It's the beginning of a new month, which means it is time again to take a look at President Obama's poll numbers. The news this month for Obama fans is not particularly good, as Obama has definitely ended his "honeymoon" period (which virtually all first-term presidents go through). The downward trend to his numbers was expected, but the increase in the curve downward is slightly worrisome at this point -- but not yet what I would call a cause for alarm.
After we take a look at Obama's numbers, we'll also compare him to George W. Bush's first term poll numbers, continuing our series of comparing Obama to past presidents. We really should have started with Bush, to keep things in order, but we looked at Clinton's numbers first because the data were easier to format into charts.
But before we get to that, we have a minor announcement to make. Because these charts seem to be multiplying like Viagra-crazed minks, we have finally put them all in one easy-to-reference place: www.obamapollwatch.com. This provides you with an easily-remembered link to see the charts any time you wish. The site is a bit stark at this point, and will be spruced up a bit in the coming weeks, but at least the charts are all there for you to peruse. So bookmark the link, and check back at the beginning of every month to see the updates.
OK, enough shameless self-promotion. Let's get to the charts, beginning with Obama's July approval ratings:
[Click on the graph to see a larger version of it.]
July wasn't a particularly good month for Obama. It had its ups and downs, though. The main event all month was health care reform, and I have to say Obama has been somewhat ineffective from the bully pulpit. Mostly because of his strategy doing the opposite of what Bill and Hillary Clinton did back in 1994. The Clintons presented Congress with an already-written bill, and it never even made it out of committee. Obama's strategy has been to outline a few goals, and then sit back and let Congress do the heavy lifting -- while mildly cheering them on from the sidelines. What this has meant is that Obama cannot be pinned down on specifics (any specifics), as his perpetual answer to any question about the details is "everything's still on the table," or "we're open to any good ideas."
This is beginning to hurt Obama's standings in the polls. He did get a bit more engaged with the process late in July, when it became obvious to all that Congress was not going to meet Obama's deadline of passing legislation through both houses before the August congressional vacation. He gave a primetime press conference that, on its substance, went well -- but on the scale of emotional involvement, fell a bit flat. Except when he talked about his friend Professor Gates' arrest, which led the White House into their "beer summit" damage control photo-op.
Obama did get some good news during July, as his nominee for the Supreme Court made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As usual in these sorts of hearings, the opposition party did everything it could to tarnish the nominee (both Democrats and Republicans play this game, it should be pointed out, because their bases absolutely love it), but Judge Sonia Sotomayor emerged largely unscathed, and will soon become our nation's newest Supreme Court Justice.
But mostly, the month was about health care. And Obama's political "war room" seemed to be either asleep for most of the month, or floundering from one idea to another. Obama has not been, to date, exactly inspirational in this debate. This has hurt him with the public, although any number of other factors could also be in play as well -- such as liberals who have finally become disillusioned with Obama because of his presidential actions, which in many cases seem to be just photocopies of Bush's presidential actions. Also, a relentless drumbeat from the media on the state of the economy ("Obama's stimulus has failed! Failed, I tells ya!"), even while the actual numbers seem to be bottoming out, or (as in the case of the stock market) turning back upward again.
All of this has taken a toll. Obama's approval rating had its biggest monthly drop yet, down 3.4 percent to an average of 56.4 percent for the month. His disapproval numbers jumped upwards even more, rising 4.5 percent to an average of 38.1 percent. Both numbers set a record this month, for lowest approval and highest disapproval. The undecided numbers continued to fall, to a new low of 5.5 percent. But that was only down 1.1 percent from last month, meaning that the movement in the polls cannot be explained by undecideds making up their minds, but also showed people changing their minds from approving Obama's job performance to disapproving.
What is more worrisome for Obama fans, though, is that this trend was pretty constant for the entire month. Obama got his highest approval number on the first of the month, and his lowest approval the second-to-last day of the month. This swing was even more pronounced than the monthly average shows, going from 59.5 percent to a low of 53.4 percent -- a drop of more than six points. His disapproval numbers fluctuated a bit more, climbing from a low of 34.0 percent at the beginning of the month to a high of 41.3 percent on the July 24, before settling back down a bit to finish at 39.4 percent.
This could signal a bad August for Obama, unless both these trends flatten out.
Barack Obama's honeymoon is, without doubt, over. And, as just pointed out, he'd better do something soon to bounce back, or else next month is going to be even more worrisome.
But we do need to put this into a bit of perspective. Bill Clinton, at this point in his term, had a 47.3 percent disapproval rating, with only a 44.0 percent approval rating. Obama is still more than twelve points higher in the approval category at this point, and around nine points lower in the disapproval category. Obama's numbers are also about the same as George W. Bush's at this point in his presidency as well, which we'll examine in detail in a bit. [Note: once again, a shameless plug -- you can see comparison charts at ObamaPollWatch]
But the trend, while heading in the wrong direction, will likely reverse itself -- if (it'd be premature to say "when" at this point) healthcare reform legislation actually passes. It's hard for people reading a column such as this to realize at times, but most of the American public just isn't following the marathon battle in Congress all that closely. They see a headline or two (mostly saying: "Obama Fails At Healthcare Reform!"), but just aren't tracking it all that closely. A headline frenzy of: "Healthcare Reform Passes" after a presidential bill-signing ceremony may give Obama the bounce in the polls he needs at this point.
If, that is, it ever gets to his desk to sign.
Obama v. George W. Bush (first term)
This is actually a good month to compare Bush's first term with Obama's, because it is just about the last month when any sort of valid comparison can be made between the two. It's easy to see why when looking at Bush's chart. You'll note that the scale of this chart had to be expanded from our normal scale (which shows from zero to 80 percent), because Bush's numbers spiked so high after the 9/11 attacks. On a zero-to-100 scale, here is Bush's first term:
[Click on the graph to see a larger version of it.]
The second spike, in early 2003, was when we invaded Iraq. This shows the rally-round-the-president effect that any war has on presidential approval numbers. But while Bush hit astronomical highs (matching those of his father during the Persian Gulf War), they soon dwindled away and you can see how close his approval and disapproval numbers were during the last year of his first term, when he was running for re-election. We'll take a look at Bush's second term (which is much happier for Obama fans to look at, I realize) next month.
But what concerns us here are Bush's numbers before the 9/11 spike. Bush entered office under the cloud of Florida, hanging chads, and the ignominy of the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision. But soon after, he hit fairly decent numbers for his own "honeymoon" period, falling in the 52-57 percent range. This was beginning to show signs of dwindling up until 9/11, when they went through the roof.
Now let's take a look at Obama's numbers versus Bush's, at this point in their respective presidencies:
[Click on the graph to see a larger version of it.]
Obama's approval numbers started higher than Bush to begin with, so they had further to fall, but they both are fairly close at this point (Obama 56.4 percent; Bush 53.9 percent). What is even more noticeable is how closely Obama and Bush's numbers are for disapproval rates. While Obama's is slightly higher than Bush's (Obama 38.1 percent; Bush 34.3 percent), the trend lines for the two are almost identical.
This all proves nothing much, other than that the conventional wisdom in this regard is probably right -- all presidents (to some degree or another) have a "honeymoon" period, and all of them experience an end to this period at some point during their first year in office. That, and the fact that six months in is obviously no indication of how a first-term president will be seen by history.
[Note: This is a new column series, so I'm looking for feedback as to what you like and don't like, both here and at ObamaPollWatch. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or drop me an email. Thanks.]
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
Obama Poll Watch column archive (by month covered):
Obama's All-Time Statistics
Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 7/09 -- 56.4%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 7/09 -- 38.1%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 7/30/09 -- 53.4%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 7/24/09 -- 41.3%
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)
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 / 8.1
03/09 -- 60.9 / 29.9 / 9.1
02/09 -- 63.4 / 24.4 / 12.2
01/09 -- 63.1 / 19.6 / 17.3
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com