President Obama’s Job Ratings Sink Amid Economic Pessimism

With most of the public looking at the future and not seeing anything good, the President is suffering

With just two days before a much-hyped, perhaps over-hyped, speech to a Joint Session of Congress on the jobs situation, President Obama finds himself feeling the full political effect of a stagnant, some would say shrinking, economy and the fact that voters seem to be giving up hope that things will get better any time soon:

Public pessimism about the direction of the country has jumped to its highest level in nearly three years, erasing the sense of hope that followed President Obama’s inauguration and pushing his approval ratings to a record low, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

More than 60 percent of those surveyed say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy and, what has become issue No. 1, the stagnant jobs situation. Just 43 percent now approve of the job he is doing overall, a new career low; 53 percent disapprove, a new high.


By this time in their presidencies, approval ratings for both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — who also suffered serious midterm setbacks during their first term — had settled safely above the 50 percent mark. Both then stayed in positive territory throughout their reelection campaigns.

When ratings for George W. Bush slipped into the low 40s during his second term in office, they remained there or lower for the remainder of his presidency.

Obama does, however, rate better than do congressional Republicans, his adversaries in recent, fierce confrontations on federal spending. Just 28 percent approve of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job, and 68 percent disapprove, the worst spread for the GOP since summer 2008.

When it comes to head-to-head match-ups on big economic issues, the public is deeply — and evenly — divided between Obama and congressional Republicans. Four in 10 side with both Obama and the GOP on jobs. There are similarly even splits on the economy generally and on the deficit. In all three areas, the percentages of Americans trusting “neither” are at new highs.

Nonetheless, current trends are highly unfavorable for the president. By 2 to 1, more Americans now say the administration’s economic policies are making the economy worse rather than better. The number who say those policies have helped has been chopped in half since the start of the year. The percentage of Americans disapproving of how Obama is doing when it comes to creating jobs spiked 10 percentage points higher since July.

Of the more than six in 10 who now disapprove of Obama’s work on jobs and the economy, nearly half of all Americans “strongly” disapprove.

The news is similarly bad in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll:

After the bruising debt-ceiling fight — as well as Standard & Poor’s subsequent downgrade of the nation’s credit rating — Obama’s job approval rating has sunk to a low of 44 percent, a 3-point drop since July. His handling of the economy stands at a low of 37 percent. And only 19 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, the lowest mark for this president.

Perhaps most ominously for Obama, a majority of poll takers — 54 percent — think he’s facing a longer-term setback from which he’s unlikely to recover. Back in January, just 39 percent agreed with that assessment.

Indeed, that 54 percent is virtually identical to George W. Bush’s score on the same question in the Nov. 2005 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was released just months after Bush’s widely criticized handling of Hurricane Katrina.

The news is similarly bad in the Politico/Battleground poll:

The debt-limit showdown and the stalled economy have tarnished President Barack Obama’s standing with voters and dampened their optimism about America’s future, with nearly three out of four voters now saying the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll.

The dim public outlook is a blunt reminder of why the White House has so much riding on the president’s high-stakes economic speech Thursday and the success of his latest push for a jobs package.

Capturing a rapid erosion of confidence through the summer months, the poll found 72 percent of voters believe the country is either strongly or somewhat headed in the wrong direction, a jump of 12 percentage points since May. Only 20 percent of voters say the country is going in the right direction, a 12-point drop in the same period.


More Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, 50 percent, than approve, 45 percent — a drop of seven percentage points since May. Obama receives particularly low marks for his economic stewardship, with only 39 percent saying they approve and 59 percent saying they disapprove.

And yet, in a seeming contradiction, voters still really like Obama.

Putting aside how they feel about his job performance, 74 percent of voters said they either strongly or somewhat approve of Obama as a person, his highest rating in the past year. His solid personal popularity remains a source of pride — and hope — for top advisers who spent 2008 trying to get voters to identify with Obama, an African-American with roots in Hawaii, Indonesia and Chicago.

As with the Washington Post/ABC poll, the good news for Obama in these seems to be two fold. First, the public still has a fairly positive view of him as a person. While this isn’t going to win the election, I would submit that it’s immensely important in what looks like it’s going to be a close election. If the public doesn’t like a politician, then its going to be next to impossible for them to overcome electoral adversity. A likeable candidate, on the other hand, might just be able to convince enough voters to judge him on what he promises for the future, rather than the past. The likability factor, for example, has pretty much muted the type of criticism we heard from the right in 2008 about everything ranging from Jeremiah Wright to Bill Ayers to the general effort to portray him as out of touch with ordinary Americans.

The second factor that helps the President is the fact that Congress in general, and Congressional Republicans in particular fare worse than the President does in the job approval department. As long as that’s the case, you can expect the President, his campaign, and the Democratic Party to continue to link the eventual nominee and the Republican Congress at the hip. The problem here is that President Obama won’t be running against Congressional Republicans in 2012, and he will have to deal with his seeming failure to address the country’s economic situation over the previous four years. In the end, a re-election campaign is a referendum on the incumbent, not the challenger, and that’s something that the President isn’t going to be able to change.

But there’s a bigger problem for the President, and it lies in the benchmark right direction/wrong track poll, which is showing public pessimism about the country’s current direction reaching levels unseen since the height of the 2008 financial crisis that helped usher Barack Obama into the White House:

The last time the public was this pessimistic they went with the change candidate over the status quo candidate. If this continues through 2012, they just might choose to do it again.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Congress, 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. SKI says:

    Of course, the counter point is that when you look into the actual policy preferences those very same polls reported, the American public agrees with Obama’s agenda and disagrees with the GOP’s.

    The question is going to be whether the media bothers to actually inform the public as to who believes what – or simply regurgitate horse-race polling.

  2. Tano says:

    The truth however, is that Obama approval is STILL polling in the mid-40s, almost exactly where it has been (within a point or two) for a long time, excepting the bin Laden bump. The real lesson here is the very high floor underneath this President. Both Reagan and Clinton went down into the mid-thirties when the economy was bad, to say nothing of W, who went crashing down into the high twenties even when times were relatively good. Nothing seems to be able to knock Obama down even to 40.

  3. ponce says:

    Obama’s Gallup Numbers:

    Aug 13-15, 2010
    Approve 42%
    Disapprove 50%

    Sept 2-4, 2011
    Approve 43%
    Disapprove 50%

    Innumerate fringe right bloggers:
    Obama’s approval numbers plummeting!!1!!1!!

  4. Tano says:


    Yup. Just ask yourself – how many times have you seen the “Obama approval plummeting!!!” headline? Hell, how many times have you seen it right here on OTB?

    I think Obama must be the M.C. Escher President. The one who is endlessly falling but always seems to be in the same place.

  5. Tano says:

    Here is another factor that should scare the GOP as they consider their chances – from the Politico poll:

    “Putting aside how they feel about his job performance, 74 percent of voters said they either strongly or somewhat approve of Obama as a person, his highest rating in the past year.”

    I would not discount the likeability factor – its really at the heart of the question about who you extend trust to.

  6. ponce says:

    I think Obama must be the M.C. Escher President. The one who is endlessly falling but always seems to be in the same place.

    Haha, it’s just that approval ratings are cyclical and bloggers like Doug and the dimmer members of the legitimate press only write about Obama’s approval rating when it falls and ignore it when it rises.

    Gallup has Obama’s approval rating up 5% over the past week, BTW.