Obama consolidates his gains
In January, President Obama had the biggest improvement in his public approval rating of his entire presidency. In February, Obama consolidated and built on his January "bump," by posting his second-most-improved month ever. This turnaround has set the clock back for Obama over a full year (in terms of his overall polling numbers), to roughly where he was in December, 2009. All in all, not a bad month for the president.
But that does come with a caveat -- Obama started the month strong, but then leveled off for the rest of February. His bump may well have "crested" this month, but even if this proves to be true, Obama looks most likely to plateau at the higher rate rather than falling back. In other words, he has successfully consolidated the gains in his approval rate over the past two months or so, rather than watching them bounce right back down.
Let's get right to this month's chart, so you can see what I'm talking about:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Obama entered February still riding the wave of public goodwill from his State Of The Union speech. This was further aided by an unexpectedly-large drop in the unemployment numbers announced at the beginning of the month. In two months, the official unemployment rate has plunged from 9.8 percent to 9.0 percent -- the biggest drop seen in decades. The media downplayed this, but it likely had a lot to do with Obama consolidating gains rather than seeing them melt away.
A few big stories dominated the news this month, beginning with the falling dominoes in the Middle East and North Africa. President Obama has had to walk several tightropes during this period, but so far seems to have kept public opinion on his side during the series of crises.
The biggest domestic political story was the upcoming budget battles in Congress. While the media has been feeding public anxiety by drooling over the prospects for a government shutdown, so far this seems to have been averted (much to the media's dismay, it should be noted). Speaker John Boehner is having problems dealing with the Tea Party Republican faction within his caucus, and these rifts will likely only get worse -- and more public -- as the budget battles move forward. Obama, for the most part, has kept his head down in the opening skirmishes in this fight.
The other big domestic political news was the standoff in Madison, Wisconsin. President Obama horrified Republicans by actually standing up for a core tenet of the Democratic Party -- Unions -- but the public didn't seem to mind, since public support for the Labor position is quite strong. The Wisconsin situation has certainly fired up the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen what the outcome will be, so this could ultimately lead to demoralization (it could also just as easily lead to reinvigoration).
Throughout all of this, Obama's approval rating stayed fairly steady. There were less polls put in the field in February than in a normal month, which may have had something to do with this (less outliers, in other words). Such steadiness in the polls for Obama has historically meant he enters into a plateau for a few months, but since this is the first time he's hit such a plateau while moving upwards instead of downwards, it is impossible to say whether this will prove true or not.
For the month of February, Obama wound up with an approval rate of 49.4 percent -- up almost a full point (0.9) from last month's impressive gain. Obama's disapproval rate sank even faster, down to 44.5 percent, falling 1.2 percent for the month. By both measures, February was the second-best month (in terms of month-to-month change) that Obama has ever posted. Obama's "undecided" number was up slightly, from 5.8 percent in January to 6.1 percent last month.
In other words, in terms of shifts in public opinion, January and February were the best two months President Obama has yet had during his entire presidency.
Obama's trendlines have flattened out, though, meaning next month's numbers are likely not going to continue Obama's upward trend of the past two months -- or, at least, not as significantly (if he does manage to post a slight gain). And he may well even fall back slightly, although no matter which way the slope of next month's line points, I'm guessing it'll probably be pretty flat either way.
In February, Obama started off with the best day he'd have in the entire month, with a daily average of 50.7 percent approval, and 43.0 percent disapproval. He wouldn't come close to hitting these numbers for the rest of the month, however. After dropping a full point in the first week, the numbers settled down considerably and wavered back and forth before hitting the month's low on the same day, late in the month -- 48.5 percent approval versus 45.7 disapproval. Which is still pretty modest, in terms of total fluctuation in daily numbers over the course of a month (unlike last month's rapid climb of over five percent). The good news for Obama is that during the final week of February, his numbers started creeping back in a positive direction, ending the month at 49.3 percent approval and 44.3 percent disapproval. This likely portends a leveling off for next month.
But because Obama started the month so high, he managed to make significant improvements in both his monthly approval and his monthly disapproval number over the course of February. In January, Obama managed a whopping 3.0 percent gain in approval, which he followed up in February with a 0.9 percent gain. Previously, his largest gain in a single month was 0.4 percent, for comparison.
In terms of disapproval, Obama also made significant improvement, as the line dipped even further. In January, Obama's disapproval fell an all-time-best 2.4 points, which he followed up in February with a 1.2 percent drop. Once again, this is the second-largest change in disapproval Obama's ever posted, capping a remarkable string of good months for the president.
Since the end of October of last year, Obama has improved his approval rating by 3.9 points. Since the end of September last year, he's improved his disapproval rate even more dramatically -- by a total of 5.2 percentage points. Because of this, Obama hasn't set any all-time highs or lows in either monthly numbers or daily numbers since the middle of last October. Whether this trend ends next month or not, that's a pretty good run, I have to admit.
Let's look at where this puts Obama a little more closely. The following is a chart I made which shows what I call the "post-honeymoon" period for the president. Obama entered office (as presidents often do) with sky-high approval ratings. These (as they almost always do) fell as his "honeymoon" period with the public came smashing up against the Town Hall Summer. But since this period, his poll numbers have settled into a slow swing of less than ten percentage points, for each line. This chart merely expands these swings so they are more easily visible:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
The first five months of this period, Obama's approval numbers sank from the 51-53 point range to below 50 percent for the first time. This was followed by a slower slide, down to the 45-46 percent range -- scraping the boundaries of truly dangerous polling territory for any politician: below 45 percent. But, as you can see, in the past two months, Obama has regained all the territory he lost since December of 2009. His February approval rating matches his December, 2009 number exactly -- 49.4 in both cases. His disapproval number in February was actually 0.4 percent lower than in December, 2009. In both cases, an almost-perfect match.
While this is impressive indeed, Obama is going to have to do even better. We're now roughly halfway through his term, and his re-election chances would be a lot better if he managed to get his approval comfortably up in the low 50s once again. While he seemingly has a "floor" of about 45 percent, Obama will need not merely to plateau where he currently is, but to move up and break the 50 percent barrier once again.
March is going to be a month of budget battles, and while Obama has so far managed to stay largely aloof from the fracas, he's going to have to get his feet wet in the next few weeks. The next two of these battles -- finishing the 2011 budget and raising the federal debt ceiling -- are going to be "man the barricades" times for the Tea Party Republicans in the House. How Obama manages this situation is going to have a lot to do with how his numbers look one month from now. The unemployment rate could be a key factor, as well. If unemployment falls below 9.0 percent, that's going to help Obama out considerably, because the news media is going to have to pay attention. Conversely, if it stagnates or even goes back up a bit, it's likely going to hurt Obama's standing.
Which means what happens next month is anyone's guess, really. I'm going to throw a dart at the wall and say that Obama's lines plateau out, posting either small losses, no change, or small gains. I think his "bump" is ending for now, but I also think there's a good chance he'll be able to continue holding his ground next month.
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
Sources And Methodology
ObamaPollWatch.com is an admittedly amateur effort, but we do try to stay professional when it comes to revealing our sources and methodology. All our source data comes from RealClearPolitics.com; specifically from their daily presidential approval ratings "poll of polls" graphic page. We take their daily numbers, log them, and then average each month's data into a single number -- which is then shown on our monthly charts here (a "poll of polls of polls," if you will...). You can read a much more detailed explanation of our source data and methodology on our "About Obama Poll Watch" page, if you're interested.
Questions or comments? Use the Email Chris page to drop me a private note.
[Jan 11], [Dec 10], [Nov 10], [Oct 10], [Sep 10], [Aug 10], [Jul 10], [Jun 10], [May 10], [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 -- 8/10 -- 45.3%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 9/10 -- 49.7%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 10/17/10 -- 44.2%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 9/26/10 -- 51.2%
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)
02/11 -- 49.4 / 44.5 / 6.1
01/11 -- 48.5 / 45.7 / 5.8
12/10 -- 45.5 / 48.1 / 6.4
11/10 -- 45.5 / 49.0 / 5.5
10/10 -- 45.5 / 49.1 / 5.4
09/10 -- 45.7 / 49.7 / 4.6
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
Cross-posted at Business Insider
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-- Chris Weigant