Obama Poll Watch -- May, 2010

[ Posted Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 – 01:27 UTC ]

Finally, some good news

While I would immediately caution everyone not to get overly optimistic about what I'm about to say, President Obama's approval rating was looking up in April. Gains were modest, but were pretty much across the board. Although, as I said, the end of the month saw a slight reversal to this trend, likely the result of the drip, drip, drip nature (or, more properly, "gush, gush, gush") of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

More on all of that in a bit. As well as a special look, at the end here, at how Obama stacks up against Ronald Reagan's first term. We're interrupting our march backwards through time, comparing Obama to all previous presidents for whom polling data is available, to highlight the Obama versus Reagan picture. Of course, graphs comparing Obama with every previous president back to Eisenhower are always available at the Obama Poll Watch website, for your perusal.

But first, let's look at the updated graph:

Obama Approval -- May 2010

[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]

May, 2010

As you can see, Obama's approval rate went up slightly in May, and his disapproval rate went more sharply downward. While both of these are what pollsters would call "within the margin of error" it is still notable since Barack Obama actually charted the best month of his entire term in office on this graph. It may not look like it all that much, but this was the first month where Obama's approval rate improved and his disapproval rate declined within the same month. And it's the biggest decline in disapproval he's ever charted.

About the biggest political news in May was the increase in raw fear among incumbents of both parties in Washington, especially those who have recently changed party affiliation. There's a strong "throw the bums out" feeling across the nation, or so the media tells us, which has resulted in the Democratic Party scorning so-called "moderates" in favor of honest, red-blooded Democratic candidates. Over on the Republican side, the Tea Party folks are purging the Republicans with all their might, whether it will help them elect people in November or not. Admittedly, that's a somewhat biased view, but the fact remains that both parties are purifying themselves a bit in select races across the country. How it all plays out in the midterms is still an open question, however, I should honestly state.

At the beginning of the month, Obama got some really good news on the jobs and unemployment situation, which is the Democrats' best hope for turning public opinion around by the fall. If we get a few more months like last month in an unbroken chain, and if the actual unemployment rate starts coming down in a noticeable way, then the midterms might not be the slaughter Republicans have been predicting.

Arizona has pushed immigration to the top of the political "to do" list, but that's no guarantee that anything will actually get done on it, other than politicians using it heavily in their campaign advertising.

Wall Street reform is wending its way through Congress, and we may actually get a final bill approved before Fourth of July. Then again, we may not. But Democrats are making good progress on the issue, and Republicans are taking the side of Wall Street. Look for this to figure prominently in campaign advertising as well. Also on the Senate's schedule in June will be possibly abolishing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of forbidding openly gay people from serving in the military, which would go a long way towards raising some enthusiasm in the Democratic base for both Obama and congressional Democrats.

Obama took a minor hit on the Joe Sestak situation, but mostly for stonewalling the press on the question. Now that they've addressed it, the issue will likely die down except over on the far right. But the big hit Obama is taking, and will likely continue to take for a while, is over the BP oil spill. Republicans, who normally cry "Evil!" at any attempt by government to insert itself into the affairs of private companies, are now falling all over themselves begging President Obama to take over the BP response and cleanup effort. The irony is thick indeed, although out of empathy for the residents who live in the affected region, I shall refrain from a "How thick is it?" irony joke, as it is too cheap a shot.

In May, Obama's approval rating rose three-tenths of a point, gaining back the ground he lost last month. For the month, Obama was at 48.1 percent, back where he was in March, and above where he was in February and April. While this means that for four months his approval has been essentially unchanged (the entire movement during this period was within the same three-tenths of a percent, which is remarkably stable for any president), at least it headed in the right direction in May. Obama's disapproval rate fell a full percentage point, however, to end up at 45.5 percent. This is the biggest, steepest fall this number has ever taken, which is indeed notable. The only previous time his disapproval rate actually fell was in October of last year, when it fell by only one-tenth of a percent. This could signify that public opposition to the president may have peaked, although it is too early to tell this, from just a single month's data.


Overall Trends

More good news for Obama was that he didn't chart a single "all-time high" or "all-time low" this month. His monthly numbers improved last month, as noted, and his daily averages were also better for the entire month.

Obama's numbers started the month by continuing the trend they had been showing in the latter half of April, with approval numbers moving slightly higher and disapproval numbers moving sharply lower. His approval number peaked around mid-month at 49.0 percent, higher than last month's daily high of 48.7 percent. The last third of the month, however, his approval numbers slipped back down to lower than they were at the start the month, hitting a daily low of 47.0 percent. On the bright side, this was much higher than the 46.1 percent all-time daily low he hit last month. Obama's disapproval went down to 44.4 percent in the beginning of May, again continuing the trend from mid-April. This is notable because Obama hadn't posted a disapproval number lower than 45.0 percent since January -- his daily low last month was only 45.7 percent, for instance. But by the end of the month, this was climbing again, and hit a high of 46.4 percent for the month -- well below the all-time high of 47.8 percent in March, and a full percent below the 47.4 percent he hit in the middle of April. This marks two months in a row Obama hasn't hit an all-time daily disapproval high.

The movement throughout the month would have been a lot more impressive without the falloff which happened in about the last week of the month. Take a look at the daily chart over at RealClearPolitics to see what I'm talking about. Up until the final week in the month, Obama was averaging six-tenths of a point increase in approval (twice what he ended up with), and a whopping 1.6 percent fall in disapproval.

But that final week is the reason why I urge caution, even though Obama did have the best month numerically he's yet had as president. Because the daily trend has changed, which the monthly trend hasn't shown yet (and won't, until next month). How June will shape up for Obama is going to depend on three major areas -- what the jobs/unemployment numbers have to say about May (these numbers will be released this Friday), what happens with the oil spill (and the public perception of Obama's response), and what actually makes it through Congress, after they get back from their current week-long vacation, and before their next week-long vacation starts at the beginning of next month. The jobs picture, if it improves, will add to an undercurrent of slightly-rising expectations which should help both Obama and Democrats in general. The oil response depends on two things happening: capping the well somehow, and an overwhelming and very public cleanup effort, with thousands of people employed by BP to clean up the damage to the beaches. Congress may pass the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal this month, and they may actually finish the Wall Street reform bill and put it on Obama's desk. Then again, they may not (this is the Senate we're talking about, after all). Due to the looming election, the next few weeks in Congress may be the most productive weeks of the entire year, which could boost public opinion in a major way. Meaning that, while the current trend is downwards for Obama's numbers, he has a good chance of turning it around by month's end, and holding on to the gains he made this month. Then again, the current trend could continue, and he may lose the gains he just made. Only time will tell.


Obama v. Reagan (first term)

Our year-long effort at assembling data and charts to compare Barack Obama with his predecessors is taking a one-month hiatus. We've only got two more presidents to go, since public opinion polling simply did not exist before F.D.R.'s time. Next month, we will continue with a comparison between Obama and Truman, but for this month I'd like to take this time to update the comparison chart between Obama and Ronald Reagan's first term.

First, take a look at the chart:

Obama v. Reagan (first term) -- May 2010

[Click on graphs to see larger-scale versions.]

As always, I fully admit that predicting the future of any president by drawing parallels to past presidents is indeed a fool's game, but it's certainly a fun one to play, so if you're not into this sort of thing, I advise you to just stop reading here.

Out of all past presidents we have so far examined, from George W. Bush back through Dwight D. Eisenhower, there are really only a few parallels that can even be drawn with Obama's approval chart. Obama is roughly in the same place in the polls right now as Bill Clinton was at this point in his first term; but there the parallel ends, because they both took very different paths to get to this point. Obama's chart is much more similar to Lyndon B. Johnson's -- but the comparison is to Johnson's second term (his only full term in office), making the comparison a little less of an obvious parallel [links in this section take you to our comparison graphs].

Obama's graph, though, has so far tracked the graph of Ronald Reagan's fairly closely, up until the last few months. Reagan's numbers, however, continued to slide right up to his first midterm election, after which they took an even steeper dive, before Reagan regained his popularity and went on to win his second term in a landslide.

Reagan and Obama faced similar situations coming in to office, on the economic front. Unemployment was high, a recession was in progress, and the mood of the American people was just as fickle back then as it is now. The recovery under Reagan took a long time to show positive effects, and people were disgruntled in the meantime. Reagan actually had to raise taxes during this period, even though conservatives like to conveniently forget this fact.

In both Reagan and Obama's case, the midterm election period was a disappointing time, both for the country at large and for presidential approval ratings. The main point I'm trying to make here is that predicting an entire presidency's outcome from the first year and a half of approval ratings is just as much of a fool's game as comparing presidents' charts is. The economy did improve by 1984, and Reagan's approval ratings climbed as a result. The same thing could happen to Barack Obama, who is currently doing a bit better than Ronnie was at this point.

But, just to prove what a fool's game this truly is, there is one other president whose graph closely tracks with Obama's right now: Jimmy Carter. And things didn't work out so well politically for Carter, in the end. Especially during his final year in office, which was consumed with the Iranian hostage crisis (which pundits are glomming onto right now in comparison to Obama and the BP spill, due to the long-term nature of both crises).

Will Obama's presidency wind up charting a similar course as Carter, or will he recover as Reagan did? Only a fool would even contemplate making such a prediction at this point, that's all that really can be said.


[Obama Poll Watch Data:]

Column Archives

[Apr 10], [Mar 10], [Feb 10], [Jan 10], [Dec 09], [Nov 09], [Oct 09], [Sep 09], [Aug 09], [Jul 09], [Jun 09], [May 09], [Apr 09], [Mar 09]


Obama's All-Time Statistics

Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 4/10 -- 47.8%

Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 4/10 -- 46.5%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%

Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 4/11/10 -- 46.1%

Highest Daily Disapproval -- 3/18/10 -- 47.8%
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)
05/10 -- 48.1 / 45.5 / 6.4
04/10 -- 47.8 / 46.5 / 5.7
03/10 -- 48.1 / 46.4 / 5.5
02/10 -- 47.9 / 46.1 / 6.0
01/10 -- 49.2 / 45.3 / 5.5
12/09 -- 49.4 / 44.9 / 5.7
11/09 -- 51.1 / 43.5 / 5.4
10/09 -- 52.2 / 41.9 / 5.9
09/09 -- 52.7 / 42.0 / 5.3
08/09 -- 52.8 / 40.8 / 6.4
07/09 -- 56.4 / 38.1 / 5.5
06/09 -- 59.8 / 33.6 / 6.6
05/09 -- 61.4 / 31.6 / 7.0
04/09 -- 61.0 / 30.8 / 8.2
03/09 -- 60.9 / 29.9 / 9.2
02/09 -- 63.4 / 24.4 / 12.2
01/09 -- 63.1 / 19.6 / 17.3


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


-- Chris Weigant


10 Comments on “Obama Poll Watch -- May, 2010”

  1. [1] 
    dsws wrote:

    "If we get a few more months like last month in an unbroken chain, and if the actual unemployment rate starts coming down in a noticeable way ..."

    By "actual unemployment" rate, do you mean the statistic that actually goes by the name of "unemployment", or do you mean some broader measure of how many people aren't working who want to work? I think that as long as there are more jobs being gained than lost, every increase in unemployment is good news for the president and for congressional Democrats. It means that people think there are jobs to be had. That belief drives the reality just as much as vice versa.

    "Wall Street reform is wending its way through Congress, and we may actually get a final bill approved before Fourth of July."

    I sure hope you only mean a bill that gets signed into law, not a bill that's the last word on the subject. This one leaves a lot undone, in any of its versions. I haven't heard any suggestion that the basic problem of regulator shopping will be addressed, nor will too-big-to-fail financial firms be split up into pieces small enough that any particular one can be allowed to fail.

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Democrats these days are only about what looks good on the campaign trail...

    Oh wait, that's not right... They passed CrapCare...


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    I am also constrained to point out that Obama's darkest days are still ahead of him..

    A jobs picture that will continue to be more and more gloomy.

    A larger and larger Jobs-For-Quitting scandal.

    A likely conflagration in the Middle East instigated by the enemies of Israel, who see Obama's waning support for Israel as an opportunity to settle some old scores.

    A sure-to-be trouncing of Democrats in the upcoming Mid-Term elections.

    An all but inevitable successful terrorist attack on US proper.

    No, the future is not to bright for Obama and the Democrats.

    It's all but guaranteed that Obama is going to be a 1-termer..

    And what is so sad is that there was so much promise.

    But the old maxim rears it's head again.

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Obama and the Democrats had as close to absolute power as a political party can get.

    And look how they squandered it. Look at the mess they made.

    Tis sad, tis true. Tis true, tis sad.


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:


    In my listing of upcoming gloom and doom for the DP, I forgot to mention the upcoming Blagovitch trial..

    Democrats are quaking in their booties. The trial will expose the worst of the rawest and blatant machinations of Illinois politics.

    "It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be gray and it's going to last the rest of your life."
    -Bill Murray, GROUNDHOG DAY

    Somebody rustle up some popcorn.. It's gonna be some good theater...


  5. [5] 
    Yeah right wrote:

    As I said before and will say again. The only hope for America is a massive building project. I know the first thing anyone will say is where will the money come from? The second is what type of project am I speaking of?

    Let's imagine we had the money. Maybe we get it from the environmental catastrophe cause by BP oil, maybe we get it from investors seeing how they come monopolize for decades to come on interest, maybe it's from preexisting government funds for example where to put those spent nuclear rods, maybe it from tax exemption we give to farm-owner each year, just maybe colleges and universities would give as chance for education to its students but whatever we do we could get the money.

    So what type of project, you say. One that could help slow global warming, put fish back in the ocean and trees in the Earth. A man made structure so big that it could be seen from space and require tens of thousands of workers onsite and many other in their perspective factories and offices.

    1. Build a number of lake beds, cistern, caves, caverns and rivers
    2. Fill them with the saltiest ocean water(everyone knows salt cause ice to melt quicker)
    3. Build these bodies of water in a mountain made of sand, clay, agricultural waste, concrete, tar, garbage, etc (we could even buy some products from poorer countries that could then use this money to become a more developed nation whilst creating new markets)
    4. Populate this area with animals farmed for this sole purpose
    5. Make it innovative and interactive using the most modern technology

    Mount America would be the greatest project America embarks on. It would rally people from all walks. Republicans would have to shut up and stop all this obstructionism.

    Seriously now is not the time. If you think America has 2 more years to waste until Obama is out of office Michale you have to be kidding me. (2 years actually equals 6 before we could even see any change) You really think we could survive an attack on America proper or the nuclear fallout from a war with Israel.(because they are bombing Iran to Kingdom come the first second they get). We don't need any scandals over offering a person a job. Quite frankly a person can't hold office and work in the White House at the same time. I can't believe some people are ready to have revolutions (Tea Party) because a Black man got elected.

    No, I say get off your couch. It is not the time to be glued to your TV. I say no to your popcorn. It time we set aside our differences and get behind a man because he is what we got. America is not weaker because of him but if anything America is weaker because we have not got behind him.

    Ask not what your country could do for you, ask what you can do for your country. -- JFK

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    The second is what type of project am I speaking of?



    If you think America has 2 more years to waste until Obama is out of office Michale you have to be kidding me.

    Oh, I agree.. It's going to be hell..

    But what choice is there??

    Well, I suppose we could always impeach...

    or the nuclear fallout from a war with Israel.(because they are bombing Iran to Kingdom come the first second they get).

    If Iran doesn't bomb them back to the Stone Age first...

    Quite frankly a person can't hold office and work in the White House at the same time.

    When has anyone actually WORKED in the WHite House??

    Moreover, when have we ever had a White House that worked???

    Ask not what your country could do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

    Ask not what your country can do for you, ask how badly you can frak over your country before you lose an election..

    "That's what elections are for."
    -President Barack Obama, 2010


  7. [7] 
    Yeah right wrote:

    A Mission to Mars is grand but it doesn't put food on the common mans table. I think Mount America could solve many of our problems.

    I do agree about Iran that why we really need to get or house in order. Impeaching Obama is out of the question especially if all you got is offering a man a job. How petty can they get.

    When has anyone actually WORKED in the WHite House??
    I think Obama works harder than any other president I have seen in my life time. The real problem is the senate. There should be term limits.

    - a more perfect union, notice he didn't say perfect union
    Thomas Jefferson

    Ask not what your country can do for you, ask how badly you can frak over your country before you lose an election

    That was Bush for 8 years. You know the man who went on vacation more than he was even at the White House.

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Impeaching Obama is out of the question especially if all you got is offering a man a job.

    And Watergate was just about some nosey people. :D

    It's not the crime, it's the cover-up..

    I think Obama works harder than any other president I have seen in my life time.

    You are correct. I should specify...

    "When has anyone actually WORKED for the American People in the WHite House??"

    That was Bush for 8 years. You know the man who went on vacation more than he was even at the White House.

    As opposed to Obama who has played more golf in 1.5 years than Clinton and BOTH Bushes played in their entire terms, COMBINED... :D

    How many times did Bush go to the Gulf Coast as opposed to Obama???

    I could go on and on... And usually do! :D


  9. [9] 
    Yeah right wrote:

    Michale illegal wiretapping violets the Bill of Rights oh I forget Bush changed that. But no where did I see in the Bill of Rights the legality of trying to build cooperation within party. In fact the first vice-presidents were offer the job for this very purpose (so they wouldn't run for public office). There is no cover up when ask did you offer these men jobs the president says yes.

    Two hours away from the office to play golf pales in comparison to the many days Bush was just not at work. If you call going to the Gulf Coast working. When Exon had it's problem we clean it up. No one said that was a Katrina. I find it despicable to compare oil to the amount of lives lost because Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama refused to take people. I find unforgivable that the President seat ideally by as women and children were raped, men were murdered, and lawlessness was seen on international TV. I find it damn right dishonorable that Republican demand drilling, that these state use it as part of the life blood and economy, and then are displease when something goes wrong. No one has stopped working on the problem. Wait you mean it is ok to descend the national guard to save the lost barrels of oil but where were they would the roads flooding and thousands of American where trapped drowning in there homes. I could go on.

    When has it ever been ok to be charged twice for something. But the banks have done this for years. Obama stopped that. Doctors take oaths to help people; to care for the sick. Insurance company place bets on when people might die. WWJD. Oh yeah he went around healing people for free. So Obama changed this. I guess a police officer could choose who he protects and serves too.

    I came offering a great idea. A way to bring jobs back. A way to help build are economy. MOUNT AMERICA but instead of trying to build on this idea you try to sell me some BS on who is helping the American people.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Two hours away from the office to play golf pales in comparison to the many days Bush was just not at work. If

    Actually, it's been established that Obama regularly spends 5 hours on the golf course every time he plays.

    The "2 hours" you are referring to are how many hours Obama has spent on the GULF COAST, not the GOLF COURSE.

    As far as Bush goes, you and I both know that the President of the United States is NEVER "not at work"... Bush or Obama were/are "at work" 24/7...

    Get to the rest later.. Lot to do, not much time to do it in.


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