Obama Poll Watch [June 2009] -- Obama v. Clinton (Second Term)

[ Posted Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 – 15:41 UTC ]

Welcome back to our monthly peek into President Barack Obama's poll numbers. And what a change from last month, when I jokingly started off the column "As a new month dawns with Al Franken still not seated in the Senate...." Franken is still not seated, but that is merely due to the fact that Congress is on one of its weeklong vacations (which they take regularly, after every two or three weeks of actual "work"). Once they return to Washington, Franken will become Senator Al Franken and the election of 2008 will finally be over.

But enough about Al. Because this column is about Barack, and (later) Bill. Every month, we've been charting Obama's approval ratings (as averaged by on their presidential poll-of-polls page). For a full explanation of why we choose these numbers over others, refer to the first Obama Poll Watch column. As always, at the bottom of the column are links to the full series, and the actual data points used, for anyone interested.

Obama's June poll numbers were down a bit. But not by much. If you had nothing but the inside-the-Beltway pundits to listen to (as opposed to actual data, that is), you might be pretty worried about Obama's standing in the polls right now. Dire warnings that "Obama's dropping in the polls" or "Obama's poll numbers are tanking" or even "Obama has lost the public" and other such tommyrot has been a common theme for a few weeks now.

Obama's poll numbers have dropped this month -- a whopping one-and-a-half percentage points. In other words, reports that the sky is falling may have been overblown. Or pure bilgewater in the first place. Ahem.

But before we get into analyzing the numbers for the month, let's start out with Obama's new approval ratings chart:


[Click on the graph to see a larger version of it.]

As you can see, his numbers are down slightly, but in no way have fallen off any sort of cliff. Later, we'll compare his numbers to Bill Clinton's, and you can see for yourselves the difference.


June 2009

But before we do that, let's examine Obama's month in detail. June was scheduled to be the beginning of the healthcare fight in Congress, and it lived up to its billing. Well, actually, the month started off with critics trying to tear down Obama's first Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor. The car companies continued their march to bankruptcy (except for Ford, it should be noted). Obama gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt, which showed (once again) that America has changed its face to the world, for the better. Analog television went off the air permanently. Obama was criticized by gay rights groups for not moving fast enough (or far enough) on gay rights, and backed it up by hitting Democrats where it hurts -- fundraising. But even after boycotts were called, the fundraiser in question went off without much of a hitch, and raised a million bucks (more than last year's event). Obama met with gay rights leaders in the White House later, and tried to assuage their fears a bit. Iran had an election, and the aftermath captivated the world, but in the end accomplished little towards the goal of "regime change" or even just "presidential change." The theocrats are still firmly in power, which would also have been true even if the challenger had won, it should be noted. Obama, once again showed that he was "not on a 24-hour news cycle," much to the frustration of the news media (who do live on a 24-hour news cycle). A cap-and-trade bill made it through the House (barely), and faces a stiff headwind in the Senate. But, among all of these distractions, the main story all month was healthcare reform.

So what did all of this mean for Obama's approval ratings?

Obama's approval rating crossed a boundary this month, and dipped below 60 percent for the first time. Not much below, as he finished the month with an average of 59.8 percent, but his numbers all month were lower than they have been. They ranged from a high at the beginning of the month of only 61.0 percent down to a new all-time daily low of 58.7 percent in the last third of the month. Not surprisingly, his disapproval numbers were up. His average disapproval for the month was 33.6 percent. Obama's disapproval started the month at the low of 32.5 percent, and went as high as 34.7 percent before settling back down a bit.

This put his approval rating for the month down 1.6 percent from last month's 61.4 percent, and moved his disapproval up a full two percent from last month's 31.6 percent.


Overall Trends

Even though his numbers are down a bit, Barack Obama's overall performance is still marked by its stability. In his first six months of polling, he's had two months where his numbers went down, and three months where they went up. But, up or down, the movement is so slight that grand sweeping conclusions simply cannot be drawn. In six months, Obama's approval numbers have varied only a total of 3.6 percentage points -- which is probably within the margin of polling error. His disapproval numbers are continuing to trend upward, but most of this comes from undecideds making up their minds, rather than approvals changing to disapprovals.

So, while the pundits will cheerfully tell you that Obama's honeymoon is over, that gay people don't support Obama anymore, that ultraliberal voters are completely disillusioned with Obama, that people opposed to specific policies Obama has adapted are turning away from him in disgust, that (insert issue here) was just the straw that broke the camel's back, that Obama is no longer popular, that the people no longer support him, and all the other endless blah blah blah -- don't believe them. There may be slight movements at the margins away from Obama, and some of this can probably be attributed to one or more of the favorite themes conservative commentators have been espousing. But the problem is nowhere near as large as they would have you believe, and six out of ten Americans still approve of the job Obama is doing as our president. Which is a pretty comfortable place for any president to be in -- especially one who appears to be riding a "honeymoon" wave that may now show signs of ebbing slightly, but certainly does not show signs of disappearing altogether.


Obama v. Clinton

Last month, we took a look at Obama's poll numbers versus Bill Clinton's first term. This month, we take a look at Obama versus Clinton's second term. Now, there is an inherent apples-and-oranges problem comparing any first-term president to the second term of any other president, but I had the data and the charts ready to go, so that's what we're looking at this month (next month: Obama versus George W. Bush's first term -- the Bush data was harder to crunch, so it had to wait, sorry about that). Speaking of the data, for both Bush and Clinton, I have to once again thank the helpful folks over at for providing me with the raw data to create these charts.

Having said all of that, a quick review of Clinton's first term chart (which I am reproducing here because I changed the colors a bit -- you'll see why in a moment):


[Click on the graph to see a larger version of it.]

As I said, this was fully discussed in last month's column, so go check it out if you missed it.

Now let's take a look at Clinton's second term graph, which is one whale of a lot happier than his first term numbers:


[Click on the graph to see a larger version of it.]

That sharp spike upwards in early 1998 is when the Monica Lewinsky news first broke (now that I've got the basic charts created, in upcoming months I'll update them with such key events to provide more context). But what is astonishing is that Clinton's numbers stayed extremely high for four years, and stayed remarkably steady during the entire time period. When compared to George W. Bush (tune in next month), whose presidency had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, Clinton's numbers -- during the term he was impeached by the House and tried in the Senate, no less -- are phenomenally consistent.

The lowest point in Clinton's second term, measured by his approval rating, came in April of 1997 (only a few months in). This low, which would turn out to be the low point for his entire second term, was 55.4 percent. The highest disapproval rating in his whole term, in June 1999, was only 37.4 percent.

That's a pretty good record for four years, you have to admit.

In his first term, Clinton hit a low in his approval ratings of 41.2 percent, exactly where Obama is now (in June of 1993, five months in). Clinton's disapproval rating topped 50 percent (50.6) in the last half of 1994 -- dangerous territory for any politician to be in.

Clinton's whole second term averaged in the low 60s, and never got too far away from this average, in either direction.

But now, at the risk of introducing information overload, I offer a chart of Obama's current numbers stacked up against Clinton's first and second terms. This chart has a lot of data lines, so I kept the colors the same as the above charts to help you sort them out.


[Click on the graph to see a larger version of it.]

This, as promised, puts Obama's current dip in the polls into some needed perspective. Obama's slide last month just wasn't that much to be concerned about. Even in Clinton's rock-steady second term, he had a few four-point drops in one month's time. Obama's drop last month wasn't even the biggest of his presidency so far -- and he's only got six data points on the graph! Of course, falling below 60 percent is something to be concerned about, but it's certainly not time to panic yet.

Comparing Clinton in his first term to Obama at this point shows what poll numbers falling off a cliff look like (which, incidentally, didn't stop him from eventually being re-elected). At this point in his first term, Clinton had weaseled out of a strong stance with his "Don't Ask / Don't Tell" policy on gays serving in the military, had his stimulus plan blocked by a Democratic Congress, and was fighting for ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA was popular with big business, but not so much with rank-and-file Democrats (such as union members).

Between April and May of his first term, Clinton saw his poll numbers drop almost eleven points -- in one month. Obama's one-and-a-half point drop doesn't look so scary now, does it? Clinton went from a high point of 56.6 percent (in February) to a low of 41.2 percent (in June) in his first term. That is more than a fifteen-point spread, within four months -- including a 10.8 percent drop in a single month.

But this month in Clinton's term (exactly where Obama is now) was his lowest point not only of his first term, but of his entire presidency. In other words, you can't always judge the success of a president by the end of his initial honeymoon with the public.

And, I have to say, I have just about lost count of the number of times the Washington pundits have declared unequivocally that "Obama's honeymoon is over." While Obama's numbers are down a bit this month, it is such a gradual slide that it should cause Obama fans not a whole lot of worry. The astounding amount of problems and issues Obama has tackled at this point, and the speed of the Democrats in Congress in passing his agenda, have kept his numbers high enough, at this point in his presidency, for Obama to be pretty pleased with the job he's done and the public's approval of same.

One thing that astonished me during June was that -- briefly -- the numbers for "direction the country's headed in" (either "right direction" or "off on the wrong track") actually tied at one point. This is notable because right after the election, the "right direction" number dipped below eight percent, while the "wrong track" number climbed above 87 percent. But this month, they both hit 45.8 percent, which is an enormous turnaround of public opinion in such a short period of time. Later in the month, the news wasn't as positive, as the wrong track numbers climbed again, but it is still a milestone to remember. And perhaps explains why Obama's numbers continue to stay so high at this point in his term.


[Note: This is a fledgling column series, so I'm looking for feedback as to what you like and don't like. Was the last chart too complicated to understand? Is there anything else you'd like to see covered here? Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email. Don't be shy!]


[Obama Poll Watch Data:]

Obama Poll Watch column archive (by month covered):

[May 09], [Apr 09], [Mar 09]


Obama's All-Time Statistics

Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 6/09 -- 59.8%

Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 6/09 -- 33.6%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%

Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 6/21/09 -- 58.7%

Highest Daily Disapproval -- 6/7/09 -- 34.7%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 1/29/09 -- 19.3%


Obama's Raw Monthly Data

[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]

Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)
06/09 -- 59.8 / 33.6 / 6.6
05/09 -- 61.4 / 31.6 / 7.0
04/09 -- 61.0 / 30.8 / 8.1
03/09 -- 60.9 / 29.9 / 9.1
02/09 -- 63.4 / 24.4 / 12.2
01/09 -- 63.1 / 19.6 / 17.3


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


3 Comments on “Obama Poll Watch [June 2009] -- Obama v. Clinton (Second Term)”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    I have to wonder how much of the "dip" consists of lefties angry that Obama hasn't freed Teh Gays and cured cancer yet.

  2. [2] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I think some people (pollsters, reporters, TV personalities) have way too much time on their hands and they have gone a little poll crazy. Small ups and downs over a few days really don't mean all that much. I think that the mid-term polls will be the ones to watch. Most people understand that "Change" takes time and does not happen overnight. What I think people are afraid of is that becuase Pres. Obama is a pragmatist and willing to compromise, he will give up too much when he doesn't have to.


    P.S. - I think the charts are great. I like the progression as you read thru the post.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Hay CW??

    What do you think of the "Presidential Approval Index"???


Comments for this article are closed.