Dog days of August
Augusts, to be frank, are not President Obama's friend. The past month was no different, at least as measured by public opinion polling. Obama was on a downswing heading into the month, and his numbers reflect this in a stark way. In other words, it was a bad month for Obama.
As I pointed out last month, "Augusts, to put it mildly, haven't been very kind to Obama. He's got some sort of Augustine Jinx happening, or something. Two years ago, August was 'Reverend Wright' month for Obama on the campaign trail. Last year, August was 'death panel' month at the town hall meetings from Hell."
By that measure, at least, this past August wasn't actually all that bad. Given the choice of reliving the past month versus August 2009 or 2008, I'd be willing to bet Obama would choose this year's dog days in a heartbeat.
But, while Obama's poll numbers last month were pretty bad, there was some good news at the end. In keeping with this, we're going to present the bad news here first, and save the silver lining for the end of today's article.
With that warning in place, let's look at Obama's new chart:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Once again, Obama posted "worst" numbers in all categories this month. Even worse, the slope of the lines steepened. But we'll get to the actual numbers in a bit.
August began with two contentious issues, one of which President Obama mostly ignored, and one he did not. The Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision which overturned Proposition 8 in California is just the first step on a legal road which will likely end at the Supreme Court on the subject of gay marriage, so it has national significance. But Obama's never been in favor of gay marriage, so he kept quiet on this, for the most part. He did, however, interject himself into the fray of the Two And A Half Blocks From Ground Zero "Mosque" debate, in a big way. Obama tried to explain the next morning that the media had totally gotten his remarks wrong, but the media was having so much fun with the storyline to stop at that point.
Having annoyed many, Obama's chief spokesman Robert Gibbs made sure "the professional left" wasn't left out, as he gave the Democratic base one more slap in the face, just in case they had nodded off in the August heat or something.
In the good news department for Democrats, the Tea Party continues their insurrection over in RepublicanLand. A few prominent Tea Party candidates advanced in primaries, and a few missed the boat. The oil continued not to spew into the Gulf of Mexico, which went a long way towards fading the issue in the public's mind (at least, that portion of the public who doesn't live near the Gulf Coast). And the best news of all started about mid-month, when the media (led by NBC, for the most part) decided to actually cover the story "Almost 100,000 American soldiers have left Iraq, right on schedule." This led to a rise in the president's numbers towards the end of the month, but more on that bright spot in the news a little bit later.
In raw numeric terms, Obama's polling data looked pretty dismal. He dropped 1.3 points in approval rating, to slide to 45.3 percent. His disapproval rate rose even more dramatically, by 2.1 percent, to end up at 49.5 percent (scraping the ceiling of the halfway mark). This increased the rate of fall for Obama, as his numbers last month lost about the same as the previous two months combined. It also opened up the "underwater" gap, as Obama wound up 4.2 percent in negative territory, a large jump from last month's 0.8 percent.
But here's where things start to turn around a bit. While in August, Obama hit record lows in all categories, he seems to have turned things around just after mid-month. But before we get there, let's finish up with the bad news. As noted, Obama hit both "worst all-time" monthly approval and disapproval, at 45.3 percent and 49.5 percent respectively. He also hit new "worst daily" numbers as well, hitting a low of 44.3 percent approval on the eleventh of the month, and a high of 50.8 percent disapproval on the sixteenth and seventeenth of the month. Both of these numbers changed exactly one point from the previous all-time numbers, which Obama hit last month.
But the downward trend for Obama may have bottomed out at this point. Right after Obama gave his freedom of religion speech, and right after NBC started broadcasting live shots of the last Stryker combat brigade leaving Iraq, Obama's numbers began to improve. Now, it's impossible to say why, leaving us with mere guesses as to the reason for the improvement. My own personal feeling is that the Iraq withdrawal news led the movement back towards approval for Obama, but I can't say I have any data to back that up with, so you should feel free to draw your own conclusions. But the trendline is up -- way up -- since the middle of last month. If the trend is real (and if I'm right about the Iraq news driving the trend), it should continue to improve for at least another week or so on the tails of Obama's Oval Office Iraq speech last night.
September, though, is going to be the Main Event for campaign season, so there are going to be all sorts of things happening during the month which will likely influence polling. But, as things stand, September could be a relatively good month for Obama.
The Silver Lining
OK, here's where we lose all connection to verifiable reality, and just indulge in sheer speculation for the fun of it. The graphs have been grim for the past few months, so I thought I'd give Obama fans something to look forward to. But be warned -- this is all smoke and mirrors from this point onwards (just so we're straight on that).
I mentioned that the improvement in Obama's numbers is striking. Check out the daily tracking graph over at RealClearPolitics.com to see this charted. Just for fun, I created the following chart, which compares today's poll average with the real data:
[Click on graphs to see larger-scale versions.]
Again, for this to turn out to be true, Obama would have to perfectly average for the entire month of September exactly the same as the numbers he posted today -- which almost never happens. Still, today's average is 46.6 approval and 47.6 disapproval, and heading for crossing back over to more people approving than disapproving of the job Obama's doing. Which puts him almost exactly where he was in July -- gaining back August's losses, in other words.
Of course, a two-week blip does not a trend make. Obama could easily post some lower numbers next week, which would mean this period may end up as a spike which reverses itself. Or Obama could plateau out and have his numbers stay where they are (as in the above chart). Or -- I saved the best for last -- the trend could continue, and Obama could start regularly posting approval numbers above 50 percent once again, and August could be his "bottom out" point.
That's being pretty optimistic, though. So far, Obama's general cycle is to have a downward fall of polling numbers, then have a month or two of mini-correction that plateaus out, to be followed by another downward fall. He's gone through this cycle four or five times now, depending on how you count. This could wind up being another cycle in this progression.
But maybe, just maybe, Obama hit a floor at about 45 percent approval, and he'll set a new cycle -- one where his numbers steadily and noticeably improve for a while. Again, this section and its conclusions should be taken with a rather large grain of salt. One way or another, we'll know more next month. Until then....
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
Obama's All-Time Statistics
Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 8/10 -- 45.3%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 8/10 -- 49.5%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 8/16/10 -- 44.3%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 8/16/10 -- 50.8%
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)
08/10 -- 45.3 / 49.5 / 5.2
07/10 -- 46.6 / 47.4 / 6.0
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