Obama’s Second Term Honeymoon Looks To Be Over

President Obama's job approval numbers have fallen off from their post-election highs. But, does it matter?

obama-frown

In the wake of his victory in the 2012 elections, the President saw a significant uptick in his job approval numbers to points higher than they had been since his first year in office. Indeed, the numbers seemed to be heading in such a clear upward trajectory that many wondered if it would be the beginning of a cycle that would make it harder for Republicans to block his agenda notwithstanding the fact that they continue to control the House of Representatives. As it turns out, though, and perhaps not surprisingly, the President’s approval ratings appear to be returning to the level they had been at for most of his first term:

The second-term honeymoon for President Obama is beginning to look like it is over.

Obama, who was riding high after his reelection win in November, has seen his poll numbers take a precipitous fall in recent weeks.

A CNN poll released Tuesday showed Obama’s favorability rating underwater, with 47 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving of Obama’s handling of his job.

Much of the president’s agenda is stuck, with climate change regulations delayed, immigration reform mired in committee negotiations and prospects for a grand bargain budget deal in limbo at best.

On Tuesday, in a decision that underscored Obama’s depleting political capital, the White House watched as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced only a watered-down version of Obama’s gun control proposals would be considered on the Senate floor.

Republicans, sensing the sea change, are licking their chops. They point to the lack of movement on Obama’s signature issues, noting the contrast to the ambitious plans outlined in the early weeks of his second term.

“The president set very high goals for himself during his State of the Union, but the reality is very little of his agenda is actually moving,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said. “He allowed himself to get caught up in the legislative quicksand, [and] the cement is beginning to harden. ”

History isn’t on Obama’s side.

The last four presidents who won a second term all saw their poll numbers slide by mid-March with the exception of Bill Clinton, whose numbers improved in the four months following his reelection.

Clinton may have only been delaying the inevitable. His numbers dropped 5 points in April 1994. Even Ronald Reagan, buoyed by a dominant performance over Walter Mondale in the 1984 election, saw a double-digit erosion by this point in his second term.

Obama has yet to complete the first 100 days of his second term. But without a signature achievement since his reelection, he faces a crossroads that could define the remainder of his presidency.

White House aides maintain that the 24-hour news cycle makes comparisons to previous presidents difficult.

“I think the nature of our politics now is different than Ronald Reagan’s honeymoon,” one senior administration official said. “The ebb and flow of politics doesn’t follow that model anymore.”

But observers say a drop in popularity is typical for second-termers.

“There may be some typical second-term honeymoon fade happening,” said Martin Sweet, an assistant visiting professor of political science at Northwestern University. “Honeymoon periods for incumbents are a bit more ephemeral.”

Indeed, as the RealClearPolitics poll average shows, the drop off in the President’s job approval rating since the election has been both quick and dramatic:

FireShot Pro Screen Capture #367 - 'RealClearPolitics - Election Other - President Obama Job Approval' - www_realclearpolitics_com_epolls_other_president_obama_job_approval-1044_html

 

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why it is the the President’s numbers have dropped off so quickly. The most obvious explanation would seem to be the economy since that is the number that typically influences Presidential approval and voter sentiment most directly. However, the economic news of late hasn’t been any worse than it was in the time before the election. While the final quarter of 2012 did show what appears to be, pending its final revision, incredibly slow growth, there have been positive developments on the jobs and housing fronts. So it would seem odd that the public would decide, shortly after having re-elected the President to a second term by a fairly comfortable margin, that the economy was turning sour enough that they were becoming sour on the President. Another possibility is that the public became frustrated that the President wasn’t fulfilling the goals that he had set forth for his second term, but that makes little sense considering that we’re barely 100 days into the President’s first term. Moreover, the same polls that show the President’s job approval numbers dropping also tend to show that the public agrees with him more on issues such as the budget and taxes than they do the opposition.

Instead of anything central to the President, I’d suggest that the post-election drop-off that we’ve seen in the President’s approval numbers is really more of a return to the norm of the Obama Presidency. With the exception of the immediate beginning of his Presidency and the 2012 election, the President’s job approval numbers have fluctuated within a very narrow band. Except for brief periods such as the immediate aftermath of the Gabby Giffords shooting or the Osama bin Laden raid, they haven’t strayed very far north of about 52% or very far south of about 45%. When the 2012 election campaign began in earnest and the public started rallying behind the President, his job approval numbers tended to follow the election poll numbers. After he was re-elected, the numbers continued to rise largely as a result of the “rallying” that typically occurs after a Presidential election. Now, that both the election and the post-election rallying are fading into the past, the President’s numbers are returning to their normal level. Absent some major negative or positive development in the future, I’d expect the President’s approval ratings for the majority of the remainder of his terms to follow roughly the same pattern they did during his first term.

All of this makes me wonder if the President’s job approval numbers really matter anymore. Barack Obama is never again going to be standing for national election, after all, so it’s not like we’re looking at these numbers as some kind of guide of what will be happening in 2016. To some extent, I suppose, the President’s job approval could have an impact on voter sentiment in 2014, but those elections are more likely to be influenced by the state of the economy along with whatever issues end up playing a prominent role 20 months from now. It strikes me that it would be far more important to look at where the public stands on the President’s various agenda items than on his job approval because, in the end, that number simply doesn’t mean as much as it did for the first four years of his Presidency.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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.

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    In related “news,” an exhaustive, expert analysis has demonstrated that the San Francisco 49’ers played a better game than the Baltimore Ravens.

  2. edmondo says:

    It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why it is the the President’s numbers have dropped off so quickly.

    Not really. Obama isn’t all that much of a leader. He only wins by comparison. Against Hillary he looked new, fresh and apolitical. Against Romney he looked experienced, intelligent and pro-midde class. In reality he doesn’t project any of these qualities to any great degree. However when COMPARED to his immediate alternative, he comes away a winner.

    It’s 2013 in America, mediocrity is the best we can hope for

  3. Moosebreath says:

    You mean it began? I can’t recall it, certainly not in the sense that Congress recognized that he had been elected by a public that preferred the policies he espoused to those of his opponent and acted accordingly.

  4. stonetools says:

    I think the problem is that voters don’t give Presidents points for trying. They want results. The voters expected the President to repeal the Bush tax cuts, enact job programs, and settle the ongoing budget problems through passing a mixture of tax increases and smart budget cuts. Unfortunately, its become clear that the President ain’t Green Lantern and he doesn’t have magical super powers to compel Congressional Republicans to do what the voters want. Only the voters can do that, and they can do that only by un-electing Republicans and electing Democrats. They didn’t do enough of that in 2012, thanks largely to Republican gerrymandering.
    The voters have belatedly understood that until they finish the job, the national government is going to continue to suck , as the Republicans are going to continue to try to enact job-killing spending cuts, stupid tax cuts for the wealthy, and generally prevent government from working .Since the next election is not till November 2014, that means 20 months more of wheel-spinning, as the economy continues to bump along on the edge of recession. So yes, the public is pissed , but they have no one to blame but themselves.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why it is the the President’s numbers have dropped off so quickly.

    No it isn’t. Obama has so far refused to do a Jedi mind meld on the House and Senate GOP, and everybody really expected him to after the election.

    All of this makes me wonder if the President’s job approval numbers really matter anymore. Barack Obama is never again going to be standing for national election, after all, so it’s not like we’re looking at these numbers as some kind of guide of what will be happening in 2016.

    AHA!!! I knew he was planning a coup!

  6. MBunge says:

    The reality behind Obama’s approval numbers is simple.

    85 to 90 percent of Republicans hate him. To balance that out, Obama needs to get 85 to 90 percent of Democrats and Independents to love him. When you’re just a guy trying to do the best you can in a horrible situation, however, it’s hard to maintain such a high level of affection.

    When the public is presented with a clear choice between Obama and the GOP, he wins. Outside of that, his popularity is always going to lag.

    Mike

  7. C. Clavin says:

    RCP? Are you kidding?
    Obamas numbers have been about as steady state as you can get for his entire term.
    Go to Gallup’s approval rating…click on “Download complete trend”…in Excel select all the approval numbers…then insert a line graph. It’s essentially flat.
    I know you hate him…but you should try harder than just quoting a right-wing site like RCP.

  8. bk says:

    @C. Clavin:

    you should try harder than just quoting a right-wing site like RCP.

    Actually, the article comes from The Hill, which as we all now know (courtesy of Joyner’s post from yesterday) is a very liberal outlet.

  9. stonetools says:

    This TPM commenter summed up perfectly how many voters, conservative and liberal, think of the President’s power :

    Hobbes83 RationalLeft • 4 hours ago −
    Obama does have a magic wand. Its in a case on his desk, and its next to the button that makes gas prices go up and down, and that button is across the desk from the lever that raises and lowers the unemployment rate.

    This is aided by Inside the Beltway pundits who insist that the President could easily get the Republicans to cooperate if only he was ” reasonable” and exercised “leadership” , maybe by taking the “bully pulpit” or by writing a “strongly worded letter”.Of course, the last five years have proven the pundits dead wrong about this, but they continue to peddle that bull on every talking head program and in every newspaper column, and since they’re supposed to be “wise men”, the public believes them. I do think of late, their audience has become skeptical but they haven’t changed their tune, maybe because they can’t.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    @ bk…
    Sorry…saw the RCP graph.
    Doesn’t change my point.

  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Moosebreath: Yeah, but you’re just paying attention to the 47% who got all the free stuff from Obama. If you paid attention to the big picture you’d see what Paul Ryan has been saying all along.

  12. al-Ameda says:

    Wow, I’m shocked! I thought that president could do whatever he wants. How could I have been so wrong?

    Unfortunately for the president, 47% of the people hate him (yes, they hate him) and those people are represented by the majority in the House of Representatives. There is nothing Obama could do short of asking Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and submitting his resignation that could possibly reduce the level of hate and disgust that the 47% of losing voters have for him.

  13. edmondo says:

    There is nothing Obama could do short of asking Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and submitting his resignation that could possibly reduce the level of hate and disgust that the 47% of losing voters have for him.

    Based on Obama’shistory of “ruthless negotiating to come up with a bipartisian solution,” don’t be surprised if he doesn’t attempt this before the end of his term.

  14. GOP: “OK, Mr. President, get things done!”
    POTUS: “Very well. I’d like a weapons bill.”
    “No.”
    “OK, then I’d like to nominate a new SECDEF.”
    “Filibuster!”
    “OK, how about these judge vacancies?”
    “Something something screw you”
    “Can I wipe my rear when I use the bathroom, at least?”
    “43 of us just sent a letter to Harry Reid saying you cannot.”
    “…..”
    “…..”
    “…..”
    “….. So why haven’t you gotten anything done? What a useless Presidency!”

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I’m not sure that his approval ratings have much of, if any, meaning at this point. He isn’t going to run again.

    Meanwhile, generic congressional polling has Dems leading by somewhere between 6 and 8 points, with those polled indicating that they are set to blame Republicans for the current fiscal antics over Dems by close to a 2 to 1 margin.

    There is a reason that the GOP so quickly agreed to the continuing resolution that just passed. They have finally begun to see the writing on the political wall for 2014, and they don’t like what they are seeing.