Obama’s Popularity in Perspective

With new polls out showing that support for President Obama’s policies declining rapidly, Dave Weigel weighs in to remind us that Obama’s doing better than his predecessors at comparable periods. Matt Yglesias helpfully puts the data into a handy dandy chart.

Even aside from the fact that this is looking at Obama’s topline approval — which everyone acknowledges is good — rather than his weaker internals, this isn’t a very useful comparison.

First, Clinton and Bush both came to office with less than majority support. Clinton had won a very polarizing three-way race and then managed to have the worst start of any president in memory.  For reasons inexplicable to this day, his first policy initiative was the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” gays in the military compromise.  He was also mired in a huge number of mini-scandals and on his way to a disaster in the 1994 mid-terms that would see his party lose both Houses of Congress. Bush came in second in the popular vote and won the Electoral College thanks to the still-disputed Florida fiasco.

Second, it’s the trendlines that the news reports are focusing on.  Obama started with an enormous reservoir of good will and then built on it with a series of good staff choices and picking off some low-hanging fruit on the policy front.  But he’s alienated a lot of people with hard decisions on the economy and social issues.

Yes, the HONEYMOON IS OVER hype is overblown.  But it is a legitimate story.

FILED UNDER: 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. G.A.Phillips says:

    I give him a big fat ZERO MINUS………13 trillion……

  2. odograph says:

    Oh no! Obama has lost G.A.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Indeed, I’m sure all is lost for the Obama Administration now…

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    the HONEYMOON IS OVER

    lol, not for these two……

  5. Run the same comparison with G.H.W.Bush and Reagan and see how Obama is doing. It isn’t that he will be doing bad, just he won’t be looking so great.

  6. JKB says:

    One thing I haven’t seen factored in is that many people will be reluctant to admit they disapprove of the first “black” president. It’s unfortunate but a fact of life. This will eventually have to be factored in to align poll results with the real world outcomes, e.g., he’s popular but that doesn’t help his agenda.

  7. brainy435 says:

    “… then built on it with a series of good staff choices …”

    Uh…you mean just the ones that WEREN’T forced to withdraw or are you including the elitist tax-dodgers who made it through anyway as well?

  8. Our Paul says:

    You really got to start working on these mood swings of yours James, this morning we had this:

    None of this is a prediction on the 2012 election, by the way. Obama is an outstanding campaigner and is likely to be personally popular three and a half years from now. And there’s no sign at all that the Republicans have revitalized their message and have a strong candidate ready to carry it.(My italics, OP)

    And then, this afternoon we have this:

    With new polls out showing that support for President Obama’s policies declining rapidly…

    Yes, the HONEYMOON IS OVER hype is overblown. But it is a legitimate story.

    My pappy once told me that to win a race, you had to do it on your own, you cannot depend on the other horses to stumble or brake a leg. I sure do not see any solutions being proposed by the Center Right, but one has to be stone deaf not to hear the Swift boaters revving their engines.

  9. Noah Johns says:

    Its not very difficult to maintain high approval ratings when you have a complicit news media.
    Obama is still seen as largely not responsible for the economy. Most Americans still blame Bush. That wont last forever. Eventually the economy has to turn around and if doesn’t Obama will get the blame. If that happens no amount of personal charisma will save him.

  10. just me says:

    I agree with Noah. I wonder how his approval ratings would look, if the media actually spent some time covering Obama’s ideas with a skeptical eye.

    The media is starting to come around on some stuff-but they still seem to cover his every move like start struck gossip columnists than hard news.

    I think the media will always probably fawn over him to some degree, but eventually they will start covering the story and not the star.

  11. James Joyner says:

    My pappy once told me that to win a race, you had to do it on your own, you cannot depend on the other horses to stumble or brake a leg. I sure do not see any solutions being proposed by the Center Right, but one has to be stone deaf not to hear the Swift boaters revving their engines.

    I expect it to be another hard-fought campaign. But Obama is likable and a good campaigner and the Republicans are going to have to find a very good candidate to have a chance. There’s another old saying: “You can’t beat something with nothing.”

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    One thing I haven’t seen factored in is that many people will be reluctant to admit they disapprove of the first “black” president.

    Exactly, Slickwilly got a second term, then got impeached……

  13. Eric Florack says:

    Yes, the HONEYMOON IS OVER hype is overblown. But it is a legitimate story.

    Well, maybe that should be judged within the framework of the degree to which pre-election stories about his populaity were overblown by a press trying to create their own reality?

    As a buddy used to say; It ain’t where you’re at, it’s where you’re goin’… The speed with which Obama’s numbers are falling here is the story. The support he’s had has always been fragile at best, as the current numbers and the direction they’re taking makes very clear.

  14. LaurenceB says:

    Yes, it’s all the fault of the press. And reverse discrimination. And political correctness. That’s why he’s so popular.

    You guys have nailed it.

    Now, we can all go back to re-arranging the chairs.

  15. Noah Johns says:

    James,
    Don’t you think its possible that Republicans do not really care as much about beating Obama in 2012?

    Lets assume the economy rebounds which is likely to happen. Obama will surely get the credit even though he will not be the reason for it.

    Assuming the Republicans make some inroads into the House and Senate in 2010 they will be looking to take back one or both houses by 2012.

    If Obama still has an approval rating of 60% then its unlikely anyone the Republicans run will be able to beat him given his effectiveness as a campaigner ,a complicit media and the undue credit he will get for the economic recovery. The GOP will throw up a sacrificial lamb (Palin maybe).

    The Republican’s best bet is to reconstruct their core message. They need to present themselves as a viable alternative to the liberal policies of Obama, Reid and Pelosi. They cannot afford to gamble on winning by seen as purely an opposition party especially if the economy turns around.

    Remember if the economy turns around and the fawning media gives Obama the credit, it doesn’t matter what his current numbers are. The spin will be that the stimulus worked, he put people back to work, hes the new FDR, etc.

  16. sam says:

    The Republican’s best bet is to reconstruct their core message. They need to present themselves as a viable alternative to the liberal policies of Obama, Reid and Pelosi. They cannot afford to gamble on winning by seen as purely an opposition party especially if the economy turns around.

    Yeah, yeah. And the rest of us are sitting on tenterhooks waiting for this transmogrification of occur–in Spanish.

  17. Tlaloc says:

    The Republican’s best bet is to reconstruct their core message. They need to present themselves as a viable alternative to the liberal policies of Obama, Reid and Pelosi. They cannot afford to gamble on winning by seen as purely an opposition party especially if the economy turns around.

    This is true but the party still seems to have some serious internal issues to work out before it can happen. What I’ve seen is some rational right wing ideas being floated… followed immediately by vicious attacks by the reactionary right against them. Hard to reconstruct your core message while the party suffers schizophrenia.

  18. sam says:

    Hard to reconstruct your core message while the party suffers schizophrenia.

    Hard to reconstruct your core message when the base, which is the party at this moment, thinks the core message just as it is is peachy.

  19. Noah Johns says:

    Hard to reconstruct your core message when the base, which is the party at this moment, thinks the core message just as it is is peachy.

    Im not sure you could get a consensus on what exactly the core message is as this moment.

    The Bush strategy of appealing to the Evangelicals on moral issues and making moderates and independents afraid of terrorism clearly will not work anymore. Obama’s campaign could very well represent a dramatic change in how elections are won at the national level.

    It seems like many conservative minds are framing the strategy as an appeal to certain demographic groups. This is totally the wrong approach. This reminds me of the old story about a leader who saw all his people running by him. He jumped down from his perch and began to run after him. When a friend asked what he was doing he said “my people are going somewhere. I must lead them.”

    Build the message. Build the core principles. People will follow if they principles are sound. Remember no one outside of the Democratic party knew who Barack Obama was until 2006. He circumvented the normal fat cat donor process and went after the grass roots support.

    Everyone in the Republican party needs to calm down and take a deep breath.

  20. Our Paul says:

    Actually James, we do not have to wait until 2012 to get a drift of what the future will hold. The Congressional election next year will provide some insight to those that mix politics with their martinis and allotted oxygen, while cough, cough, standing on a small carbon footprint…

    Perhaps in the meantime we can define exactly what the cry “socialized medicine” means. As I see it, we can start with the heinous liberal Wikipedia or the true word from its conservative counterpart. We could examine medical care in what everybody agrees is a model socialist country, Sweden. Perhaps we could just define whether single pay, government sponsored health care is truly socialism, or government providing a needed service to its people.

    Such a definition will help Noah Johns (June 19, 2009 | 01:37 am) as he tries the wrap his head around RNC Chairperson Michael Steele’s call to arms over socialized medicine (see Noah’s link).

    Off to the summer cabin, so my ability to communicate will be limited.

  21. […] Hey Steve: “Yes, the HONEYMOON IS OVER hype is overblown. But it is a legitimate story.“ […]

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Assuming the Republicans make some inroads into the House and Senate in 2010…

    Oh, good luck with that

    Remarkably, even after losing six net Senate seats in 2006 and another seven or eight (pending the Minnesota resolution) in 2008, the GOP still has more seats up (19) than Democrats (17) in 2010. (There will be a big reversal in 2012, with 24 Democratic seats to only 9 Republican ones-but that’s getting too far ahead of the story.) Even worse for the GOP, by almost any reckoning, there are more vulnerable Republican seats than Democratic ones on the 2010 ballot. The only four elected retirees at this point are Republicans: Sam Brownback of Kansas, Kit Bond of Missouri, Mel Martinez of Florida, and George Voinovich of Ohio. The seats in Florida, Missouri, and Ohio are highly competitive. Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire has also indicated that he will retire in 2010 following his abortive appointment as President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. Should Al Franken of Minnesota eventually be seated, a single net gain for the Democrats could get them to the semi-magic “sixty” that can theoretically shut off GOP filibusters. They could easily go beyond this minimal gain, if electoral conditions in 2010 permit.

    The Bush strategy of appealing to the Evangelicals on moral issues and making moderates and independents afraid of terrorism clearly will not work anymore.

    Than why does the GOP continue to use that strategy…

  23. Noah Johns says:

    Oh, good luck with that…

    If the economy is still struggling in 2010 its very possible the Repucblicans pick up seats in both houses. AS you can see the president’s party has traditionally lost 28 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate so its not out of the realm of possibility

    Than why does the GOP continue to use that strategy…

    It was the best strategy for George Bush to use to win. The far Right were loyal to the Republican party and Bush could count on their support not only in votes but also party organizaition efforts, fundraising, etc. There was no way Kerry or Gore would ever win that group so why not use them.

    Not all Repbulicans ran that far to the right so your question has a flawed premise.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    AS you can see the president’s party has traditionally lost 28 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate so its not out of the realm of possibility

    I was talking more about the Senate than the House…because of the particular circumstances of the 2010 elections, it looks like the Dems will have an excellent chance of picking up seats rather than losing them…

    Not all Republicans ran that far to the right so your question has a flawed premise.

    Not really, I’m talking about the way the GOP is acting now, in how they are using the closing of Gitmo to try to scare people and of course the silly talk of Obama’s “apology tour”…

  25. Noah Johns says:

    The closing of Gitmo is hardly a far right issue. Plenty of Americans are worried what happens if some of the detainees come here, get trials which will likely result in some acquittals and these people end up on the streets. The courtroom rules of evidence, testimony and national security concerns will allow some of the detainees free into society.

    Obama has made several apologies throughout Europe and now the middle east. You may call it silly but they were still apologies. I have seen no apologies from the middle eastern countries that sponsor terrorism.

    When we are seen as apologists in that part of the world it makes us look weak. We are even more likely to be attacked. That is why the GOP and many Americans have a problem with what Obama is doing.

  26. […] remains well ahead of either of his predecessors in approval.  James Joyner agrees with Weigel but insists that the downward trend is what makes this a […]

  27. An Interested Party says:

    The closing of Gitmo is hardly a far right issue.

    No, but Republicans are using the issue to scare people, yourself included obviously…

    Obama has made several apologies throughout Europe and now the middle east.

    Oh, like mentioning how the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran in the 50s? Would you prefer the president praised that action…

  28. Noah Johns says:

    You claim they are scaring people with the issue. Its not a scare tactic to have a legitimate concern about dozens of terrorists and combatants being released into the United States. If we we had 100 serial killers on an island I am pretty sure most of us would not want to risk having them released into the general population.

    Any actions the US has taken against Iran have been “repaid” to us by the Iranians ten times over but thats not really the point.

    The point is the President of the United States is the leader of our country. He is supposed to project power, leadership, confidence and resolve. Obama seems very adept at apologizing for all our “sins.” Yet when it comes time to stand up for democracy and freedom (like in Iran) he is mostly silent only mentioning the rights of the people to demonstrate. Even the French and British have condemned the election but not America. He is a hypocrite.

    I would prefer that the President of the United States tell the world that we are for liberty and the right of self-determination. Unfortunately if he does that he would be lying. His administration is clearly not for self-determination. The federal government continues to take over companies in major industries, pursue government sponsored health care where no one would have any choice but to be a member, squelch any disagreements in the media,etc. I would assume that our personal freedoms are next.

    So I suppose Obama does not want to condemn Ahmadinejad and company because he is very similar to him in his tactics as I wrote in my blog

  29. Noah Johns says:

    Oh one more thing “Interested party”

    As far as Gitmo is concerned, was it not the Democrats who initially refused funding to close the base?

    As recently as a couple weeks ago, many Democrats were still against closing the base.

    Quit trying to make this seem like only the Republicans are worried about closing the base .Many Democrats are worried as well.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    Its not a scare tactic to have a legitimate concern about dozens of terrorists and combatants being released into the United States.

    And what proof exists that by simply putting them in American prisons, they will automatically be released on the streets of our country? By the way, you do realize that not everyone being held at Gitmo has been proved to be a terrorist?

    He is a hypocrite.

    Oh please, the fact that he is not spouting empty platitudes is hardly indicative that he is a hypocrite…how sad that he isn’t rushing in like a blunderbuss, huh? Especially when it would be counterproductive…it is so painfully transparent that some are using this issue as a way to smear the president rather than looking for a constructive way to actually help the Iranian people…

    I would assume that our personal freedoms are next.

    Are you breathlessly awaiting to be dragged off to the reeducation camp?

    Obama does not want to condemn Ahmadinejad and company because he is very similar to him in his tactics as I wrote in my blog.

    Oh that’s lovely, what’s next, a Nazi comparison?

    As recently as a couple weeks ago, many Democrats were still against closing the base.

    Of course…sadly, NIMBY is a very misguided, but effective, motivator…

  31. Noah Johns says:

    And what proof exists that by simply putting them in American prisons, they will automatically be released on the streets of our country? By the way, you do realize that not everyone being held at Gitmo has been proved to be a terrorist?

    I think you missed my point. I realize that some of them are not terrorist. The problem is that for the ones are or the ones we heavily suspect are, we will have difficulty proving it. Once they come here they will have the same protections in the court room that any American citizen would have. Under that high level burden, it will be difficult if not impossible to convict most of them. Throw in the additional problem of national security secrets that no American juror can hear and it gets even tougher. Many of these detainees that ARE terrorists will likely go free.

    It is hypocritical that Obama’s administration has adopted the Budh policies regarding even more detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan

    Oh please, the fact that he is not spouting empty platitudes is hardly indicative that he is a hypocrite…how sad that he isn’t rushing in like a blunderbuss, huh? Especially when it would be counterproductive…it is so painfully transparent that some are using this issue as a way to smear the president rather than looking for a constructive way to actually help the Iranian people…

    Either we stand for democracy (which requires free elections to exist) or we don’t. It appears Obama wants to find some middle ground which doesn’t exist.

    Are you breathlessly awaiting to be dragged off to the reeducation camp?

    Oh that’s lovely, what’s next, a Nazi comparison?

    I did not say that. I do think that suppressing the media and taking over the society’s industries makes the citizens reliant on the government for their livelihood and information. That is a necessary step but not sufficient to move towards a more socialist system

  32. An Interested Party says:

    Many of these detainees that ARE terrorists will likely go free.

    What proof do you have to support that claim…

    Either we stand for democracy (which requires free elections to exist) or we don’t. It appears Obama wants to find some middle ground which doesn’t exist.

    Bullshit…nothing the president has done (or not done) proves that he “wants to find some middle ground”…of course we stand for democracy and the president has already made that point (in the Cairo speech, among others)…

    I do think that suppressing the media and taking over the society’s industries makes the citizens reliant on the government for their livelihood and information.

    Exactly how has the media been “suppressed”? And the government has taken over a microscopically small segment of industry to keep those businesses from completely collapsing, not because of some ridiculous socialist fantasy…

  33. Noah Johns says:

    What proof do you have to support that claim…

    No less than CBS news itself agrees with me

    Bullshit…nothing the president has done (or not done) proves that he “wants to find some middle ground”…of course we stand for democracy and the president has already made that point (in the Cairo speech, among others)…

    Ah yes Obama stated “So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other” (Kind of like the situation in Iran)

    ” America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. ”

    (Again Iran anyone? Was that peaceful?)

    ” But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed;” (Which gets a person shot in the head in Iran…or did you not see the footage Mr President)

    “Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” (Except Iran)

    “And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.” (And ones that were not elected and are not peaceful…such as in Iran)

    If cannot see the hypocrisy in those statements from his Cairo speech then we have nothing further to discuss on that issue

    Exactly how has the media been “suppressed”? And the government has taken over a microscopically small segment of industry to keep those businesses from completely collapsing, not because of some ridiculous socialist fantasy…

    Fairness Doctris back in play, Obama buying an “infomercial” on ABC ,repeated criticism of one network, Fox….none of those things are very presidential nor appropriate. I thought you liberals all believed in free speech? I guess it depends on who is talking

    As for taking over a small segment of the economy…are you serious? GM? Chrysler? The feds said they were too big to fail right? Why not help out Toyota, Nissan, VW, etc? Oh I forgot. Those are foreign companies right? Or is it just more a matter of their not having a unionized work force given that the labor unions are in Obamas back pocket. I guess no American workers work at foreign auto makers plants here in America right? Oh wait it turns out they do. I suppose those American jobs are not as important as the jobs at unionized American automakers who quite frankly…make crappy cars.

    Since when did we decide that that government should pick winners and losers in business? Whatever happened to capitalism and the free market deciding? Government is not the solution…its the problem

  34. An Interested Party says:

    There’s no point in continuing this conversation as neither one of us will be able to convince the other of much of anything…how it must gall you to have a socialist in the White House! It’s going to be a long 4-8 years for you and people like you…

  35. Noah Johns says:

    Well we can agree on one thing…it being a long 4 years. I hate to think how much of our prosperity Obama is going to ruin and how much more debt he is going to saddle us and our great grandchildren with in the next 4 years.

    Good luck to you and remember you heard it here first!!

  36. An Interested Party says:

    No, we don’t agree on that…it will be a long 4-8 years for people like you…as for that debt, he is adding on to the activities of several other presidents, including conservative hero Ronald Reagan…peace be upon you…

  37. Noah Johns says:

    True but for some reason he thinks its a good idea to quadruple the deficit. For as man barbs as he threw at George Bush, hes doing many of the same things.

    Heres to hoping the Chinese continue to finance our country!!