A mixed bag for Obama
I realize there are other things to talk about on the day after Election Night 2010. Even if you restrict the subject matter to "President Barack Obama," I should by all rights be talking about his post-election statement and press conference this morning. But the calendar is the calendar, and I've already put this column off once for the election (it really should have run Monday... ), so here we go with our monthly look at Obama's poll numbers. If you should feel a lack of content discussing the election is going to dissuade you from reading this column, I direct you to the entire rest of the media universe, where you can surely get your fill of that sort of thing today. This will be a more-abbreviated version of our Obama Poll Watch column, because there are so many other things to talk about today. We'll just take a quick look at Obama's poll numbers this month, and then everyone can get back to figuring out what this election "meant."
Obama got a mixed bag of candy and rocks this Halloween, at the close of October. Feel free to make your own comparisons to the mixed election results, but we're talking here about the month leading up to the elections. Obama was out on the campaign trail in a big way, and his numbers were both up and down as a result. Let's take a look at the chart:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Not much happened on the political front last month other than campaigning. We began October with the joyous news that Rahm Emanuel was packing his bags for Chicago, which raised the spirits of the Wonky Left, but wasn't noticed by most Americans. Republicans pretty much scrapped their "Pledge To America" out on the campaign trail, and most Americans didn't notice this political gimmick's short lifespan.
Obama actually vetoed a bill, but again, most Americans didn't notice. Their minds were more on the foreclosure crisis, which was actually related to the bill Obama vetoed -- but Obama didn't really have any new answers for what to do about the foreclosure mess, so it didn't have a whole lot of impact either way. The Nobel Prize for Economics went to an Obama nominee currently being blocked in the Senate (for not being "qualified enough"), but most Americans didn't even notice this particular irony.
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was in the news due to a federal judge's actions, but the whole thing is going to take a long time to resolve. The news briefly elevated the spirits of gay rights advocates, but the real fight on this is going to wait until after the Pentagon's report in December. The whole subject has been successfully deferred until after the election (as Obama designed it to be, when he set the due date for the report).
What politically-aware Americans were paying attention to, of course, was the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series. Well, no, but I just had to throw that in here somewhere. Ahem. What the political world was concentrating on, instead, was the final month of the 2010 midterm elections. Obama was very visible this month out on the hustings, and recaptured some of the fire he showed in his own campaign two years ago. Results were mixed, as some candidates he campaigned for wound up winning, and some did not.
For the month, Obama posted an approval rating slightly down from last month. Previously, Obama's approval had jumped upwards four-tenths of a percent, and this month he "gave back" half of that, to wind up with an average of 45.5 percent approval for October. This follows the cycle Obama seems to repeat of posting a gain, slipping back a bit, and then (if the current trend follows the pattern) of hitting a level spot for a few months. But the remarkable news is that Obama's disapproval was also down -- by a much more significant six-tenths of a percent. For October, Obama averaged 49.1 percent disapproval.
There were a few "outlier" polls this month (polls that are wildly out of agreement with everyone else's polls) for Obama, which may have impacted his ratings a bit. But there were polls with Obama way up, and polls with Obama way down, so they tended to cancel each other out.
This is why I use, for my baseline data, the "poll of polls" average posted on RealClearPolitics.com, because it tends to smooth out the jagged edges of outlier polls. This is also why I further smooth things out by averaging their daily numbers into one monthly data point (what I like to call a "poll of polls of polls," in my so-far-unrequited hopes of sparking a reductio ad absurdum semantic battle with some other pollwatcher online). But enough silliness, let's take a look at the numbers.
Obama's approval rating stayed remarkably steady all month long. It rose slightly early in the month, then posted a severe dip (a result of one of those outlier polls) mid-month, down to a new all-time daily low of 44.2 percent (down a whisker from the 44.3 percent he posted two months ago). He bounced back after getting an outlier poll in the other direction, and hit a daily high of 46.4 percent for a few days towards the end of the month. But all-around, his numbers resembled last month's very closely both in range and in value. Obama's approval rating ended the month on somewhat of an upswing, at 46.1 percent.
Obama's disapproval numbers, on the other hand, got better for him for most of the month. Obama started the month at 49.9 percent disapproval, which fell for a few weeks before briefly bouncing back up to 49.9 again. From this point on, Obama's disapproval fell fairly sharply, down to a low of 48.3 percent late in the month.
There are two notable things about last month's disapproval ratings for Obama, though. The first is that this is only the third month of his entire presidency that Obama has brought his disapproval rate down. Exactly one year earlier, in October of 2009, Obama posted a tiny drop of 0.1 percent in disapproval, and this May Obama dropped a whopping full percentage point. So while dropping 0.6 percent this month may not sound all that large, it is the second-best month he's ever had on the disapproval rating line.
The other notable thing about October's disapproval rating for Obama was how stable his daily numbers stayed all month. For the most part, the trajectory of the line was down, but for the whole month it only fluctuated 1.6 percent from high to low. This is the most stable month Obama's ever charted -- his previous month (for comparison) showed a range of daily disapproval change of 3.6 percent.
For the first time in quite a while, Obama didn't set all-time record highs (approval) or lows (disapproval) for his monthly averages. He did set an all-time low daily number, as mentioned previously, but he did not set an all-time daily high disapproval number. As I said, a mixed bag, but all in all a pretty good (and stable) one for the president.
If Obama follows his own pattern, the next few months should be relatively stable for him as well. Obama's cycle seems to be: a drop in approval, a slight "correction" upwards after the worst of it, and then a few months of almost flat lines, when the cycle (so far) starts anew with another drop.
This will likely be how at least November plays out for the president. Not much will be happening politically at the White House. Congress will still be out for most of the month, and even when they get back together it likely won't be until December that much happens. Most of the attention is going to be on the incoming 112th Congress rather than the lame duck folks, as well. December things could get a lot feistier politically, since two reports are due at the beginning of the month -- the Pentagon's report on how to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and the deficit commission's report on how to fix our long-term deficit problems. Both of these are going to raise the heat politically, but it won't happen until after Thanksgiving, so November's likely to be pretty quiet for Obama's poll numbers.
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
Obama's All-Time Statistics
Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 8/10 -- 45.3%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 9/10 -- 49.7%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 10/17/10 -- 44.2%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 9/26/10 -- 51.2%
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)
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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