Saturday, April 24, 2010

Can Obama Ever Stop This Slide?, Some Historical Perspective

It seems almost independent of events on the ground. Whether health care reform was stalled in committee or being signed into law, whether the news of the day was troops in Afghanistan or fines against Goldman Sachs, there seems to have been one common thread in the political landscape for the past year and half. President Obama's poll numbers have always headed down. He's had flat and near-flat months and months of big declines, but the trend is about as visually obvious as it gets when you look month to month.

The past couple of weeks have not contained a lot of new news in this regard. The President saw a very small bump, possibly tied to the news of civil prosecution of Goldman Sachs, followed by a decline back to his prior levels. And the bump was pretty tiny to begin with, so it could have just been noise.

Looking at the monthly trends, the President is on track to lose 0.4% in his approve minus disapprove this month, which would mark yet another month of declines. He has definitely been losing ground more slowly since February, but still, each month manages to come in lower than the last.

This is all about the unemployment rate, in my mind. The reason that the trend is so seemingly unlinked to news events is that people don't really care about anything else when the economy is sour. And while the stock market has recovered and GDP is growing at a healthy rate again, as is typically in recessions, the jobs have lagged. Until the unemployment rate starts falling a lot faster, expect Obama's numbers to keep getting chipped away.

So, how does Obama fare at this stage with other Post-World War 2 Presidents? Typically the shine is off the rose at this point, but the President is still in the lower tier by historical standards. Here are the Gallup approval numbers of President Obama versus other Post-WW2 Presidents in April of their second year:

(1) W. Bush - 77%
(2) Kennedy - 74%
(3) Johnson - 68%
(4) H. W. Bush - 65%
(5) Eisenhower - 60%
(6) Nixon - 57%
(7) Obama - 49%
(8) Clinton - 48%
(9) Reagan - 43%
(10) Carter - 41%
(11) Ford - 41%
(12) Truman -33%

Average of all: 55%
Average of those winning next election (W. Bush, Eisenhower, Nixon, Clinton, Reagan, Truman): 53%
Average of those losing next election (H.W. Bush, Carter, Ford): 49%
Did Not Seek Re-Election: Johnson
Not Living at Time of Next Election: Kennedy

So, you can see, we are at a point in the Presidency where an approval rating is starting to have meaning on re-election, but where there are still a lot of paths that the Obama arc can follow.

Of the top half -- numbers 1-6, 3 were re-elected (W. Bush, Eisenhower, Nixon) with 2 of the 3 (Eisenhower and Nixon) re-elected by very strong margins and 1 (W. Bush) re-elected by a close margin. 1 was killed before he could run (Kennedy), 1 chose not to run, although he surely would have been defeated had he run (Johnson) and 1 lost re-election (H.W. Bush).

Of the bottom half, 3 were re-elected by strong margins (Reagan, Clinton and Truman) and 2 lost, one fairly badly (Carter), one by a close margin (Ford).

Looked at another way, the top percentage vote-getters for re-election are numbers 5, 6, 9 and 12, hardly a strong correlation between that result and these poll numbers.

What is a lot more indicative at this point are mid-term results. The party of those in the bottom half took whippings in the mid-terms and I would wager that that trend will continue this year -- it will be a bad year for Democrats at the polls.

Next time....a look at the correlation between unemployment rates and Presidential elections.

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