More Of The Same
In the movie L.A. Story, there's a television weatherman (played by Steve Martin) who winds up one of his reports with: "Our next weather report will be in four days." The joke, for those unfamiliar with L.A. weather, is that Southern California doesn't have "weather," but rather a "climate." Things don't change much, in other words, therefore one weather report will do just fine for the next four days.
I'm starting to feel a little like Martin's character, I have to admit. Because President Barack Obama seems to have hit a plateau in his approval ratings, which have remained largely unchanged for the past three months now, and not significantly changed since last November. Could it be that we've all just made up our minds about the job the president is doing? Should I just end this with "next Obama Poll Watch column in three months...?"
Well, no, because these columns give me something to do the first Monday or Wednesday after the end of each month. So bear with me as we take a look at April's approval numbers for the president, and then quickly resume our comparison of Obama with past presidents, by looking at how he stacks up against Dwight D. Eisenhower. As always, you can compare Obama to any past president from Eisenhower through George W. Bush at the ObamaPollWatch.com site.
But let's get on with it, by taking a look at April's graph of Obama's approval ratings:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
As you can see, movement was minimal, and on the margins. For the past five months (and more markedly in the past three), Steve Martin might sum it up as: "A little more than 45 percent of the public approves of the job Obama's doing, while a little more than 45 percent disapprove of the president. Approval numbers remain slightly above disapproval numbers." And the coastal fog will burn off by midday, while temperatures will be slightly higher inland. Sigh.
April saw Wall Street reform grow in momentum in Congress (specifically, in the Senate -- the House, as usual, has already passed the bill), with President Obama's full support. This reached a highpoint late in the month, when Harry Reid finally got Chris Dodd's bill to the floor. This helped Obama's numbers head up a tiny bit at the end of the month, but not dramatically (at least, not yet). The Census was in the news at the beginning of the month, as was Tax Day and the Tea Partiers (whose demonstrations appeared, at least to this political observer, to be much smaller than in the past, for whatever that's worth). President Obama signed a landmark nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, but the mainstream media (and hence, the public) largely yawned and ignored it, resulting in no poll bounce for Obama, even though at this point the issue's pretty non-controversial (not like, say, a Reagan summit in the 1980s). Also largely kept secret was the fact that Obama lowered taxes on 95 to 97 percent (estimates differ) of American taxpayers, resulting in the lowest tax burdens in 60 years. But the later parts of the month were largely devoted to the Democrats' efforts to rein in Wall Street excess, which will continue to play out in May, as the legislation makes its way through Congress towards Obama's desk. This issue is a good one for Democrats, and they've already succeeded in fracturing the Republicans' unity in the Senate once on the bill, which bodes well for its eventual passage. Whether this will result in the (so-far) elusive poll bump for Obama in May remains to be seen, though. And Arizona just shoved immigration reform back onto the Washington schedule, and it's really anybody's guess how this will play out politically, at least in the short term.
In April, President Obama's approval ratings fell three-tenths of a point, giving back the two-tenths gain he had posted last month. This translated into an all-time low of 47.8 percent for the month. Obama's disapproval rating remained essentially unchanged, rising one-tenth of a percent to end the month at 46.5 percent, an all-time high.
But while Obama did hit an all-time high in disapproval, and an all-time low in approval, his approval rating is only 0.1 percent lower than in February, while his disapproval is only 0.4 percent higher than February. Meaning the overall trend is pretty flat for both of them.
Obama started the month on a high note, then his poll numbers took a short, sharp dive around mid-month. He charted the worst daily approval number yet, 46.1 percent, due to an outlier poll or two in the mix, but then quickly recovered ground. Obama's approval and disapproval lines on the daily chart (from RealClearPolitics, who provides the data for this column) even crossed for two days, only the second time that's happened. But Obama's daily disapproval numbers didn't hit a new high this month, and also peaked mid-month. By the end of the month, Obama had regained ground (likely due to the Wall Street reform push), and he finished the month pretty close to where he had started it.
Part of this was due to another outlier poll, from ABC News and the Washington Post, which pegged Obama's approval rating at 54 percent -- the highest poll number he's managed since mid-January. This poll in particular is worth checking out if you'd like to see a little possible good news for Democrats, since we are exactly six months from the midterm elections. It shows Obama regaining some lost ground among Independents, which is what will ultimately make or break his presidency.
It's likely that President Obama's approval ratings and the Democrats' chances to avoid a blowout in the midterms are both tied to something that neither one of them can do much about in such a short time -- the economy. The real numbers to watch, to gauge both of these, are the "right direction / wrong track" polling numbers. These have improved slightly in the past month or so, but are still pretty dismal. If there's a significant improvement in this perception in the country in the next few months, then Democrats will have a much better chance in the elections, and Obama's approval rate will likely slowly rise as well. Until that happens, however, we may be in for a few more very (or fairly) flat months on our graph.
Obama v. Dwight D. Eisenhower
We continue to look backwards at previous presidents, this time to the dawn of the Cold War and the last military general we sent to the White House -- Dwight David Eisenhower. Eisenhower was enormously popular, in an avuncular sort of way, to the country and this feeling persisted throughout almost his entire presidency. Here is Eisenhower's first term (with apologies for the two-month gap in data around election-time):
[Click on graphs to see larger-scale versions.]
Pretty spectacular, I'd have to say. Here is Eisenhower's second term:
In only two polls (both of which are averaged with other polls within the same month on the graph, and therefore don't show up as their own data points) did Eisenhower fall below 50 percent approval. The existential threat of our country's annihilation by thousands of thermonuclear weapons by what we saw as an insane opponent does indeed tend to create a "rally 'round the president" effect. Added to Eisenhower's popularity when he arrived in office, which translated to steady high approval throughout both his terms. Even when his approval rate fell to the 50s, his disapproval rate never topped 35 percent -- numbers for any politician to be proud of. Eisenhower also began his presidency by winding down a very unpopular war in Korea, which also helped. We'll see just how unpopular, next month, when we take a look at Harry Truman's dismal numbers at the end of his presidency.
[Click on graphs to see larger-scale versions.]
Not a whole lot of parallels can be drawn between Obama in the twenty-first century, and Eisenhower's Cold War presidency, but we present the graph comparing the two for completeness' sake.
We're almost done with creating these comparison graphs, since modern poll numbers aren't available before Franklin D. Roosevelt's time. Next month, we will take a look at Harry Truman's numbers, and then in two months we'll look at F.D.R. But even after we finish marching through past presidents in such a fashion, these comparison charts will be updated on a monthly basis at the ObamaPollWatch.com site, for all past presidents, so you can check to see how Obama's doing against anyone back through F.D.R.
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
Obama's All-Time Statistics
Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 4/10 -- 47.8%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 4/10 -- 46.5%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 4/11/10 -- 46.1%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 3/18/10 -- 47.8%
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)
04/10 -- 47.8 / 46.5 / 5.5
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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