Gallup shows Obama plateauing at near-bottom quarterly approval rates

The President will face a critical period in this quarter, according to Gallup, that may well determine whether he can win another election.  Despite a bump in job approval ratings at the beginning of the year, Barack Obama finished with an average quarterly job approval of 46.7%, less than a percentage point improvement over the previous quarter and just two points up from his lowest finish ever in the quarter prior to that.  The result is a long, slow plateau into ennui, and Obama has little time left to correct it if history holds any lessons:

Barack Obama averaged 46.7% job approval in his ninth quarter in office, slightly above his seventh- and eighth-quarter averages but still the third lowest of his presidency.

Obama’s ninth full quarter in office began Jan. 20 and ended April 19. The quarter finished on a down note for Obama, as he registered his lowest weekly average (43% for April 11-17) and lowest daily three-day rolling average (41% for April 12-14 and April 13-15) in Gallup Daily tracking for his presidency. But the quarter began rather positively for him, including two weeks in late January in which Obama averaged 50% approval.

Two of his predecessors had lower Q9 approval ratings and went on to win second terms.  However, both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton showed significant improvement in Q10, Reagan by almost six points (38.8% to 44.4%) and Clinton by almost five (45.7% to 49.3%).

On the other hand, Jimmy Carter’s dropped by over 10 points in his tenth quarter, from 41.2% to 30.7% as the 1979 energy crisis struck just months before the Iranian hostage crisis at first boosted Carter’s standing and then permanently damaged it.  Two other one-term presidents are in the series (Gerald Ford not having a 10th quarter), both of whom saw significant drops in approval.  George H. W. Bush’s high approval ratings during the Gulf War began to tumble from 82.7% to 73.6%, and John Kennedy dropped almost 5 points frpm 67.7% to 63.0%, and whose assassination prevented him from winning a second term.

Much will depend on which direction Obama’s approval ratings take in the weeks ahead in firming up an election narrative.  The final weekly tally from this quarter doesn’t bode well for the incumbent.  His approval is 43/48 in the last weekly calculation by Gallup, down from 45/46 last week and 48/44 the week before.  His speech to the nation on budgets obviously fell flat.  He is now below majority approval levels in all age, income, and gender demographics, and only manages a 77% approval rating from fellow Democrats.  Today’s rolling three-day average approval looks even worse at 42/49; Obama is starting off in the wrong direction for re-election.

A 46.7% approval rating is probably within the range Obama needs to compete for re-election.  At that level, much will depend on the Republican nominee and his/her ability to sway leaners, as well as the political-base turnout on both sides.  Obama appears to have problems in both areas, but a lot can happen over the next several months.  The trend lines look poor for Obama, however, and unless he can reverse the damage from the economy and his own budgetary arguments, the opening looks wide for a loss in November 2012.