Obama slips back
President Obama's poll numbers slipped back a bit in March, bringing an end to his recent "bump." This was Obama's first bad month in a while, ending the positive trends Obama had set for the past two months in approval rating, and for the past five months in disapproval rating. In March, Obama lost all the ground he had gained in February, but still finished the month up from where he started the year. In a statistical twist, Obama's approval and disapproval numbers for March, 2011 exactly matched his numbers for March, 2010.
Obama's actual peak in his daily numbers came around the beginning of February. Since then, he hit a plateau until the beginning of March, and then sank, rose, and sank again. Last month was a busy one, and this month proves to be just as eventful, but as Obama enters April, the trendlines have turned decidedly negative. This could lead to Obama losing all the ground he gained in his first-ever sustained chart bounce, which began around last December. Of course, because April will be eventful, Obama's numbers could also recover, depending on what happens in the next few weeks.
Let's take a look at Obama's monthly averages:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Obama began March weaker than he began February, but not by much. The month opened with the announcement that the unemployment rate had ticked downwards for the third straight month, to 8.9 percent. But this good economic news was quickly overshadowed by world events.
The situation in Libya deteriorated quickly, and many in Congress called upon Obama to immediately institute a no-fly zone over the country (the Senate even passed a resolution calling upon him to do so). Obama worked the international diplomacy circuit hard, and got a very strong resolution out of the United Nations, as well as approval from the Arab League and buy-in from the two European countries pushing the hardest for action (France and Britain). In the midst of all of this, Japan experienced the worst earthquake they've ever measured, complete with a tsunami that was filmed live from multiple angles. The world watched in horror, but even this monumental tragedy was soon overshadowed by one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history as reactors began blowing up in the wake of the tsunami (also, amazingly, filmed live).
But while catastrophic world events dominated the news for most of the month, Obama was being hit with a creeping domestic problem -- the price of gasoline spiking. Americans love cheap gas. We love it so much, in fact, that we routinely blame our politicians when we are denied cheap gas. This is one of those political facts which cuts across party lines, because we don't care who is in the White House at the time, we still blame the president when we start paying more at the pump. And this trend started before we began bombing Libya.
Obama actually got somewhat of a bump when he began our limited war on Libya, due most likely to the "rally 'round the president" effect which happens whenever America goes to war. But this was a tiny bump, seen historically with other recent wars we've entered. Perhaps this was due to the seemingly-casual way Obama handled explaining the war to the public (Obama did not cancel his trip to South and Central America, and waited over a full week after the war began to address the American public -- something which may be unprecedented in modern American history). Or perhaps it was due to the humanitarian nature of the mission, rather than selling the whole operation as "defending America," as is usually done. Either way, this war bump in the polls for Obama dissolved quickly, as it became apparent that the whole operation wasn't going to be over in days, and would drag on into weeks (if not months). The war also pretty much insures that the price of gas isn't going down until the situation is resolved one way or another, which could be continuing bad news for Obama in the polls.
Obama's job approval rating average had gained 3.9 percentage points in the past two months, but this month he fell back 1.3 points, to chart a monthly approval average of 48.1 percent. His disapproval rate had fallen 5.2 points since September of last year (3.6 percent in the last two months alone), but this month his disapproval rate rose almost two full points to finish at 46.4 points. Obama's "undecided" number fell a little more than half a point, to 5.5 percent. As I mentioned, this puts Obama exactly where he was in March of last year (more on this later).
The trendlines for Obama right now aren't entirely clear. He enters April on somewhat of a downswing, but the polls have been swinging pretty wide right now, with more "outlier" numbers being posted, making it tough to predict what's coming next. Two polls taken at the end of the month (posted on the same day) showed Obama at either 42 percent approval, or 53 percent. That's a pretty wide gap, as these things go, and it covers a lot of ground.
In March, Obama's daily approval numbers started on a downswing as well, hitting a monthly low within the first week, down to 47.2 percent (after ending February at 49.3 percent). This rose, then fell midmonth to actually hit a crossover, where his disapproval number (47.8) was higher than his approval (47.4). But this turned around after one day, and Obama's approval recovered almost immediately to a monthly high of 49.1 percent. By month's end, however, this fell back to 47.4 percent, on a downward trend. Obama's daily disapproval number fluctuated almost as much throughout the month, starting at a monthly low of 44.8 percent, rising to 47.8 percent on the one day Obama crossed over, then fell and rose again to end the month at 46.7 percent.
From one year ago until now, Obama has not budged. Well, that's not really true -- his approval and disapproval poll ratings have moved around, but both of them wound up exactly where they began. Here's a chart which details Obama's ratings back to February of 2010, which shows the past year under a magnifying glass:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
The fact that this chart is even necessary shows how stable Obama has been over this period -- his disapproval numbers have moved within a 5.2 percent range all year, and his approval numbers have stayed within an even-smaller 4.1 percent range. Compare this to other modern presidents (free site plug: at ObamaPollWatch.com), and you can easily see how unusual such stability is, historically.
Looking forward, Obama has a busy month ahead. How Libya progresses is going to either help or hurt Obama's standing, but what would really help him is if it all wraps up and gas prices recede -- which likely won't noticeably happen until the end of the summer driving season, even if Ghaddafi is ousted tomorrow. So this may help or hurt Obama in the long term, but not so much (unless gas prices continue to spike) in the short term. The Japanese nuclear situation may add a sort of background of anxiety (the public is paying more attention to Japan than Libya, if news surveys can be believed) all month long as well, as there appear to be no quick fixes to the situation in sight.
The consuming fight in Washington, however, is going to be over the budget. The budget has always been a three-round affair, and we haven't even finished "Round One" yet. This week is going to be the climax of the 2011 budget battle, and the media has been hyping the "government shutdown" story for all it is worth. But so far, this is setting up to be an intramural affair, as the Republican Party reaches its first true test of how strong the Tea Party Republican faction is. If the Tea Party Republicans in the House do manage to force a government shutdown, Obama's poll numbers will likely improve. But if a government shutdown is avoided, then we're off to "Round Two," where the budget for 2012 begins to get hashed out. Republicans have indicated that they're going to introduce (tomorrow) their budget blueprint, calling for cutting Medicare and Medicaid, which is a risky thing to propose (to say the least). How Obama handles this could also improve his standings in the polls.
In short, April is likely to be a tumultuous month in Washington. How closely the public is paying attention, and what happens, will determine next month's trend for Obama. At this point, his numbers are fluctuating so much it's almost impossible to predict. Obama may be glad after the month is over if he retains any of the bump he posted in January.
Obama versus Clinton
Finally, let's take a very brief look at Barack Obama versus Bill Clinton's first term:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
At this point in their respective presidencies, Obama and Clinton match almost exactly. Obama is slightly higher in both approval and disapproval, but what's interesting to me is how closely the disapproval lines have been tracking for the past six months or so. While approval lines are not as close, both Clinton's and Obama's disapproval has been following almost exactly the same path (even more noticeable in the past four months).
Clinton really turned his numbers around at this point, and beginning next month he started steadily gaining approval -- which eventually got him re-elected. I'm not saying Obama's going to follow such a rosy path by any means, but just thought it was an interesting chart to show, in a month with mostly bad news for Obama fans.
[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.
[Feb 11], [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)
03/11 -- 48.1 / 46.4 / 5.5
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
-- Chris Weigant
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