Are Obama’s Approval Ratings On The Rise?

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An apparent uptick in President Obama’s Gallup Poll approval ratings triggered a flurry of stories these past two days speculating what might have caused the change and what it portends for the future.  Politico’s story was headlined Obama job approval surges, while the Hill was a bit more restrained noting only a “jump” in Obama’s approval ratings.  Many other pundits weighed in as well, with several attributing Obama’s polling rise to his “victory” in the payroll tax cut extension debate with House Republicans.

But were the headlines warranted? Did Obama really experience a significant uptick in his popular support?  You decide. Here are the Gallup numbers from the past two weeks that were driving many of these stories. The second column are his approval numbers, and the third his disapproval.

12/13-15/2011

41

51

12/14-17/2011

42

51

12/16-18/2011

42

50

12/17-19/2011

43

50

12/18-20/2011

43

49

12/19-21/2011

43

48

12/20-22/2011

44

48

12/21-23/2011

47

45

12/22-26/2011

46

48

 

All told since mid-December, his approval ratings have gone up about 4-5%, and his disapproval ratings have dropped by about 3%.  When we consider the random variation inherent in the sampling that produces these polls (the tracking poll has a margin of error of +/-3%), it appears that Obama’s approval ratings may have ticked up a hair – but it is hardly enough to warrant headlines heralding a polling surge or jump.  So why the sudden focus on what appears to be a slight uptick at best?  It’s primarily due to that one-day result in Gallup’s three-day tracking poll indicating that, for the first time since July, his approval ratings were – barely – higher than his disapproval ratings, at 47-45.  Substantively, that number was really no different from what came the day before, and what followed the next day.  But psychologically, the fact that his approval was higher than his disapproval – even if for only one day! – was a big boost to the President’s backers, and it prompted a flurry of news stories speculating that Obama may have received a significant and enduring boost in support due to the recent “victory” over House Republicans.

Of course, we’ve been through this before. Remember this TPM headline from this past January? That was after the extension of the Bush tax cuts and Obama’s post-Gifford’s shooting speech had progressives in a tizzy that we were witnessing a game-changing upswing in Obama’s poll numbers.   It never happened. Nor did Bin Laden’s killing produce more than a momentary spike in the President’s approval ratings.  So what has caused this latest upturn – if we can even call it that? My guess – and it’s primarily a guess – is that the slight uptick in his Gallup numbers are driven primarily by the better unemployment figures that came out earlier this month and have little to do with the payroll tax cut extension.

However, this good news notwithstanding, without a major and sustained uptick in the economic numbers, Obama’s approval  ratings aren’t going to change much from where they have been for the past several months – mired in the mid-to-low 40’s range.  And this is not a good place to be. Historically, Obama’s November polling average was among the lowest ever recorded for a president at this point in his term, and his December poll numbers are not, at this stage, looking much better unless the latest numbers are in fact a harbinger of things to come.

Indeed, at this juncture Obama is on track to have the lowest December, third-year approval ratings of any president since Gallup began public approval surveys.

The bottom line is this: don’t be fooled by the Beltway spin regarding purported winners and losers based on pundits’ scorecards that judge one high-profile event.  For Joe Sixpack and his wife Jane, it’s still the economy, stupid.

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