Some readers have argued that the important metric in evaluating Obama is the degree to which his approval rating has dropped since he first took office. Accordingly, we developed the following chart that shows the first approval rating for each of the last six presidents, and their approval ratings in August of their second year.
Bill Clinton's comparable drop was almost as high as Obama's and Carter's. That's even though Clinton began his first term (in 1993) at a lower 58% approval rating. Ronald Reagan had the luxury of a very modest starting point -- with his initial approval rating in late January/early February of 1981 of just 51%. Thus, although Reagan's August 1982 rating is similar to Obama’s comparable time period rating today, the former movie actor and governor of California fell much less. (Both Bushes saw their ratings go up, not down between their first rating and late August of their second year).
Obama’s ratings don’t appear to be sliding further, after reaching his all-time low of 41% in two of Gallup Daily tracking's three-day averages (Aug. 15-17 and Aug. 16-18) early last week. As of this writing (Friday, Aug. 27) Obama’s three-day average is 44%.
Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had similar paths through their first year in office. Mediocre approval ratings in their second year, losses in the midterm election, a rebound in approval ratings, and then re-election victories. We will see if Barack Obama follows the same path.
Reagan burst through the 50% job approval barrier in November 1983 and remained there through his victorious trouncing of Walter Mondale in the 1984 election.
Clinton burst through the 50% barrier briefly in April and May 1995, fell back, and then came above again in November 1995 through his November 1996 victory over Bob Dole (and Ross Perot).
If Obama follows these historical scenarios, he won’t see the upside of 50% again until sometime next year.
Of course, history gives us other examples of what can happen in a president's first term. Both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush descended into the approval cellar in their fourth years. Carter reached 28% in June and July of his third year in office (1979). Bush Sr.'s ratings fell like a stone, including a remarkable 40-point drop from 72% in July of his third year (1991) to 32% by the time he reached July of his fourth year. Of course, Carter was ousted from office by Reagan in 1980, and Bush by Clinton in 1992.
President Obama is out of the news in general this week as he concludes his Martha’s Vineyard vacation -- although certain websites continue to feature paparazzi type pictures of him golfing or going to the store. He’s back in action next week with a major speech on Iraq on Tuesday night (Aug. 31), as he re-enters the political grind. A lot of attention this week has been diverted by the spate of primaries held last Tuesday, although Obama’s presence and impact on these races is never far beneath the surface.