all until Reagan left the White House…

    So, how do you read the polling data, then?

    Like polling data that tells us that most people want the two sides to compromise in the debt ceiling saga, that they want a mix of tax increases and spending cuts…if you are suddenly so enamored of polling data, show us the polling data that supports many of the things you support…

  25. mannning says:

    Sorry to read that “we” want a mix of tax increases along with spending cuts! I have polled my friends and acquaintences around here but I cannot find a single person that wants their taxes increased. I read that there are a few wildmen billionaires that want to pay more in taxes, and more power to them…I hope they come across with billions on their own hook! If I had billions I wouldn’t mind sending some to valid government projects that had excellent management and accountability, but I don’t know of any. To underwrite this administration’s social programs with my money would be a sin.

  26. An Interested Party says:

    I have polled my friends and acquaintences around here but I cannot find a single person that wants their taxes increased.

    I’m sure Gallup or even Rasmussen would only be too happy to use your services…you should give them a call…

  27. Eric Florack says:

    Oh yes, of course, because our country had absolutely no debt at all until Reagan left the White House…

    Like it or not, on a comparative basis, that’s the case. And your comment misses the point that Regan was the last conservative to gain the WH, and in reality, the first since before WWII. The only example of Conservatives in the WH in recent times was a resounding success. Why hasn’t that lesson been learned?

    Like polling data that tells us that most people want the two sides to compromise in the debt ceiling saga

    Thing is, to believe that data, you need to ignore the approval rating data.

  28. An Interested Party says:

    Like it or not, on a comparative basis, that’s the case.

    Complete and utter bull$hit, of course, which leads to this statement…

    The only example of Conservatives in the WH in recent times was a resounding success.

    …also being untrue…

    Thing is, to believe that data, you need to ignore the approval rating data.

    Oh, like the data that holds Republicans to be more at fault for this mess than the President because they refuse to compromise in regards to tax increases…