What do we make of President Obama's first 100 days? The answer is that he falls within the norm. His favorability rating--which is certainly high, but not historic--puts him about where George W. Bush was at this time in 2001. In fact, his rating is similar to Jimmy Carter's in April of 1977 and Richard Nixon's in April of 1969. President Obama's approval rating is typical of a "change" election President. The only "outlier" is Bill Clinton, and that is most likely due to his low vote share (43%) in the election. So forget the 100 day hype. Obama is where he should be.Some observations on the political environment and marketplace:
1. Watch Independent voters when trying to assess how well the President is doing. While Independents gave the President strong job approval ratings in the early days of his administration, their disapproval grew rapidly so that by mid-March those Independents disapproving of the President's job rose to nearly 40%. Since that time, this number has dropped to around 30%. Our sense is that the President needs to keep his disapproval rating among Independent voters either at or below 40% to successfully sell his policies.2. If the current trend continues, within the next 60-90 days a majority of the country will think things are going in the "right direction" for the first time in nearly six years. Not since the first quarter of 2003 (just prior to the start of the Iraq war) has a majority of Americans believed that things were going in the right direction. National polling suggests that there has been substantive improvement in the perception of the direction of the country in the last several months. Since the election, the percentage of Americans who think the country is off on the wrong track has declined by more than 20 points. In fact, the biggest drop was the period between the election and the President's inauguration, and there has been a steady wrong track reduction since that time. Today, the country is almost evenly-split between people believing that things are going in the "right direction" and those who think that the country is "off on the wrong track."
3. It's almost all about the stock market. We should really start calling it the political-economy. If you are trying to figure out whether Americans are feeling better or worse about the President or the economy, just check the stock market. Since March 9th, when the Dow hit bottom at 6547 it has improved nearly 25% to 8254 (at the time of this writing).
DOW Jones Industrial Average in 2009
Now look at public opinion polling on the state of the economy. For nearly one month after passage of the stimulus bill and its signing by the President on February 17th, there was very little movement on the measure. Approximately 70% of voters thought the country was getting worse for that period of time. It wasn't until the market uptick that started in the middle of March that you began to see fewer people saying that the economy was worsening and more saying that it was getting better. Of course, the media echo chamber is a contributor, as were some of the data (economic indicators) we began seeing the last month. During the same period, we also saw the President's job approval improve. While they will never say it, the White House political operatives are paying close attention to the stock market because for the immediate future, their success is intrinsically tied to it.