The new normal?
President Obama's job approval polling was down a bit last month, ending three months of positive news. He didn't slip back much, but the reversal does bring up a serious question: is Obama stuck in a "new normal" of job approval numbers in the low-40s range? We'll take a look at possible answers to this in a moment, but first let's take a look at the new monthly chart.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Obama is currently enjoying a political victory, of course, but this will only affect the polling for April, since the extraordinarily-good Obamacare signup numbers didn't appear until the end of the month. Obama did mount a big public relations campaign at the end of March to get people to sign up for health insurance, but while this paid handsome dividends in the number of people who did sign up, it didn't move his job approval polling much (not yet, at least).
March was a tough month for President Obama, because America was in the midst of re-learning an important Cold War lesson: Russia can do many things that we simply cannot influence or change much. Presidents back to Eisenhower -- of both parties -- have been taught the same lesson; but since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the American public has largely forgotten it. Except when the same thing happened to George Bush, of course. But in such realpolitik situations, America always looks weak. Which was reflected in Obama's poll numbers last month, as the Crimea moved on the geopolitical chess board.
In other news last month, Dianne Feinstein got into a very public tiff with the C.I.A., but this will be forgotten when (hopefully "when" and not "if") her committee's report on torture is finally made public. The Republicans marked the one-year anniversary of their self-conducted "autopsy," nearly all of which has been largely ignored by Republicans in office or running for office. The Hobby Lobby case was heard before the Supreme Court, generating lots of public commentary on where religious rights should be allowed to reach. None of this had much impact on Obama's polling, however.
Obama's monthly average job approval number fell to 42.9 percent in March, and his disapproval average rose to 52.8 percent. This was a decrease of 0.4 percent in approval and an increase of 0.5 percent disapproval. This ended a three-month run of good numbers for the president, which had boosted his approval a total of 1.9 points (before March's number), and had shrunk his disapproval 1.6 points. So for the last four months, Obama's still showing a net positive. However, the trendline for March seemed to hit a troubling plateau.
The trendline for March flattened out, at a level slightly below where Obama was in February. There was not much movement in his daily poll averages throughout the month, meaning no sharp upticks or downturns. He closed out the month in a better place than he started, but that place was still worse than the previous month. Obama's daily averages were remarkably stable all month, fluctuating only 1.1 percent for approval and 1.9 percent for disapproval -- both very low for any given month.
Obama hit a daily average high in approval of 43.4 percent three separate times during the month (on March 10th, the 18th-19th, and the 30th), after starting with a low of 42.3 percent. But his disapproval numbers bucked this trend a bit, hitting a low of 51.9 percent halfway through the month and then rising to 53.8 towards the end. Meaning the direction of the trend isn't clear for April, and the safest money would be on Obama continuing to waver right around where he currently finds himself. That's without taking into account anything that has happened or could happen in April, mind you, just examining the trendlines on their own.
April could wind up being a pretty good month for Obama, though. He began the month with the best news possible on the Obamacare signups, and the 7.1 million number is only going to keep rising throughout the month. Will the final number at the end of the month hit 7.5 million? Or even 8.0 million? Whatever it comes in at, it will go a long way towards undercutting the Republicans' "Repeal!" position, which could translate into a breath of fresh air in Obama's poll numbers. If the unemployment number (due to be released this Friday) is better than expected, this could also put some wind in Obama's sails for April. Congress isn't scheduled to do much of anything (no looming fiscal deadlines), which could also result in some smoother sailing for Obama in the polls.
How did I get on this wind/sailing metaphor? I have no idea, I apologize, and I'll just stop now, OK?
Ahem. Kidding aside, if Obama doesn't manage a bump in the polls in April, then we are faced with the possibility that he's hit one of those plateaus of non-movement in polling which have largely defined his presidency. The bad news for Obama fans is that this would indeed represent a "new normal" of a much lower range. Take a look at that chart again to see what I mean.
After his initial honeymoon period at the start of his first term, Obama hit two plateaus in 2010. The first was in the 47-48 percent range (for approval -- for simplicity's sake I'm only considering the job approval line here). The second was a bit lower, in the 45-46 percent range. After getting a big "Bin Laden bump," by 2011 Obama hit a lower (and shorter) plateau in the 43-44 percent range. During his re-election campaign, Obama climbed back up to a longish plateau in the 47-48 percent range, and pushed it over the top (the top being a 50-percent-or-better mark) to win his second term. Since that point, he's been on a slide downwards as his "second honeymoon" wore off. This ended at a nadir of 41.4 percent, right when the Obamacare website's rollout problems were big news. Since then (and since the website got fixed), he's been clawing back some ground. But he seems to now be settling in to a plateau of only 42-43 percent. This is the lowest such plateau yet -- as the chart shows.
So the question for April and beyond is whether this is Obama's new normal, or whether he can break out of this low point and get his numbers back up at least comfortably above 45 percent. This can be accomplished, and he certainly started the month off with some fantastic news on his signature piece of legislation -- news that was far better than pretty much anyone had predicted (myself included). If the jobs numbers are also looking good this Friday, this could translate into people feeling a lot better about the job Obama's doing. So there is certainly room for optimism. But it comes with a cautionary note, because March's numbers were so flat they could in fact become Obama's new normal range, at least in the near future.
[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)
03/14 -- 42.9 / 52.8 / 4.5
02/14 -- 43.3 / 52.3 / 4.4
01/14 -- 42.7 / 52.7 / 4.6
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.
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