According to the Gallup Organization, the average job-approval rating for presidents in their 18th quarter in office, covering the post-World War II period, was 51.3 percent. That’s a little over a point higher than where Obama is right now. Bill Clinton had the highest job-approval rating at this point in his presidency over the past 50 years, with 57 percent. Ronald Reagan was at 55 percent, George W. Bush at 46 percent, and Richard Nixon at 45 percent. Nixon had been above 50 percent until early April, and then he began his gradual decline, never to recover.
If Obama were a stock, you could say he has a very narrow trading range; indeed, one can argue that he has had a higher floor and lower ceiling in terms of job approval than any other modern president. His bedrock support—particularly among minorities, youth, and liberals—keeps him from dropping below a certain level in all but the worst weeks. But the equally vehement opposition among conservatives and older white men puts a ceiling on how high Obama can go in even a great week.
The most objective way to ascertain whether either or both of these stories have “legs” and are beginning to get traction with the public is to watch every Monday afternoon for the release of the Gallup approval rating for the previous week, ending the night before. Although you can look at the Gallup three-day moving average, those have a smaller sample size than the full week of interviewing and tend to be somewhat volatile. As long as Obama’s job approval remains in that 47-to-51-percent range, particularly between 48 and 50 percent, it’s safe to say that neither story is hurting him significantly, at least with the public. If you are going to look at other polls, take a gander at that poll’s “trading range” for Obama over March and April, and see whether it drops below that range. Each pollster’s methodology is a bit different, and each has its own idiosyncrasies, making comparisons between polls a little more iffy. It’s always better to compare each poll with previous numbers from that specific pollster.