Is Obama's approval lower than Nixon and Carter?

The Washington Times tries a little too hard to make Barack Obama’s approval ratings look bad in their editorial today.  In fact, they try entirely too hard, making the same mistake many conservatives make in looking for a little of their own Hope and Change.  They’re arguing that a 56% approval rating represents some sort of crash and burn for Obama, when a more subtle but less catastrophic analysis works just as well:

President Obama’s media cheerleaders are hailing how loved he is. But at the 100-day mark of his presidency, Mr. Obama is the second-least-popular president in 40 years.

According to Gallup’s April survey, Americans have a lower approval of Mr. Obama at this point than all but one president since Gallup began tracking this in 1969. The only new president less popular was Bill Clinton, who got off to a notoriously bad start after trying to force homosexuals on the military and a federal raid in Waco, Texas, that killed 86. Mr. Obama’s current approval rating of 56 percent is only one tick higher than the 55-percent approval Mr. Clinton had during those crises.

As the attached chart shows, five presidents rated higher than Mr. Obama after 100 days in office. Ronald Reagan topped the charts in April 1981 with 67 percent approval. Following the Gipper, in order of popularity, were: Jimmy Carter with 63 percent in 1977; George W. Bush with 62 percent in 2001; Richard Nixon with 61 percent in 1969; and George H.W. Bush with 58 percent in 1989.

And what does that tell us?

  1. The 100-days report is almost worthless in determining the value of a President.
  2. The end of the alphabet-soup broadcast-network domination of the news may make early assessments more realistic.
  3. Obama still beats Bush by several orders of magnitude.

No one can sneeze at a 56% approval rate, and certainly not Republicans yoked to one of the least-popular Presidents in several decades.  That 62% for Bush didn’t last very long, did it?  It certainly gave no indication what his final numbers would be.  For that matter, neither did Carter’s early numbers, and Clinton’s actually underestimated how much his personal charm would protect him.

Barack Obama has a lot going for him.  First, the media has been extraordinarily kind to him in the first 50 days, kinder and more effusive than with Bush and Clinton combined.  Obama has a personal charm that George Bush struggled to show in public appearances, and he’s a better speaker.  Unlike Bush, who almost seemed allergic to engagement with the press, Obama has made a point of pushing for that engagement, which shows that he learned something from his immediate predecessor as well as Clinton and Reagan.

But even with all of that, Obama still couldn’t score above 56% in the Gallup poll.  It’s not a bad number, but with all of the advantages breaking his way early and his obvious talent for media engagement, one might expect that to be higher — especially among independents.  Most of his 56% approval comes from Democrats, who unsurprisingly give him 88% approval thus far.  Republicans, just as predictably, give him 24%.  Independents, though, only give him 48%, a bit of a surprise considering his success in the election in this group.  That’s also far above Bush levels, but it’s not a good number for a President who claims to represent the vast middle of America.

With the media on Obama’s side and his talent at public relations, don’t expect Obama to crater in public-opinion polling any time soon.  However, his policies will get less support and less traction as we spend money and see little for the debt Obama’s rolling up.  Rather than trying to paint a solid-majority personal approval rating as a catastrophe, conservatives should focus on the issues instead.  If we can demonstrate the failures and propose better alternatives, the numbers will take care of themselves.  (via Mitch Berg)