Another Dismal August
For President Obama, August is indeed the cruelest month.
In 2009, the president ended his "honeymoon" period with the public, with the largest one-month drop in his job approval poll numbers he has ever experienced. In 2010, Obama hit an all-time low for monthly approval numbers. This would be followed, within the next two months, by his lowest daily approval average and his highest daily disapproval average.
This August, President Obama set new all-time lows in approval and all-time highs in disapproval, across the board.
August just isn't a very good month for Obama. There's simply no other way to state how dismal Obama's poll numbers were last month. A quick look at the new chart shows this plainly.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
There is almost always a lag time between events in the political world and when such events show up in the public's opinion. This lag time is usually roughly around one week. President Obama started August off with this wave of disapproval of the public towards all things Washington, after the bruising debt ceiling debate in Congress, which ended right at the end of July.
The president might have weathered this and climbed back, since the public was much more inclined to blame both Congress and the Republicans than Obama himself for the fiasco (if you think Obama's poll numbers are bad, you should see how low Congress is polling these days). Obama, as I said, might have emerged from the fight in better shape than he did, but within a week's time the debt ceiling brouhaha was followed by Standard and Poor's downgrade of America's creditworthiness. Aftershocks were felt throughout the financial system as result, and the stock market fluctuated wildly for weeks to come. This was reflected in the opinion polling.
Toss an East Coast earthquake and a New England hurricane into the mix, and August was pretty much a disaster all around. For August, Obama averaged 43.8 percent job approval and 50.7 percent disapproval. Among other records he set this month, this is the widest "underwater" gap he's ever posted, with a spread of 6.9 percent.
The overall trends were mostly bad, as should be pretty obvious. To put this into clearer perspective, take a look at the three Augusts Obama has so far endured:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Each, in their own way, has been brutal, but this year's has been particularly damaging to Obama's standing with the public. Obama started the month a full point worse in daily approval from last month's average, and then his numbers took a turn for the even-worse. When the credit downgrade hit the news, Obama's approval number sank roughly another full point, to the 43-44 percent range. The only shred of good news for Obama this month is that things didn't get worse from there. From August 9th to the end of the month, Obama stayed within this range in his daily approval average, but he ended the month on a down note, at exactly 43.0 percent. This marks the lowest daily approval rate he's ever posted, breaking the old record of 44.2 percent set on 10/17/10. For the month, Obama's monthly average fell 2.4 percent to hit the all-time monthly low of 43.8 percent, which breaks the old mark of 45.3 percent, which he set exactly one year ago.
Obama's disapproval numbers were nothing to write home about, either. His daily disapproval started off the month right around 50 percent, 2.2 points higher than his previous monthly average. Once the downgrade hit the news, Obama's numbers went north of 50 percent for the rest of the month, but -- like his daily approval average -- his daily disapproval average didn't fluctuate much from this new high, and stayed between 50 and 51 percent for most of the rest of the month. At the very end of the month, one particular poll (Gallup) dragged Obama's disapproval even higher -- but this is quite likely a statistical aberration of sorts. While Gallup's approval number for Obama briefly made the news by hitting a low of 38 percent (a worryingly-low number for any incumbent president), the other pollsters (even the Republican-leaning ones) had him much higher, in the low 40s. Gallup, in the last week or so, has bounced back to the same range as everyone else, so Obama's truly dismal disapproval numbers for the last week in August will likely bounce back a bit next month. But Obama did end the month at 53.2 percent -- an all-time high for a daily disapproval number. This is up two full points from the 51.2 percent mark he hit on 9/26/10. For the month, Obama's average wound up at 50.7 percent disapproval, one full point above the 49.7 monthly all-time high he posted in September of 2010, and almost three full points worse than Obama just posted in July.
In terms of overall trends, Obama's number seem to be flattening out, or perhaps "bottoming out" at a new level. This new level, however, is decidedly lower than he's ever experienced. What should be particularly worrisome for Obama fans is the fact that Obama doesn't have much of a track record of recovering, post-August. In both previous cases, Obama's best was to hold his numbers exactly where they ended August for the following few months. If Obama follows this pattern this year, he is going to be in pretty ominous territory heading into an election.
When I first began this column, I pointed out the ranges of public job approval for presidents:
The rule of thumb in approval polling goes something like this: anything over 60 percent is gold; 55-60 percent is excellent, but watch the trendlines carefully; 50-55 percent is good, but the closer to 50 the more worrisome; 45-50 is a warning sign of slipping support, 40-45 is dangerously close to falling off a cliff; and anything below 40 percent is "Nixon/Dubya" territory.
Obama has, so far, spent his entire post-honeymoon period in the 45-55 percent range. He fell below 50 percent in December of 2009, and only broke through this barrier again briefly, when Osama Bin Laden was killed earlier this year. But Obama has now entered into that dangerous region of 40-45 percent approval, and (if you believed Gallup a few weeks ago) even touched briefly into the "under 40 percent" range. Which is dangerous territory indeed, entering into a presidential campaign, because it shows that Obama is losing support not among his hardcore opponents, but among the independents and Democrats who elected him the first time around.
Can Obama recover? Anything is possible in politics. Will he recover? The first big test of this will come later this week, when Obama gives a speech on jobs to the assembled joint houses of Congress. Will Americans positively react to this speech, or will they forget about it when the first NFL game kicks off right after Obama speaks? This remains to be seen. But the Republican primary campaign will be heating up all month long, with debates and lots more media attention, and this could either help or harm Obama in the polls (depending on how it all plays out). If Obama launches his second-term campaign successfully this Thursday, and convinces the American people that his ideas to fix the economy are the best -- and if he truly gets the people to react and phone up their Congresscritters in support of the Obama Jobs Plan -- then maybe Obama can turn things around in September. The trendlines are murky at best, and disastrous at worst, so that's where we're going to have to leave it until next month.
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
Sources And Methodology
ObamaPollWatch.com is an admittedly amateur effort, but we do try to stay professional when it comes to revealing our sources and methodology. All our source data comes from RealClearPolitics.com; specifically from their daily presidential approval ratings "poll of polls" graphic page. We take their daily numbers, log them, and then average each month's data into a single number -- which is then shown on our monthly charts here (a "poll of polls of polls," if you will...). You can read a much-more detailed explanation of our source data and methodology on our "About Obama Poll Watch" page, if you're interested.
Questions or comments? Use the Email Chris page to drop me a private note.
[July 11], [June 11], [May 11], [Apr 11], [Mar 11], [Feb 11], [Jan 11], [Dec 10], [Nov 10], [Oct 10], [Sep 10], [Aug 10], [Jul 10], [Jun 10], [May 10], [Apr 10], [Mar 10], [Feb 10], [Jan 10], [Dec 09], [Nov 09], [Oct 09], [Sep 09], [Aug 09], [Jul 09], [Jun 09], [May 09], [Apr 09], [Mar 09]
Obama's All-Time Statistics
Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 8/11 -- 43.8%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 8/11 -- 50.7%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 8/30/11 -- 43.0%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 8/30/11 -- 53.2%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 1/29/09 -- 19.3%
Obama's Raw Monthly Data
[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]
Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)
08/11 -- 43.8 / 50.7 / 5.5
07/11 -- 46.2 / 47.8 / 6.0
06/11 -- 48.5 / 46.0 / 5.5
05/11 -- 51.4 / 43.1 / 5.5
04/11 -- 46.4 / 48.2 / 5.4
03/11 -- 48.1 / 46.4 / 5.5
02/11 -- 49.4 / 44.5 / 6.1
01/11 -- 48.5 / 45.7 / 5.8
12/10 -- 45.5 / 48.1 / 6.4
11/10 -- 45.5 / 49.0 / 5.5
10/10 -- 45.5 / 49.1 / 5.4
09/10 -- 45.7 / 49.7 / 4.6
08/10 -- 45.3 / 49.5 / 5.2
07/10 -- 46.6 / 47.4 / 6.0
06/10 -- 47.6 / 46.7 / 5.7
05/10 -- 48.1 / 45.5 / 6.4
04/10 -- 47.8 / 46.5 / 5.7
03/10 -- 48.1 / 46.4 / 5.5
02/10 -- 47.9 / 46.1 / 6.0
01/10 -- 49.2 / 45.3 / 5.5
12/09 -- 49.4 / 44.9 / 5.7
11/09 -- 51.1 / 43.5 / 5.4
10/09 -- 52.2 / 41.9 / 5.9
09/09 -- 52.7 / 42.0 / 5.3
08/09 -- 52.8 / 40.8 / 6.4
07/09 -- 56.4 / 38.1 / 5.5
06/09 -- 59.8 / 33.6 / 6.6
05/09 -- 61.4 / 31.6 / 7.0
04/09 -- 61.0 / 30.8 / 8.2
03/09 -- 60.9 / 29.9 / 9.2
02/09 -- 63.4 / 24.4 / 12.2
01/09 -- 63.1 / 19.6 / 17.3
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