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Friday, August 27, 2010

Update on Obama Job Approval

An update on Obama job approval. The president's weekly average last week (Aug. 16-22) was 43%, down one percentage point from the week before and lowest so far.

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.


What do we find? Obama’s “drop” from his first approval rating to his latest weekly average here in late August has been 21 points. That’s high, but actually not quite as high as Jimmy Carter's, who ended August of his second year in office (1978) at exactly the same level where Obama is today, but who started out two points higher than Obama.

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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Americans and Embryonic Stem Cell Research

A Washington, D.C., federal district judge ruled Monday that federal money cannot be used for embryonic stem cell research.

The ruling overturned a 2009 Obama administration executive order that attempted to justify such use in the context of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to a 1996 federal budget bill. As Judge Royce Lambert explained in his ruling, the Dickey-Wicker amendment "prohibited the use of federal funds for “(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under” applicable federal regulations." The judge ruled that the guidelines issued under the 2009 executive order "violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment."

Conservatives cheered the ruling yesterday, with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins saying: "Today's ruling is a stinging rebuke to the Obama Administration and its attempt to circumvent sound science and federal law, which clearly prohibits federal funding for research that involves the destruction of human embryos."

Others, including many medical researchers, were dismayed. The New York Times quotes Dr. Irving L. Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, as saying that the ruling was “devastating to the hopes of researchers and patients who have been waiting so long for the promise of stem cell therapies.”

And for the American public? Taken as a whole, the evidence shows that the majority of Americans support the use of stem cells taken from human embryos for medical research. Gallup has been tracking Americans’ views on the issue since 2002. We ask whether “Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos” is morally acceptable or morally unacceptable -- one of a list of a number of moral issues tested in Gallup's annual May Moral Values poll.



As of May of this year, 59% of Americans said that embryonic stem cell research was morally acceptable, while 32% said it was morally unacceptable. That’s about a 2-to-1 ratio. There has been some slight change in this over the years. The percent morally acceptable began at 52%, climbed to 64% in May 2007, and has settled back down to about its current level over the last two years.

Not shockingly, the major dividing line on this issue is partisanship and ideology -- which in turn are highly correlated with church attendance.


A majority of Republicans, conservatives, and those who attend church weekly say that embryonic stem cell research is morally unacceptable. A majority of independents, liberals, moderates, Democrats, and those who attend church less than weekly say that such research is morally acceptable.

These data give us a clear indication of the nature of the responses to the judge's ruling we will be hearing and reading from various segments of the commentator/blogging/pundit/politician class in the days to come.

I based most of my analysis of Obama’s decline in our weekly averages, which at 44% last week (Aug. 9-15) was still not much different than the 45% I used in the analysis. We only have three days of reporting under our belt for this week, so we will need to wait and see how this week’s average ends up. So far, of course, it looks like the weekly average will be down. I’ll update my views on how stunning the decline is after this week’s data are all in.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Questions and Answers About Obama's "Stunning Decline"

A number of readers have posted interesting and insightful comments on my Aug. 13 entry “Does the Evidence Support an Obama 'Meltdown' and 'Stunning Decline' in Approval Ratings?”

1. Several readers perspicaciously noted that, since my posting, Obama’s approval numbers have taken a relative nosedive:

“Post-mosque issue, the stunning decline will materialize by August 19 or so in the Gallup 3-day rolling average.”

“Well, now Obama’s down to 43%. So that’s 20 points down. Second to worst on the list. That is dramatic.”

“Now that his approval is down to 42%, can you re-write this article for us?”

“oops...O approval now down to 42% and falling.”

These points are, of course, on target. I wrote my piece on Friday, Aug. 13, when Obama’s job approval rating based on the three-day average was at 44%, and when his previous week’s average had been 45%. Since then, Obama's approval rating not only dropped to 43% and then 42% for several days, but is now (as of the three-day average Aug. 15-17) at 41%, with 52% disapproval. So, I agree there is more evidence of a “stunning decline” now than there was last week when I originally wrote the piece.

I based most of my analysis of Obama’s decline in our weekly averages, which at 44% last week (Aug. 9-15) was still not much different than the 45% I used in the analysis. We only have three days of reporting under our belt for this week, so we will need to wait and see how this week’s average ends up. So far, of course, it looks like the weekly average will be down. I’ll update my views on how stunning the decline is after this week’s data are all in.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Does the Evidence Support an Obama "Meltdown" and "Stunning Decline" in Approval Ratings?

A post by “Washington-based foreign affairs analyst and political commentator” Nile Gardiner in Britain’s Daily Telegraph caught my eye recently. The headline aptly describes Gardiner's thesis: “The stunning decline of Barack Obama: 10 key reasons why the Obama presidency is in meltdown.”

I’m less interested here in the 10 key reasons Gardiner promulgates, although a number of them are conjectures rather than evidence-based. I’m more interested at the moment in Gardiner’s premise about Obama’s “stunning decline” (he also calls it a "meltdown," "Titanic-like," and "spectacular political collapse"), in part because I am asked on a frequent basisabout Obama’s standing in the polls.

Any reference to a "decline" implies change and therefore must be based on a time period. Obama has been in office now for about 18.5 months. We are faced with the question of defining the time period during which the "stunning decline" is hypothesized to have taken place -- over the entire course of Obama's time in office so far, so far this year, so far this month, or something else? 

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