Gallup had a dose of good news and bad news for President Obama on Friday. The good news? His quarterly job approval rose about two and a half points over the previous quarter. The bad news? He’s trailing behind Jimmy Carter at the same point in their presidencies:
President Obama’s job approval rating averaged 45.9% during his 13th quarter in office, showing improvement for the second consecutive quarter. His rating is essentially back to where it was before declining last summer and fall. …
The improvement in Obama’s approval rating is likely tied to more positive economic news in recent months, especially concerning unemployment. Obama’s approval rating reached as high as 50% in Gallup Daily tracking, for April 3-5, before settling back down into the mid- to high 40% range in recent days.
That’s bad news in and of itself. It’s true that the economy had begun to pick up a bit early in the quarter, but that came to an end in March, as job creation cooled and growth indicators turned south. If Obama’s job approval remains tied to the economy and we have a third straight Stagnant Spring followed by another Wreckovery Summer, even this moderate improvement will dissipate at the worst possible time.
Even if it just plateaus, though, it leaves Obama in a vulnerable position. In his eighth quarter at the end of 2010, Obama had a nearly identical average approval rating of 46.0%. The midterms held in that quarter delivered a historic rebuke to Obama and his party, costing them nearly 70 seats in the House and almost losing Senate control as well.
Gallup takes a longer view of history, and that’s not encouraging for Obama, either:
Although Obama’s approval rating is improving, this is offset by the fact that it remains below the averages at the same point in time for presidents who were re-elected. All presidents since Eisenhower who were re-elected enjoyed average approval ratings above 50% during their 13th quarters in office.
The worst rating went to George H. W. Bush at 41.8%, which was a dramatic fall from early 1991 when his job approval ratings were in the 80s. The only other President on this list below 50% is Jimmy Carter, whose 13th-quarter average was better than Obama’s at 47.7%. He too ended up running against a challenger that Democrats painted as “radical,” reactionary, and an agent of fat cats rather than the struggling hoi polloi. Democrats ended up losing that election to Ronald Reagan by nearly 10 points and by 440 electoral votes — and that was with another Republican in the race running as an independent (John Anderson, who got 6.6% of the popular vote but won no electoral votes).
If Gallup’s trend holds, it looks like history might repeat itself.
Addendum: It’s worth pointing out that Gerald Ford isn’t included on Gallup’s list because he never got to a 13th quarter; he took office after Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974. In looking through the historical trends for Ford’s job-approval ratings in Q1 of his re-election year, it appears as though his average would likely have also been under 50%, a level Ford also reached in the final couple of weeks of March 1976 before dropping back into the mid-40s. Needless to say, that’s hardly encouraging for Obama, either.