39% approval might not be the floor for Obama

No one number predicts presidential prospects. But if you must pick one, pick the presidential approval rating. There is a range where the floor gives out. There have been eleven campaigns since the Second World War. Only W won with an approval below 50 percent. Yet Gerald Ford lost in the same range. There’s no magic number. But Obama must likely be in, at least, the high forties to win term two.

Does that mean he’s Grover Cleveland or Carter? It’s worth recalling how bad it got for Carter. His rating bobbed in the low thirties and high twenties in 1979. And Carter still made a race of it. Obama will too. The opponent will matter. Perhaps 39 percent matters most there. It affirms that the right candidate can beat him. Does that fertilize pragmatism? Maybe.

In 2004, Democrats worried they would pull a Democrat: snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They went pragmatic. John Kerry. And they lost. There’s no obvious prescription for Republicans. Some candidates deserve better odds than others. But most any candidate could win at 39 percent.