ObamaCare Problems Put Obama’s Poll Numbers In A Tailspin

The trends in President Obama's approval numbers are not moving in the direction he ought to want them to go.

Obama Sad Presser

One month ago, President Obama seemed to be in a fairly good political position. By all accounts, he had come out of one of the longest Federal Government shutdowns ever with his political opponents, the GOP in general and Congressional Republicans in particular, in a severely weakened position and his own job approval numbers still in pretty respectable territory. A month before that, he had managed to make it through a crisis over the situation in Syria in which he faced strong opposition from the American people and his own party along with the GOP, although he did so with no small amount of help from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yes, his numbers had slipped significantly from where they were at the time of the 2012 election and leading up to Inauguration Day 2013, but the slip was nothing that wasn’t consistent with his previous polling and still placed him in a fairly good position compared to similarly situated two-term Presidents. Then, the problems with implementation of the Affordable Care Act began to mount, including not just the problems with the website hosting the Federal Exchange, but also blow back from mass cancellations of individual health insurance policies, which caused the President trouble thanks to his multiple speeches where he said “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” As a result, polling over the past month has shown the President job approval numbers falling quite rapidly, including polling indicating that the public has lost trust in the President himself, which has not previously been the case.

The latest example of this polling can been the latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll:

The flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act has pushed President Obama to the lowest point of his presidency, with dwindling faith in his competence and in many of the personal attributes that have buoyed him in the past, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to the new health-care law also hit a record high in the survey, with 57 percent saying they oppose the president’s most significant domestic initiative. Forty-six percent say they are strongly against it. Just a month ago, as the enrollment period was beginning, the public was almost evenly divided in its assessments of the law.

Disapproval of Obama’s handling of the health-care law’s rollout stands at 63 percent, with a majority saying they strongly disapprove. Last month, 53 percent disapproved.

The findings are the first since Obama’s news conference last week in which he repeatedly acknowledged his and the administration’s mistakes in handling the legislation. He also sought to assuage the anger among millions of Americans whose individual policies were canceled because they did not meet the new requirements.

The provision of the legislation that requires all individuals to obtain health insurance or pay a fine long has been controversial, and the survey highlights that anew. By almost 2 to 1, Americans oppose the individual mandate, with more than half saying they strongly oppose it. In contrast, almost six in 10 support the provision that requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance or face a financial penalty.

Because of the problems with HealthCare.Gov, the federal Web site designed to allow people to sign up for insurance, seven in 10 Americans say the administration should delay the individual mandate.

The public views the uproar over canceled policies, which has roiled the administration over the past month, as more than the normal start-up problems of a large enterprise. A majority say the trouble is a sign of mismanagement by those in charge of implementing the law.

Because of the cancellations, Obama has come under sharp criticism for having said repeatedly that people who liked their policies could keep them. The Post-ABC survey asked people whether they thought that he told the public what he believed to be true or that he intentionally misled. By 52 percent to 44 percent, Americans say they think he told people what he thought was correct at the time.

With all the controversy surrounding the implementation of the law, Americans are evenly divided on whether the Affordable Care Act can be fixed.

Responses to that question differ dramatically depending on party identification, with Democrats overwhelmingly confident that the legislation can be made to work and Republicans overwhelmingly pessimistic about its viability. A majority of independents say it cannot be made to work.

The health-care law has become a political burden for elected officials who support it. Almost four in 10 Americans say they are more likely to oppose a politician who backs the legislation, while just over a fifth say they would be more likely to support such a politician. That’s the biggest gap recorded in Post-ABC polling during the entire debate over the law.

And Obama is the chief target. His overall approval rating has fallen to 42 percent, having dropped six percentage points in a month, and equals his record low in Post-ABC polls. His disapproval rating stands at 55 percent, which is the worst of his presidency. Forty-four percent say they strongly disapprove of the way he is handling his job, also the worst of his presidency.

The damage to the president raises questions about whether improvements to the law alone could boost his standing significantly and, if not, the implications for the rest of his second-term agenda. White House officials have said they recognize that the president’s problems will not be cured quickly. They think that as the health-care Web site improves and as the economy grows, he will recover. For now, however, as support for the law drops, so, too, does Obama’s standing.

As I’ve said, these numbers are largely consistent with the direction that President Obama’s job approval numbers have been moving in for the past month or so. Currently, the RealClearPolitics Average stands at 54.8% Disapprove and 40.6% Approve, and this chart, which tracks the President’s job approval going back to Election Day 2012, shows that there has been a definite short term spike in the President’s disapproval numbers:

RCP Obama Job Approval

As Steven Taylor notes this morning, it’s important when looking at numbers like these, and even an ongoing trend, it’s important to remember that one of the most important rules of politics is that things change. A month ago, it was the GOP that was in seeming political trouble and the President who had come through both a foreign and domestic policy crisis period in relatively good position. Now, a month later, while things are not entirely reversed given that the GOP’s poll numbers haven’t really improved very much from their October lows, although they have closed the gap in the Generic Congressional Ballot.  Additionally, it’s worth noting that President Obama’s job approval numbers have been quite volatile from the beginning of his Presidency. Indeed, except for specific periods of time that can be tied to specific events (i.e, the 2009 and 2013 Inaugurations, the run up to the 2012 Election, and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound), his numbers have either been in the red, or relatively even or much of his Presidency, as this chart going back to January 20, 2009 shows:

Obama Job Approval 2

Despite these caveats, the trend itself has been both dramatic and, to the extent that its potentially tied into things over which the President himself has no real control, worrisome for the President and his party.

For example, NBC’s First Read points out that we are now at or near the point in President Obama’s Presidency where two-term Presidents seldom fully recover from damaging hits to their job approval, favorability, or trustworthiness numbers:

Another day, another poll — this time from the Washington Post/ABC – showing President Obama hitting all-time low in approval, at 42%. (Of course, it’s worth noting that our NBC/WSJ poll released in late October showed the president reaching 42%, so this has been going on for the past three weeks.) As NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R) has emailed clients, history shows that it’s difficult for presidents to recover from nosedives like this. And if that’s true, Obama will be a liability in 2014, period. But it will be important to see where Obama’s approval rating is come Spring 2014, assuming the health-care website gets fixed and the Affordable Care Act rollout becomes a distant memory. Barring something unforeseen, these next two months are perhaps the president’s last shot at getting right before the midterms. He needs a working website and a State of the Union that somehow instills some hope that he’s up to the job as a leader. How the public responds will tell us if Obama will be able to recover in time for the midterms.

One school of thought says that President Obama’s personal approval numbers don’t matter nearly as much as they did during his first term, and there is some merit to that argument. After all, he doesn’t have to worry about running for election again for the rest of his life, and nothing that any poll says is going to impact that fact that he is going to be President of the United States until Noon on January 20th, 2017. At the same time, though, as we saw during the final years of the Bush Administration, a damaged Second Term President can have a negative impact on his party’s fortunes. After all, it was in the 2006 midterms, that a Democratic wave brought 12 years of Republican control of Congress to an end, albeit for only a relatively short period of time as it turned out. Of course, the “second term midterms” curse is something that seems to apply regardless of how popular a President is. President Reagan had relatively decent job approval numbers heading into the 1986 midterms, and yet his party still managed to ended up losing control of the Senate. The same was true of President Clinton and the 1996 elections, which saw the GOP gain seats in the House despite being dealt a losing hand just ten months earlier during the legendary 21 day long government shutdown. So, if President Obama’s job approval numbers are heading into an area where we’re talking about a permanent slump, which isn’t at all unlikely given the historical norm of two-term Presidents, then it could be quite problematic for his party come November 2014.

These polls, like all polls, are snapshots in time. What matters in the end is the trend that those numbers are moving and, what the charts above tell us is that, ever since the summer, the President’s disapproval numbers have been moving up while his approval numbers move down. If that continues, then President Obama is going to be finding himself in “lame duck” territory sooner rather than later.

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. C. Clavin says:

    Whilst you revel in your political hackdom…Iran is making pretty major concessions.
    But keep up the team sports.

  2. edmondo says:

    the Washington Post/ABC – showing President Obama hitting all-time low in approval, at 42%.

    Obviously, 58% of Americans are racists

  3. al-Ameda says:


    Obviously, 58% of Americans are racists

    I’m pretty sure that that number is 47%.

  4. Jr says:

    Obama’s numbers always seem to decline in the fall and pick up in December.

  5. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    The general attitude these polls reflect is that “both sides suck.” What changes is “which side sucks more at this particular moment.”

    In other words, there are very few positive attitudes. What changes is the emphasis of the negatives.

  6. superdestroyer says:

    The presdient’s approval numbers are irrelevant. I suspect that a significant portion of those mad about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act really wanted single payer. Those single payer supporter may not approve of the president but they still always going to side with the president.

    As has been pointed out of several progressive websites is that come January a lot more Americans are going to receive either free healthcare due to the expansion of Medicaid or receiving a significant subsidy courtesy of the taxpayers. That additional government spending ensure that more people will support the president, his party, and other Democratic Party politicians in the future.

    Once again, people keep looking at political numbers as if the Republicans and their Party are relevant to politics in the U.S. Once one understands that more than 50% of the voters are automatic Democratic Party voters, then the significance of polling numbers decline to irrelevance.

  7. David M says:


    come January a lot more Americans are going to receive either free healthcare due to the expansion of Medicaid or receiving a significant subsidy….more people will support the president, his party, and other Democratic Party politicians in the future.

    How dare they do something the voters will like.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    @David M:

    The voters who receive the benefits will like it. HOwever, what about the taxpayers who will either pay higher taxes now or much higher taxes in the future. The Axelrod strategy comes through again where the mechanism of the one party state is to spread government money around to the most people while sticking the smallest number (or those who cannot avoid the cost) with the bill.

    Also, thank you for admitting that politics is really about government goodies and the demographic groups that receive them.

  9. David M says:


    The horror. Voters wanting government goodies like roads, clean air, safe food, etc.

  10. Davebo says:

    Last I saw the guy is probably not running for office anytime soon.

    Maybe, just maybe, he can get something done.

  11. dennis says:

    That’s because people are farging idiots who always want the drive-thru quick service and have no patience to wait for something good. It’s just plain immoral that a nation as rich and powerful as this will not provide healthcare for its citizens. But we have money for more frikn wars, right?

  12. An Interested Party says:

    So much for that third term…darn it…

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    The bottom line is that a year is an awfully long time. Three years is even longer. Get back to me if / when this is still an issue next Fall.

  14. rodney dill says:

    On the other hand, Obama can make a real good breakfast…. if you like toast.

  15. edmondo says:

    So much for that third term…darn it…

    Or a second term if your name is Hagen or Begich or Shaheen. Obama knocked off 65 House Democrats in 2010. He’ll slaughter another ton of them next year at this rate.Obama-fatigue is setting in like Bush fatigue did in 2006.

  16. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Why do you GOP partisan warriors always focus on the 2010 election and forget to mention the one in 2012?

    You know, the one where the GOP, despite gerrymandering in 2010, lost seats in both houses of Congress?

    As I said, a year is an eternity in politics, and with the GOP seemingly determined to mire itself up in another civil war, it’s way too early to be making predictions about how this next election will go.

  17. edmondo says:


    Why do you GOP partisan warriors always focus on the 2010 election and forget to mention the one in 2012?

    LOL! I’ve voted for exactly two Republicans in the last 40 years – both times the Democrat was under indictment and both ended up in a federal penitentiary for years. If you think that I am a “GOP partisan warrior” it just shows how sad your posts are. I guarantee you one thing though, there’s NO FKN WAY I will ever vote for any Democrat who voted for this POS.

  18. David M says:


    edmondo is more the underpants gnome type.

    1. NO! Obamacare!
    2. …
    3. Free Health Care For Everyone

    Apparently that makes sense. Somehow..

  19. bill says:

    @HarvardLaw92: great, the dreaded gerrymandering again….heck- the gop was dead just a month ago according to the brainless peeps who answer pollsters. get back to us in a year about it, but these threads have a 3 day shelf life and all but a few stalkers won’t remember it then.
    back to biz though, obama and his eponymous healthcare plan have really fouled the air for us.

  20. anjin-san says:

    I wonder when Jenos is going to demand we all talk about George Zimmermann…

  21. Tyrell says:

    This is good news for Hillary. She can now spend the first six years of her administration blaming everything on Obama.

  22. bill says:

    @Tyrell: if she get’s that far! but she’d blame Bush anyway.

  23. C. Clavin says:

    So bill…are you claiming that a 9% contraction of GDP didn’t happen under Bush?
    Are you claiming he didn’t spend $2+ Trillion in Iraq?
    Are you claiming he paid for for Medicare Part D?
    Are you claiming the Bush Tax Cuts are not an ongoing contributor to the deficit?
    And are you claiming that none of these things have any impact on events and conditions today?

  24. rodney dill says:

    Even Michelle indicates that her husband is in the toilet.

    (Though that’s probably a better Doug Mataconis headline and post in the quick picks)

  25. C. Clavin says:

    @rodney dill:
    Only Kenyan born Socialist Muslims sing in the bathroom.

  26. edmondo says:

    He needs a working website …

    It’s not the website that people hate. It the entire law. You are focusing on a symptom, not the disease.

    A new Quinnipiac poll in Colorado finds Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) just ahead of Ken Buck (R) in a possible re-election match up, 45% to 42%.

    Udall holds slim leads over five other possible GOP challengers as well.

    Said pollster Tim Malloy: “Though running even or ahead of six possible Republican challengers, Sen. Mark Udall must be pulling for a quick fix of the Obamacare website and a change of heart by Coloradans who dislike the Affordable Care Act by a wide margin.”

  27. David M says:


    Not only is the generic approval of “Obamacare” meaningless but treating it as a useful piece of data is actively helping the Republicans.

    There’s a reason you don’t ever publicly say which health care reforms you support and how those could be achieved.

  28. An Interested Party says:

    @HarvardLaw92: You’ll have to overlook edmondo…he thinks he’s Pat Cadell…