Gallup reports that President Barack Obama's job approval rating, as measured by a weekly average of their daily tracking survey, has fallen from a high of 50 percent reached in late January to 46 percent, "essentially back to where he was in the immediate post-election phase of 2010." Other national tracking surveys show a similar pattern, although Obama's current approval rating remains slightly higher now than during most of the second half of 2010.
Our interactive chart shows a similar pattern. The regression trend line, which essentially averages all national public polls that measure Obama's approval rating, remained essentially flat at just over 45 percent from July through late November of last year. It started to climb in December, peaking at 48.3 percent on January 25, and has gradually receded to 46.6 percent as of this writing.
The recent trends are also evident on the daily and weekly tracking polls conducted by Gallup, Rasmussen Reports (automated), DailyKos/PPP and YouGov/Polimetrix (opt-in internet panel). All four show a rise in January that has receded since, although still slightly higher than in late November.
The December/January bump likely resulted from a combination of factors: the Democrats' legislative successes during Congress' lame duck session in December and the the combination of reactions Obama's handling of the Tucson shootings and the State of the Union Address in January. Those events helped create something of a one-message environment, mostly positive news about Obama, which has subsequently given way to more conventional coverage.
The other critical factor is economic confidence, as the condition of the U.S. economy is typically the most important determinant of long-term trends in presidential approval. Survey results on economic confidence have been mixed: While the various indices differ in their mechanics, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index and Bloomberg News Consumer Comfort Index (formerly sponsored by ABC News) all indicate more economic optimism in February than January. On the other hand, the telephone tracking surveys conducted by Gallup and Rasmussen find a pattern that tracks with the recent shifts in Obama's approval: New highs in January followed by slight declines over the last five weeks.
Again, these economic perceptions will be pivotal. The big short-term question is what Americans will perceive as more significant: Falling unemployment in employment or recent increases in oil prices. As Gallup points out, their data show that "that high gas prices typically bring down a president's approval rating, and indeed some of the lowest approval ratings in Gallup history have come during times of high gas prices."