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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Obama Drop and the Obama Paradox

Sunday’s New York Times included a section on its op-ed page devoted to suggestions from political experts on what President Obama could do to “rebound.”

Rebound from what, you ask? Well, the premise of the piece as set up by the Times op-ed editors was that Obama “ . . . has been able to do little to stop the drop in his public approval ratings . . . ” The drop? The only documentation provided is the statement that Obama’s ratings “ . . . according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, hover just above 40%.”

That reference to the ABC News/The Washington Post poll says nothing about a drop (i.e., change).  President Obama’s basic job approval rating in the latest such poll was 50%. That’s down a little from earlier this spring, when it was 53% and 54%, but going back further, Obama's job approval rating was (in the ABC News/The Washington Post poll) 51% in February and 50% last December. So there has not been a wholesale drop this year in Obama’s job approval rating in this particular poll.

The ABC News/The Washington Post poll (July 7-11) also included a list of “subapprovals” or Obama approval ratings on specific issues. Several of these are hovering above 40%. One is above 50% ("duties as commander in chief of the military"). I presume whoever wrote The New York Times op-ed page intro was referring to these.

At Gallup we track Obama’s job approval ratings every day. Whether or not one interprets Obama’s job approval ratings as having “dropped” significantly depends on one’s point of reference.

Here are Obama’s quarterly job approval ratings since he took office. Fortuitously, Obama has just finished his sixth quarter in office, and these have been discussed in detail in my colleague Jeff Jones’ recent analysis:


Clearly there was a significant drop in Obama’s ratings between his second quarter in office (April 20 through July 19) and his third quarter (July 20-Oct. 19).

Since that point the drops have been smaller. He dropped about two percentage points between his third and fourth quarters in office, another two points in his fifth quarter, and then in his most recent quarter dropped only one and a half points. (To be specific, Obama's fifth quarter in office was Jan. 20 through April 19 of this year, and his sixth quarter was from April 20 to July 19 -- just ended, as noted).

So while President Obama certainly did undergo a drop in ratings after his first six months in office, I wouldn’t say that he has undergone a precipitous drop this year in his job approval ratings. And this year appears to be the relevant time frame, since many commentators are looking at the so-called “Obama Paradox” by which the president manages to pass major legislation (healthcare, financial reform) while at the same time not realizing a concomitant increase in his job ratings to go along with these successes (more on this below).

Jeff found in his analysis that the drop in Obama’s job approval ratings between the fifth and sixth quarters was less than for any other president in Gallup’s historical annals. In other words, Obama is holding his own better than other presidents have been able to do with their ratings in their second years in office.



Now, back to the paradox issue. (See here and here for discussions).

Obama has not enjoyed a sustained increase in approval rating in conjunction with the passage of his two landmark legislative packages. So if the hypothesis is that he should have, we can reject that hypothesis.  In other words, Obama's triumphs, legislatively speaking, have not translated into triumphs defined as a sharp or even modest increase in his overall job approval ratings.

There are countervailing assumptions of course. Given that Americans remain quite negative about the U.S. economy, it might be expected that Obama’s approval rating would drop more than it has. Given the historical record, it might be expected that Obama’s rating would drop more than it has. And, keep in mind that Obama’s sixth quarter job approval rating is not out of range of other presidents in their sixth quarter. As seen above, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton were all lower in their sixth quarters. So the degree to which Obama's failure to see a rise in his approval ratings can be labeled a "paradox" certainly depends on one’s expectations. 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...
July 23, 2010 at 8:03 AM  

So refresh our minds, what was the legislative achievements of Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton during the same time period.

Anonymous said...
July 23, 2010 at 8:09 AM  

I would like to believe your generic congressional poll numbers but have a hard time understanding how they can be so at odds with other polls for the same time period.

e.g. Gallup Dems +6
Quinnipiac Reps +5
Rasmussen Reps +9
Fox Reps +4
Bloomberg Reps +8
ABC News Reps +4

At best there is a 10 point difference and worst 15 points... can that be explained?

Sacto Joe said...
July 23, 2010 at 1:54 PM  

I think the Times' op ed speaks more to the misperception on the part of the news media than the actual perception on the part of the populace in general. The irony is that people who pride themselves on their objectivity are now proven to be seriously disconnected from reality.

O'Sullivan said...
July 23, 2010 at 3:44 PM  

Your data showing approval levels for Presidents, is not persuasive at all. At President Obama's current 45% or so, he is well below most, and statistically not materially different from the three lowest. Part of the issue surrounding his approval levels relates to the extraordinary hopeful expectations many had that he would change the "way things were done in Washington". He has hardly demonstrated that sweeping commitment.

For example, we have four highly educated sons (ages 29-35) all of whom voted for President Obama; now at least two of them wished otherwise and speak glowingly of Hilary Clinton as the best choice we have.

Anonymous said...
July 25, 2010 at 2:06 PM  

I would simply point out that, with regard to President Obama's legislative achievements, and the effect of those achievements on his job approval numbers...the most important legislation passed, health care reform, is largely unpopular with the public if the averages of the findings of all the major polling organizations are to be believed. If pluralities, or outright majorities actually disapprove of Obamacare, one could scarcely expect that "achievement", especially an "achievement" regarded so negatively by the public, to positively impact Obama's job approval numbers.

Anonymous said...
July 26, 2010 at 12:58 PM  

So glad to read this article that puts Preident Obama's "dropping approval ratings" into perspective. If most people have not been able to decipher by now, the media can really put a hatchet job to anything they choose to. All they need are the ignorant, the little informed and the totally assanine. Glad to know that some people are able to think logically.

Anonymous said...
August 6, 2010 at 10:27 AM  

If the media did not cover for Obama his ratings would be in the teens. Obama is the first president in history to have a propoganda ministry - i.e. the MSM It is amazing with the pure unadulterated lies advanced by the media that Obama is so low. Hopefully the people who voted for Obama will realize just how dangerous he and his relationship with the media is

Anonymous said...
August 6, 2010 at 4:05 PM  

Hello Richard,



It is standard practice for polling company to contact more Democrats than Republicans when doing their polling. Also, it matters not one wit how much harm Obama and the Democrats cause to black Americans. Most blacks will still support Democrats because the Democratic Party has wrongly convinced most blacks that the Republican Party is a racist party. If Obama were a Republican, most blacks would not support him.

Anonymous said...
August 13, 2010 at 8:35 AM  

O'Sullivan: It's very easy for someone to wish there was someone else in office during times of struggle. Even the most "educated" fall prey to that emotion..

Anonymous said...
August 19, 2010 at 1:18 PM  

Any mind out there with half a wit can understand why Obama's approval ratings have tanked:

IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID.

Guess what, when times are tough, people blame their leaders. There is nothing Obama could do that would have somehow magically changed the fact that the housing market burst and the financial system almost melted down.

He inherited these problems, and they are his to fix. I think he knows that, and will shoulder the ill will that Americans have for their leader in difficult times. We will only truly know the effects of Obama's policies by the end of his 1st term. If things are improving, people will shift their opinion. If they are not, he will continue to be disliked because people are struggling.

It's really not some sort of "stunning" decline. More than anything, it was predictable.

Anonymous said...
August 22, 2010 at 2:13 PM  

Yes, I have friends as well that when he was elected saw him as the second coming of Christ. This has moved through the following: Give him time to fix Bushes disasters, He is trying his best but the other party is holding him back, He is naive and being led by ill advised people, to the last time I talked to them they were looking for a new messiah for the 2012 elections.

It is ironic that the man I wanted to run for president that I think would have been one of the best presidents we ever had was also african american (C. Powell). I wonder how history will see B. Obama when the novelty of his being african american is no longer there (one of many) and he is just judged on his works and character.

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