Obama’s Job Approval Numbers Now Worse Than Jimmy Carter’s

Paul Bedard takes a look at the President’s job approval numbers and find historical analogies that are likely to make them uncomfortable at the White House:

President Obama’s slow ride down Gallup’s daily presidential job approval index has finally passed below Jimmy Carter, earning Obama the worst job approval rating of any president at this stage of his term in modern political history.

Since March, Obama’s job approval rating has hovered above Carter’s, considered among the 20th century’s worst presidents, but today Obama’s punctured Carter’s dismal job approval line. On their comparison chart, Gallup put Obama’s job approval rating at 43 percent compared to Carter’s 51 percent.

Back in 1979, Carter was far below Obama until the Iran hostage crisis, eerily being duplicated in Tehran today with Iranian protesters storming the British embassy. The early days of the crisis helped Carter’s ratings, though his failure to win the release of captured Americans, coupled with a bad economy, led to his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980.

According to Gallup, here are the job approval numbers for other presidents at this stage of their terms, a year before the re-election campaign:

— Harry S. Truman: 54 percent.

— Dwight Eisenhower: 78 percent.

— Lyndon B. Johnson: 44 percent.

— Richard M. Nixon: 50 percent.

— Ronald Reagan: 54 percent.

— George H.W. Bush: 52 percent.

— Bill Clinton: 51 percent.

— George W. Bush: 55 percent.

What’s more, Gallup finds that Obama’s overall job approval rating so far has averaged 49 percent. Only three former presidents have had a worse average rating at this stage: Carter, Ford, and Harry S. Truman. Only Truman won re-election in an anti-Congress campaign that Obama’s team is using as a model.

Could it happen? Yea it could, but it’s worth mentioning that the economy in 1948 was a heck of a lot better than it is going to be in 2012 and America is a much different place. I’ve noted already that I think it’s perfectly plausible that the President could be re-elected, but it’s not going to be easy, as numbers like this demonstrate.

Update: Since a question has come up in the comments, here is a chart showing the movement in the President’s approval numbers in the Gallup daily tracking poll from September 26th through today:

As you can see there’s been very little movement in either approval or disapproval numbers over the past two months and, taking into account the margin of error, the variation we do see could possibly be ascribed to statistical noise.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, 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. Hey Norm says:

    I’m looking for the place where you say that Obama’s approval number is actually up over the last few weeks…but I guess you were too busy writing a mis-leading headline to pay attention to facts.
    Partisan hack.
    No wonder you got voted off your own post yesterday.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    It’s only because Carter had a sudden spike in approval about this time because of the Iranian hostage taking.

  3. Liberty60 says:

    Well, the previous Presidents didn’t have the ace in the hole that is the current clown show that is the Republican Party.

    I mean, given how unpopular the President is, how humiliating must it be to be falling behind him?

  4. Dexter says:

    Well, these numbers won’t mean a thing until the day after Labor Day, 2012. I am more interested in these numbers: interest rates, unemployment numbers, violent crime rates, housing starts, trade deficit, vacation rentals/attendance at resorts-theme parks, consumer price index, and church attendance numbers.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    @ Dexter…
    True dat.

    “…ADP today reported that employment in the U.S. nonfarm private business sector increased by 206,000 from October to November on a seasonally adjusted basis. The estimated advance in employment from September to October was revised up to 130,000 from the initially reported 110,000. The increase in November was the largest monthly gain since last December and nearly twice the average monthly gain since May when employment decelerated sharply…”

    The only thing that really scares me right now is Europe…but the major central banks seem to doing the right thing. At least the stock market thinks so…the Dow was up 490 points today to over 12,000.
    Oh yeah…and because of a fluke in Jimmy Carter’s approval rating Doug was able to make Obama look bad.

  6. @Hey Norm:

    I didn’t mention this phenomenon you speak of because, according to those very polls it doesn’t exist.

  7. Tano says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Actually, Norm is correct. We are dealing with the Gallup poll here, right?


    It certainly does show a modest increase over the past few weeks.

    It certainly does not show what the US News article claims, and which you uncritically reproduce.

    It does not show ” Obama’s slow ride down Gallup’s daily presidential job approval index” – the index went down a bit in early summer, was stable for several months, and is now inching upward.

    It does not show Obama sliding downward past Carter – Carter had a brief spike relating to the beginning of the hostage crisis.

    Why do you just transmit flawed analyses like this without any critical thought, no value added on your part?

  8. anjin-san says:

    Conservatives can give each other all the hand-jobs they want over these sort of stories, but the bottom line is that Ronald Reagan is not waiting in the wings. Mitt & Newt are…

  9. Gallup is just one poll. Look at the averages, and more importantly, the trends.

    Also, it’s worth noting that Gallup is still surveying adults where as a poll like, say, Quinnipiac is surveying registered voters.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Say Doug, still waiting for you to show us a few instances of liberals talking about how much they “love the government”, as you seem to think they do.

    Failing that, maybe you can pick up some extra work writing for bithead’s blog. He never backs up any of his claims either…

  11. Hey Norm says:

    @ Doug…
    You write a post based on poll numbers from Gallup…then when questioned refer to a polling average from Right leaning RCP (which I believe includes Rasmussen) to back up your mis-leading poppycock. Holy mixed polling metaphors Batman!!!
    If you go to Gallup you will see Obama at 40% at the beginning of October, 41% Oct. 10-23, and then 43% after that. The sampling error is +/-2%.
    Basically Obama is steady…but a spike in Carter’s numbers from 1979 allowed you to make partisan hay.

  12. Short term blips in poll numbers occur quite often. It’s the trend that matters. You want to crack open some champagne because of a little up-tick? Go right ahead but you’re likely to be regretting that when those numbers dip back down again.

  13. Hey Norm says:

    Doug…you just wrote a blog-post based on an uptick from 1979!!! WTF???

  14. @Hey Norm:

    No, the post is about comparisons between the President’s current approval numbers and the historical data from the past.

    Also, check the update I just posted because it addresses your argument, which is not supported by the evidence.

  15. Hey Norm says:


    Obama’s Job Approval Numbers Now Worse Than Jimmy Carter’s

    Have you been drinking, dude?
    I said Obama has been steady…and I qouted numbers directly from Gallup that show he’s up 3 points – basically the margin of error – from the beginning of October. What’s your problem?
    You base a post on a spike in polling numbers from 32 years ago and then can’t justify it…so you blow smoke.

  16. If you wish to ignore facts, that’s up to you.

  17. Hey Norm says:

    Ok Doug…time for you to go sulk again…

  18. Who’s sulking, I’m in a pretty darn good mood actually. Peace, bro

  19. MarkedMan says:

    Wow. Doug is quickly becoming the poster child for all that is bad with libertarianism. Which means he skims a lot of articles, looks for stuff that reinforces his preconceived notions and then tries to change the subject when his analysis falls apart.

    Doug, you favorably quoted a source that led off saying Obama was “having a slow ride down the Gallup poll.” That is not true. You headlined the piece with a negative comparison to Carter’s poll numbers at the same time, not realizing you had been pwned by the Fox/Hannity/etc. crowd and that at this precise moment in the Carter campaign the hostages had just been taken in Iran and the American public had temporarily rallied around him.

    For crying out loud, when you are wrong, just admit it.

  20. mantis says:

    What a silly story. Sold as a story about Obama’s “falling” numbers, which have now gone below Carter’s, it is actually a totally different story. Obama’s numbers didn’t fall. Carter’s numbers from the same month spiked because Iranians took Americans hostage at the embassy that month and there was the usual rallying effect. Here are Carter’s numbers (from Gallup, Doug. That’s why they used Gallup as a comparison. Quinnipiac polling didn’t start until the late 1980s):

    Approve: 29
    Disapprove: 58
    No opinion: 13

    Approve: 32
    Disapprove: 55
    No opinion: 13

    Approve: 51
    Disapprove: 37
    No Opinion: 12

    The hostage crisis almost immediately flipped Carter’s approval numbers, and they stayed there for a bit. A series of missteps and failed negotiations on Carter’s part over the following months caused his approval ratings to be back where they were pre-crisis by March 1980. They stayed there until his defeat.

    It’s a stupid comparison based not on anything that is happening now, but rather on events that occurred in 1979. If an international crisis uniting the nation had unfolded this past month, Obama’s numbers in that situation would be worth comparing to Carter’s. Since it didn’t, doing so is rather pointless. At least it is if you’re trying to understand today’s election dynamics. If the point is to reassure the right that Obama is the Worst Preznit Evah! (worse than Carter even!!!!11!), well, then it’s just perfect.

  21. anirprof says:

    Gee, did you also have a post back in March, saying, “Obama’s Approval Rating is 45 points lower than one-termer George H.W. Bush’s was at this point in his Presidency!!” Comparing Obama to GHWB during his Gulf War rally would be exactly the same as comparing Obama to Carter during his Iran rally — during which Carter was just as popular as Reagan or Clinton were 11 months before the election. Obama’s numbers aren’t great, no argument there, but if you compare October numbers, Obama was running 10-15 points better than Carter.

  22. Ron Beasley says:

    @mantis: I expect the Republican base to ignore facts but it is disappointing when an intelligent man like Doug does it.

  23. You have an argument, take it up with Paul Bedard

  24. mantis says:

    You have an argument, take it up with Paul Bedard

    There are more than 400 comments on his post. Many others have already made the argument with Bedard.

    But Bedard notes the context in his piece, of course, which you copy here. He just gives it a bogus headline knowing it will get tweeted like crazy on the right and drive traffic. You improve on his headline, but yours still implies a recent drop in Obama’s polling.

    A more honest headline: “Carter Approval Rating Spikes following Hostage Crisis in Iran.” That’s the news that is being reported.

  25. ponce says:

    Only three former presidents have had a worse average rating at this stage: Carter, Ford, and Harry S. Truman. Only Truman won re-election in an anti-Congress campaign that Obama’s team is using as a model.

    Ford was appointed by Nixon.

    Obama will be facing a nobody who can’t even get 25% of their own party to support them.

    Obama wins by 30 million votes.

  26. anjin-san says:

    As long as the string of good economic news that started last Friday continues, I expect Doug will continue to churn out nonsense like this. How the biggest Black Friday in history does not rate a mention is beyond me. I guess they did not discuss it on Fox & Friends, so it never really happened.

    He will probably weave post #1000 about how insignificant and unserious OWS is into the mix as well.

  27. superdestroyer says:

    One of the odd things about the coming one-party-state in the U.S. is that pooling approval numbers will not matters (as seen with President Obama).

    When more than 50% of the voters in the U.S. will automatically vote the Democratic candidate, results, competence, performance, or even corruption will not matter. All that matters is being in the correct party and pushing enough government money to the core groups of the Democratic Party.

    When Carter had bad polling ratings, only about 40% of the voters would automatically vote for a Democrat. Now the number if above 45% and will soon be above 50%.

  28. Moosebreath says:

    “Who’s sulking, I’m in a pretty darn good mood actually.”

    Ignorance is bliss, as the old saying goes.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    Oh my, I see the tired Jimmy Carter comparison has been dug up again…all you need is the new Reagan and the new Iran Hostage Crisis and you’ll have a trifecta! Don’t bet on it, though…