The Gallup Organization released its presidential job approval ratings for late January, and then compared Barack Obama’s current scores to previous presidents at a commensurate time during their respective tenures in office. Eight former presidents were included on the comparison list, all of Mr. Obama’s modern-day predecessors with the exceptions of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford. Neither of these men were elected to their first, or only (in the case of Ford), presidential term, hence they were purposely omitted. Vice Pres. Johnson assumed office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Vice Pres. Ford succeeded Richard Nixon upon his resignation.
Testing the elected presidents’ job approval ratings in January of their third year reveals no re-election prediction pattern. The chief executive with the best job approval score, George H. W. Bush at 75% in 1991, ironically went on to lose re-election less than two years later. The one with the lowest rating, Ronald Reagan at 36% in the beginning of 1983, would later win a 49-state landslide victory and enjoy historical ratings equal to the best American presidents. Kennedy, though his tragic murder prevented him from seeking re-election, was second highest at 74%. Dwight Eisenhower, who did win a comfortable re-election in 1956, posted a 70% positive score in the first month of 1955.
Since the 2010 election, President Obama’s approval ratings have increased slightly. According to the January Gallup data, he now stands at 49% job approval, with 42% disapproving. These numbers rank him sixth of the nine president’s tested. He is in the same category as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who both registered 47% in early 1995 and 1979, respectively. Clinton, of course, went on to win re-election, though without the benefit of gaining majority voter support, and Carter went down to one of the biggest landslide defeats in history.
The remaining two presidents on the list, George W. Bush, at 60% positive in January of 2003, and Richard Nixon, who posted 56% in early 1971, both were re-elected to a second term. Bush won a close re-election and served the entire term. Nixon won a landslide victory, but was forced to resign from office in disgrace in 1974.
Thus, the historical job approval ratings give us little in the way of predicting how Mr. Obama will fare in the 2012 presidential election. From a partisan standpoint, the president’s approval ratings among Democrats have been consistent throughout his tenure. Currently standing at 84%, he began with an 88% mark in February 2009 among voters within his own party. Republicans, not surprisingly, always scored him low, but he has now dropped into the teens among this subset of the electorate. He began with 41% approval ratings among GOP voters, but currently scores only 14% positive. Perhaps most troubling for the president is his standing among Independents. Here, he is substantially weaker after serving two full years than when he first began. Within this group, Mr. Obama initially registered 62% favorable. Today, his score tumbles to 49%. It is within this latter subset that the President’s support will have to substantially grow if he is to win a strong re-election victory 21 months from now.
All of the current Gallup data were accumulated during the January 23-25th period. The sample size contains a rolling average of 1,500 adults.
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