On Obama’s Sagging Approval Ratings

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & Deficit, Obama & Administration, Obama Opposition1 Comment

"Democrats in Washington are divided and somewhat puzzled over President Obama's fading popularity", writes Matt Bai at The New York Times today.  He then goes on to explain why he thinks Obama's popularity is lackluster in the middle of his first term: because Obama has too much of a legislator — trying to pass health care, the stimulus, etc.

You know, I don't have a degree in political science, but it seems to me that the simplest explanations of Obama's low numbers are the best explanations.  So here it is, in a nutshell.

(1)  Obama's ratings are not all that low.  Clinton, Carter and Reagan were between 39 percent and 41 percent approval rating at this point in their presidencies.   Obama is at 44 percent.  In other words, barring some cataclysmic nationally unifying event, all presidents experience a huge drop in their popularity in the middle of their first term.  Only two presidents since 1900 didn't lose House seats during the midterm election of their first term — FDR during the height of the depression, and George Bush after 9/11.  Every other president? Their party lost seats.

So obviously what is driving down Obama's numbers are larger political issues that go beyond what Obama has or hasn't done as a president.  His numbers are down because that always happens in the middle of a president's first term.

(2)  It's the economy, stupid.  Does anyone think that there would be discussion about Obama's "low" approval rating if the unemployment rate was at 7% and falling?  Now, to be sure, some of Obama's "low" approval rating could be attributed to his failure to turn the economy around (so far), but it is a bad economy that he inherited in the first place.  At some point, the recovery will kick in, and his numbers will go up.

But it seems to me rather silly to try to pin Obama's lackluster approval ratings solely on his policies.