President Obama Is Down, But Far From Out

There's plenty of good news for Barack Obama in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows President Obama in far better shape than one might expect after a mid-term “shellacking” and a tax deal that has put him in trouble with his base:

The survey — which was conducted Dec. 9-13 of 1,000 adults (200 by cell phone) and which has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — comes at essentially the midpoint of the president’s four-year term.

In the poll, Obama’s job approval rating sits at 45 percent (down two points from last month and tied for his lowest mark on this question), and his economic approval rating stands at 42 percent (which is unchanged from last month).

Indeed, perhaps the most striking observation about Obama’s numbers is how stable they’ve been over the past year.

Despite all the setbacks he and his party have suffered — including the high unemployment rate, the months-long BP spill, and the midterms’ shift of power to the GOP in the House of Representatives — his overall job approval rating has remained between 45 percent to 50 percent over the past 12 months.

Perhaps more importantly for Obama, there’s evidence that independents may be warming up to him again:

The fact that President Obama is in such  good shape is surprising given the general public attitude about the state of the country. According to the poll, 63% of those survey believe the country is on the wrong track, only 32% think will get better in the next years, and 54% think that the past ten years have been bad, or possibly the worst in American history. So, what explains the President’s relatively high approval given such doom and gloom among the electorate? A good part of it seems to be that he remains, on a personal level, a likable person:

For instance, he gets his highest marks for having a strong family and family values (74 percent give him a high rating here), being easygoing and likeable (68 percent), being inspirational and exciting (51 percent) and having strong leadership qualities (49 percent).

But his lowest marks come on being a good commander-in-chief (41 percent), sharing respondents’ positions on the issues (35 percent), achieving his goals (33 percent), uniting the country (30 percent) and changing business as usual in Washington (24 percent).

Still, an overwhelming majority of Americans either believe that Obama will be a successful president or they haven’t made up their minds yet.

According to the poll, 28 percent say he will ultimately be a successful president, 29 percent say he won’t and 42 percent aren’t ready to make a judgment.

At this point in his Presidency, Ronald Reagan had a 41% job approval rating, and Bill Clinton had a 42% rating. According to this poll, Obama is outperforming both of them. In other words, the public is still willing to give the President a chance and, if the economy improves, he is likely to be in very good shape when 2012 rolls around.

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. Dave Schuler says:

    I largely agree with your analysis, Doug, and I think that President Obama’s reelection chances are better than one might think from reading the newspapers. However, President Obama faces multiple challenges that neither Presidents Reagan nor Clinton did. In 1984 the real year-on-year growth in GDP was about 8% and unemployment was under 7% while in 1996 real GDP growth was around 4% and unemployment was around 5%. The median unemployment rate 1948 to 2007 has been around 5.6% with a standard deviation of 1.5 points. To the best of my knowledge no president has been re-elected with an unemployment rate more than one standard deviation above the median and only the most starry-eyed of economists are predicting the unemployment to fall that far that fast.

    Cf here

  2. rodney dill says:

    Obumbles bounce

  3. Don L says:

    Wrong target (it’s the entire ideology that’s evil) and too late. Half the nation are socialists already, and the other half are capitalists willing to make a quick buck off of socialism.

    Dumping Obama now would be as benficial as innoculating Typhoid Mary after the plague ran its course. Time to close up shop of individual freedom – democracy (or a republic) just doesn’t work – the reason (Fallen Man) greed, envy and just plain sloth (not to mention that cultural deegradation thing -sexual promiscuity -abortion as contraception, children as inconveniences etc.)

  4. floyd says:

    Don L. is right (short of a massive secular revival)
    We have resident B.O. for eight years at least!
    Incrementalism has served it’s purpose, the frog dies.

  5. anjin-san says:

    > We have resident B.O. for eight years at least!

    See, Floyd knows that the recent riots in England are just a precursor for the globalist, socialist, one world government takeover. The end of the Republic is at hand, and Doug happily shills for George Soros.

  6. Agreed. If the economy has a relatively good bounceback in 2011 and 2012, history says he will likely win. The lesson of Reagan(deep recession early ’81-’82) and Bush 43 (mild recession early ’01) is if you have a recession in your term, let it happen early and you will have time to bounce back along with the economy.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Obama’s positives equal Palin’s negatives. Weep, Tea Partiers, weep.

    That said, the assessments of Obama in this poll point to what I’m starting to worry is his one major weakness: weakness. Or at least the perception of same.

    We’ll see whether we get a DADT repeal, I hope so. If we do then I’ll personally be happy with Obama’s first two years. We avoided a meltdown, stayed on schedule to get out of Iraq, saved (for now at least) the US car industry, passed an imperfect health care bill that I think sets the stage for progress going forward. Torture was ended. We’ve killed a lot of Al Qaeda and Taliban and thus far avoided a major terrorist attack. I’m willing to wait and see a while longer on Afghanistan.

    It’s purely anecdotal but here in pleasantly bland Irvine there are signs of life. They’ve suddenly started clearing land for new housing developments. Real estate is moving again. The Mervyns that sat empty for years has been razed and a huge new gym is going up. I see help wanted signs here and there. I’m seeing new restaurants, and old ones that might have died now seem healthier. The shops are still running Xmas sales but it lacks the edge of desperation of last year. There’s a feeling in the air that the worst is over.

    Obama needs now to not only succeed, but to do a better job being seen to succeed.

    He’ll be helped by two big factors: survivor syndrome — the temporary but profound glow you feel after the bullet meant for you misses — and of course, the Tea Party/GOP.

    But we should never forget random chance. Shit happens, and sometimes it helps a president and sometimes it doesn’t.

  8. ponce says:

    “That said, the assessments of Obama in this poll point to what I’m starting to worry is his one major weakness: weakness. Or at least the perception of same.”

    Is that really a problem when a weeper is about to become the most powerful Republican?

    Maybe appearance of sensitivity will be important in 2012.

  9. mantis says:

    Is that really a problem when a weeper is about to become the most powerful Republican?

    It is, because liberals expect Obama to get stuff done. Conservatives don’t expect Republicans to get anything done, or to even try. The perception of weakness with Obama is that too many who should be happy with what has been accomplished over the past two years ignore it all and complain that he hasn’t produced their perfect world in that time. They think he’s weak for not performing magic, and a lot of them write and go on TV to say so, sentiment the DC press laps up, of course.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    The president’s chances of reelection can only be helped if the opposition mounts ridiculous, delusional attacks about socialism and that cultural “deegradation” thing…

  11. floyd says:

    Do you arrive at all of your opinions by foolish speculation, or do you just get off by lying about those with whom you think you disagree?

  12. rodney dill says:

    “[..] you just get off by lying about those with whom you think you disagree?”

    Usually anjin also insults those he disagrees with, or starts to bash Bush, Palin, or something else to change the subject or redirect a thread.

  13. anjin-san says:


    If you make a nonsense statement such as

    > We have resident B.O. for eight years at least!

    You have pretty much opened the door to have a bit of crap slung your way.

    Or perhaps you could explain why Obama is a “resident”, or how he might be in office for more than the lawful 2 four year terms, or why you can’t show enough respect for the office of the President to refer to Obama by his name. Bush actively cultivated the “W” moniker, Obama has done no such thing with “B.O.” which, probably not coincidentally, is considered to be a clever insult when one is around the age of 12 or 13.

    Or you could just complain about what a manie I am…

  14. anjin-san says:

    And Floyd, while we are on the subject of “lying about those with whom you think you disagree”, perhaps you could go into more detail about how folks who don’t share your political views are communists or how they “hate liberty”…

    You seem to be someone who can dish it out, but can’t take it.

  15. anjin-san says:

    > Obumbles bounce

    > or starts to bash Bush, Palin

    Think I will just let this one stand on its own merits…

  16. floyd says:

    Not a fan yet…. keep trying though! [lol]