Inching back down again
To begin with, a slight apology for taking a full week to get the monthly Obama Poll Watch column done. Last Wednesday was the end of the month, so the data weren't yet complete, Fridays are "Friday Talking Points" days, and Monday was a holiday. So here we are, one week later, taking a look back at President Obama's poll numbers for June. Apologies for the delay, and also for the fact that this will be a shorter-than-normal look at Obama's poll numbers this month.
Obama, after gaining a bit in his average approval ratings in May, slipped back in June. But the reversal was slight, continuing a five-month streak of amazingly stable numbers. Since February, Obama's approval rating has stayed within one half of one percentage point, which is pretty remarkable. Unfortunately, this trend may be at an end, and his numbers may be headed even further downwards in July.
But before we get into speculation about what it all means, here is the updated graph of Obama's average monthly approval numbers:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
June saw a complete reversal of the slight gains Obama's poll numbers made in May, with his approval number going back down to slightly less than where it had been, and his disapproval number going back up to slightly more than where it had been. Obama charted new highs for both monthly and daily disapproval, and (in the only piece of good news this month) he charted a new low in monthly approval -- but managed not to chart a new low in daily approval.
In other words, it wasn't a great month for the president, as far as the populace was concerned. However, to put things in some perspective, the relative movement in the graph wasn't anywhere near the worst change in a single month that Obama has yet seen. But we'll get to the actual numbers in a moment.
June was somewhat of a mixed month for the president, in terms of what was happening on the political scene. The primaries are rolling along, and we are getting closer and closer to the midterm congressional general election. The economic numbers which just came out weren't great, but also weren't nearly as bad as the media tried to paint them (compare just about any of the recent numbers with the numbers Obama faced on his first day in office, for some needed perspective which the media loves to ignore, for instance). But, even having said that, the numbers were nothing to stand up and cheer about, especially for Democrats who would dearly love to do just that out on the campaign trail.
Elena Kagan, President Obama's second nominee to the Supreme Court, had hearings in the Senate; but even though it is an election year and such hearings are usually fodder for the "out" party to play to their political base, the whole Kabuki theater seemed a bit subdued this time around. Justice Sotomayor's hearings, in comparison, were a lot more contentious. I'm not exactly sure why the Republicans were so half-hearted in their attempts to portray Elena Kagan as the reincarnation of Karl Marx (as is par for the course, for Republicans), but the whole thing seemed pretty low-key, at least from where this intrepid reporter sits.
The Iraq withdrawal has begun in earnest, and the American troop presence in the country is now below 80,000 troops, and on schedule to hit 50,000 by the end of August, just as Obama promised right after he entered office. Sadly, this news is being largely ignored, although a minor spotlight was shone on the subject when Vice President Biden recently visited the country. As the troop withdrawal accelerates, perhaps Obama will reap some slight benefit politically for both keeping his word, and for our brave men and women coming home to their families. But this may not happen until August, so we'll see. It may not happen at all, if the media continues to ignore it, though.
Most of the reason why the Iraq news took a back seat this month was due to Obama's firing of his key general in Afghanistan (who mouthed off to the media, which is a big no-no in the military), and replacing him with the one man Republicans couldn't complain about in any way, shape, or form. While this was politically (and possibly militarily, although I'm not truly qualified to judge) a brilliant move by Obama, it followed the storm of controversy which erupted after Rolling Stone ran their interview. The whole crisis -- notably -- took place at blinding speed, both on the normal Washington pace of things, and (sadly) on the normal Obama pace of things.
But the biggest damage to the president this month actually started at the end of last month, a downward slide in his poll numbers due to the fact that BP's oil well is still spewing millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. Obama did do himself some good (except from Republicans who apologized to BP for Obama's leadership in the crisis) by getting BP to agree -- with nothing to back Obama up but public opinion -- to set aside the whopping sum of 20 billion dollars for a restitution fund which will be administered not by BP but by an independent overseer.
This was a pretty impressive accomplishment by the president, but it was diminished in the public's eye by the fact that it came a bit late on the crisis' timeline, and by the fact that pretty much nobody in the media was happy with the speech Obama gave announcing it. Now, personally, I thought it was a pretty good speech, but pundits on the left and right panned it almost universally (although for different reasons, of course). With so much negative reaction to the speech, it's no wonder that it didn't do the president much good in the polls.
Of course, nothing is going to do the president (or BP, for that matter) much good with the public until the damn hole is plugged. Which BP says won't happen until August, but I've always been suspicious that this date was intentionally pushed out about a month, so that when they do complete the relief well, they can pat themselves on the back for doing it "ahead of schedule." What this means is that if the well is capped some time in July, Obama may benefit from a slight bump upwards in the polls. If it doesn't happen until August, then Obama will likely continue his slide next month.
Getting a financial reform bill out of the Senate and on Obama's desk to sign may also help him in July, I should add. But the public at large doesn't seem too preoccupied with this bill (as opposed to, say, the healthcare reform effort), so I can't really say whether signing such a bill will do much for Obama in the polling. It will be portrayed as a political victory, but it may help Democrats in November more than it helps Obama this month. We'll see.
Getting to the numbers, in June Obama's monthly approval rating fell one half of one point, losing the three-tenths-point gain he made last month. For the month, Obama clocked in at a monthly average of 47.6 percent, down from 48.1 percent in May. Every monthly approval number for Obama since the end of January has fallen within this May-June range, it's worth pointing out. Obama's monthly disapproval rating also swung back from the gains he made last month. For June, Obama's disapproval was up 1.2 percentage points, to 46.7 percent. This reversed the one-point gain he made in May. Once again, from the end of January until now, Obama's monthly disapproval numbers have all fallen within this range, showing remarkable stability over a five-month period.
The bad news, of course, is that Obama charted three out of four all-time highs or lows this month. Obama had his worst month ever for monthly approval, monthly disapproval, and daily disapproval; but he managed to stay at least a half a percent above his worst daily approval number, set two months ago.
Obama's daily approval numbers hovered pretty close to where he ended May for most of June. The problem with this was that he had ended May on a bit of a down note for the month. June actually resembled May in this regard, as Obama's daily approval hit a high of 48.4 percent two-thirds of the way through the month, but then ended the month on a low of 46.6 percent. About the only good thing you can say about this is that it was higher than his all-time low of 46.1 percent, set back in April.
Obama's daily disapproval numbers began the month at a fairly low point, and stayed there throughout the first half of the month (repeatedly hitting a low of 45.9 percent), but then rose sharply mid-month to hit an all-time high of 48.0 percent. This also meant -- for the third time in four months -- that for a short period of a few days, Obama's daily disapproval numbers were higher than his daily approval numbers. Even looking at the monthly graph above, you can easily see how close Obama is getting to slipping into a net negative when approval and disapproval numbers are compared side-by-side. The good news for Obama on the daily disapproval numbers, though, was that after reaching a peak mid-month, they have fallen back to pretty much where they started the month, at 46.5 percent.
Looking forward (I first have to admit that I can cheat a bit since it's already the seventh of the month...), Obama is on a slight downward trend for his approval numbers, but his disapproval numbers are actually staying somewhat stable. This is interesting, because it shows a higher "undecided" number than in the past few months. Meaning that some folks may be momentarily disaffected with the way Obama's doing his job, but also could return to the fold if there is some good news in July (on the oil cleanup, perhaps). It's always easier to get back people who have just moved to the undecided column than it is to get back people from the disapproval column, in other words.
July, once Congress gets back from yet another of their weeks off, could actually score the president some legislative victories. Wall Street reform has emerged from the House/Senate conference committee, and has already made it through the House. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy may be officially disavowed by Congress as well this month. Elena Kagan will likely win her confirmation vote.
The biggest good news, though, will be from the Gulf, if it comes in July. At this point, nothing would help America feel a little bit better about Obama than stopping the volcano of oil spewing out of BP's well. But even if this happens this month, it may happen at the very end -- meaning, in our monthly averages, any poll bounce won't show up much until August. In other words, look for another bad month for Obama in July. Sorry to be pessimistic, but that's how I see things at this point.
Obama v. Truman
Once again, my apologies here, because the charts just aren't ready for our next step on our path of looking backwards at previous presidents' approval ratings in comparison to Barack Obama's. The charts for Truman were harder to put together, because the data are so spotty. Up until now, I've been able to sort of massage the numbers a little in order to come up with an accurate chart which shows a clear line of presidential approval ratings, even if there have been a few gaps in the record. But with Truman, so many months of data are missing that the chart is mostly one of dots, instead of lines, making it very difficult to read.
I am working on the problem, but it will require a lot of fiddling with the program I use to create the charts, to make Harry S Truman's poll data meaningful. So, while I may get them up at some point during the month, we'll have to wait until next month to talk about them.
We're almost done, I should mention, with this entire exercise, since modern polling pretty much began under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's time in office. But Truman, and F.D.R., will have to wait for another month -- sorry about that.
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
Obama's All-Time Statistics
Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 6/10 -- 47.6%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 6/10 -- 46.7%
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 -- 6/18/10 -- 48.0%
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)
06/10 -- 47.6 / 46.7 / 5.7
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
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-- Chris Weigant