An Obama turnaround?
President Obama had a pretty significant month in the polls, which might come as a surprise if all you've been listening to is the conventional wisdom in Washington (which has been happily parroting "Obama's polling is in free-fall!" all month long). In fact, what happened this month was that Obama stopped sliding downwards in the polls, and began actually recovering a bit of the ground he's lost since the disastrous Obamacare website launch at the beginning of October. What's more, Obama looks pretty good to continue this recovery for at least the next month or two. Which, as I said, might just come as a surprise to some.
Let's take a look at this month's chart to see what's going on.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Obama started the month of December at rock bottom. There's just no other "polite" way to put it, folks. On the second day of the month, President Obama hit the lowest daily approval rating of his entire presidency, charting a dismal 39.8 percent average daily approval rating and an equally-dismal 55.9 percent average daily disapproval rating. This was after two months of nonstop media bludgeoning as a result of the broken Obamacare website, it bears noting.
The beginning of the month, however, was the point of change for the website's woes -- and it also turned out to be the rebound point for Obama's polling woes as well. As people flooded back to the website (this time to successfully sign up, instead of just getting more error messages) and as the news media slowly started admitting this was what was happening, Obama's numbers made significant gains in the first week of the month. As people got more and more confident in the website, and as more and more people had better and better experiences, Obama's polling continued to improve and he held onto these gains. Added to this was the surprise defusing of the budgetary standoff, with a deal worked out to push all such major budgetary haggling out beyond the midterm elections -- an idea embraced by just about everyone (politicians of both parties, Wall Street, the media, and last but not least the public itself).
By month's-end, Obama had managed to chart not just his third-only gain in monthly average job approval for 2013, but also the biggest jump he'd managed the entire year. He finished the month at 41.9 percent monthly average job approval, an increase of 0.5 percent. He just missed out on lowering his monthly average job disapproval as well, which wound up rising only 0.1 percent to finish at 54.0 percent.
Now, lest I be accused of presenting an overly-rosy picture here, Obama still has a long way to go even just to get back to where he was before the whole Obamacare website debacle began (and even that was a serious low point in his presidency, for even more perspective). He may have just gained 0.5 points, but the month before he had dropped 2.8 points. Over the course of 2013, Obama dropped over 10 full percentage points. So, like I said, he's still got quite a distance to travel to get back into the public's good graces. But he does seem to be heading in the right direction, after a noticeable turnaround which happened early in December -- right after the website was fixed. This is the point that most of the rest of the media is just flat-out ignoring, though.
The overall trends favor Obama, at least for the next few months. If he continues to improve, he could regain some of the ground he lost during the website problem period. Obama will have a few tailwinds at his back in the upcoming weeks, which could all combine in a very positive fashion.
The first of these is where he enters the month of January. His daily approval rating is already roughly a half-percent above what he charted for a monthly average in December. This gives him a boost from the very beginning (by comparison, he started December down 1.5 percent in the dailies, over the previous month's number -- which he still overcame to chart a gain).
The second positive trend is Obamacare and the Obamacare website. News coverage has shifted to people enjoying new health coverage -- some of them for the first time in a long time. This was the original goal of the program from the very start, but it hasn't been until now that these stories have become tangible and real. As more and more people sign up for all the various aspects of Obamacare, the negative stories are put into some much-needed perspective. And the last-minute doom-and-gloom predictions just didn't occur (such as: "emergency rooms and doctors' offices will be overwhelmed!"), adding to the growing perception by the public that maybe this Obamacare idea isn't as bad as its critics have painted it.
The third trend which could help Obama enormously may come as early as this Friday, when the December unemployment number is released. If the unemployment rate improves at all, it will be the first time in Obama's entire presidency that the number will be read starting with the words "six point..." -- which is admittedly symbolic more than anything, but it will indeed be a big accomplishment to the public.
Obama himself is going to be pivoting to pushing his agenda for the new legislative year, which will also help, since Republicans don't seem to have much of an agenda other than "Obamacare is bad!" anymore. Obama will be fighting for an extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in the minimum wage. Both of which are wildly popular even among Republican voters, which puts the Republican politicians firmly out of touch with even their own base, once again. And then at the end of the month, Obama will have the showcase State Of The Union address to Congress, almost always good for a boost in public perception. This will be followed in February by the Olympics, which also always have a sort of "rally 'round the country" effect in the public's eye. So other than a looming possible debt ceiling fight, the terrain looks pretty good for the president for at least the next few weeks. This should give Obama a chance to win back some of the public who got turned off by the whole website escapade.
OK, that's it for this month's predictions, although I did want to close with what hopefully will be a footnote in Obama's polling (when seen later). For roughly the past two years, I've been noting periodically how closely Obama's poll numbers have charted with his predecessor's. Obama's fourth and fifth years in office have matched no other president from the modern poll-taking era (back to Eisenhower, say) than George W. Bush. Many others woke up to this trend recently, especially by noting the closeness of the timeline between when Hurricane Katrina struck (right before Bush's 56th month in office) and when the Obamacare website launched (start of Obama's 57th month in office).
This month, the numbers were so eerily close it demands pointing out yet again. At this point in his second term, Bush's monthly disapproval average was only 0.2 percent above where Obama's is right now. And the two men's approval rate is exactly the same. Even more unbelievably, one month later, Bush charted the exact same two numbers Obama just charted this month, down to the tenth of a point -- 41.9 approval, 54.0 disapproval. Here is the comparison chart:
Even when you expand this chart, you can't see much of any daylight between the two, really. Obama has been tracking pretty close to Bush for approximately the past two years, in fact, both throughout the campaign and afterwards (the vertical line marks both men's re-election):
Bush, however, tracked noticeably lower than Obama during his fifth year, and the only reason they now match so exactly was that Bush was enjoying only the second-to-last upward spike above 40 percent he would for the rest of his term. Up until this point, Bush's lowest monthly job approval number was 38.0 while Obama's (last month) was 41.4 -- again, a noticeable difference.
The reason I'm including both these charts here, as I said, is to footnote this phenomenon -- because I truly think this is the end of the parallel era. While Obama may stay close to Bush next month, this was the point where Bush's numbers absolutely fell off a cliff, never to recover (look at the larger chart, above, to see this). And I just don't see any indication of the same sort of thing happening for Obama. Bush had both Iraq and Afghanistan dragging him down for the final years of his presidency, while Obama got us out of Iraq and we will be exiting Afghanistan by the end of this year. The Republicans are convinced that Obamacare will just become a bigger and bigger disaster as time goes by, but the reality is that what is actually happening is millions and millions of more people will be benefiting as time goes by -- again, a different dynamic. While Republicans are fighting this fight during the midterms, Obama will be leading the Democrats fighting for "little guy" issues -- which the GOP has positioned themselves on the unpopular side of (minimum wage, etc.). So, long-term, I think Obama's prospects for public approval are such that this will be the last time we'll ever feature one of these "Obama's tracking close to Bush" charts, for the rest of his term.
Of course, I could always be wrong. Time will tell. But the numbers were so incredibly close (only 0.2 percent separation) that I did feel it would be remiss not to at least point it out this month. Until next month, keep watching those polls, folks....
[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.
Obama's Second Term Statistical Records
Highest Monthly Approval -- 1/13 -- 52.7%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 11/13 -- 41.4%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 12/13 -- 54.0%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/13 -- 42.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 1/31/13 -- 52.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 12/2/13 -- 39.8%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 12/2/13 -- 55.9%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 2/24/13 -- 42.3%
Obama's Second Term Raw Monthly Data
[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]
Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)
12/13 -- 41.9 / 54.0 / 4.1
11/13 -- 41.4 / 53.9 / 4.7
10/13 -- 44.2 / 50.8 / 5.0
09/13 -- 43.9 / 50.8 / 5.3
08/13 -- 44.4 / 50.2 / 5.4
07/13 -- 45.3 / 49.2 / 5.5
06/13 -- 46.5 / 48.5 / 5.0
05/13 -- 48.3 / 46.9 / 4.8
04/13 -- 48.6 / 46.8 / 4.6
03/13 -- 48.5 / 46.3 / 5.2
02/13 -- 51.1 / 43.0 / 5.9
01/13 -- 52.7 / 42.6 / 4.7
Second Term Column Archives
First Term Data
To save space, the only data and statistics listed above are from Obama's second term. If you'd like to see the data and stats from Obama's first term, including a list of links to the full archives of the Obama Poll Watch column for the first term, we've set up an Obama Poll Watch First Term Data page, for those still interested.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Become a fan of Chris on Huffington Post
Full archives of OPW columns: ObamaPollWatch.com