[Program Note: Last month, we ran this column four days before the end of May, due to travel plans. We promised we'd update the preliminary numbers if they had changed at all due to the last four days' worth of data. As it turned out, we got lucky, and none of the numbers needed adjustment. The final numbers in May were the same as we reported in our preliminary column -- Obama charted a 51.4 percent approval rate, and a 43.1 percent disapproval rate, which left 5.5 percent undecided.]
Bin Laden Bounce Disappears
As many were predicting, President Obama's bounce in approval polls due to the death of Osama Bin Laden did not last very long. While Obama started the month still strongly riding the wave of public approval from the Bin Laden raid, this had mostly dissipated by the second week in June, and Obama's poll numbers flattened out after that. The plateau he hit at this point is slightly higher than he had before the "OBL bump," but that's about the only consolation for Obama fans in the June numbers.
All told, Obama's numbers took a bigger dive in June than he has had to endure for almost two years (since August, 2009). But, when looking back at the data through the lens of history, the past two months will be seen as a polling anomaly, where Obama's numbers shot up, then settled back down, all due to one single event.
Let's take a look at the updated chart:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
June began with a dismal unemployment report, which showed the unemployment rate creeping back up again, to 9.1 percent. But all throughout the month, gas prices continued to recede from their earlier highs, which had a counteractive effect on public opinion about the economy -- especially after Obama announced he was going to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help fight speculators driving the price up on the oil markets. Obama made news in the middle of the month by announcing his withdrawal schedule to get American troops (or at least his second "surge") out of Afghanistan. The news was greeted with dismay by people on both sides of the issue. The hawks denounced the schedule as moving too fast, the doves as moving too slowly. The American public largely agreed with the doves. Such is the nature of compromise. The fight in Libya dragged on another month without much change in the situation on the ground, although Obama's move to calm the oil markets seems to have worked -- the Libyan situation no longer seems to be driving wild price spikes. But the longer Ghaddafi stays alive, the longer he'll be a thorn not just in the world's side, but also in Barack Obama's. At the end of the month, Obama gave a press conference which the media immediately labeled "feisty" since Obama seems to be discovering some backbone in the ongoing fight with Congress over raising the debt ceiling (which appears will dominate the political scene throughout July).
Obama ended June with an average approval rating of 48.5 percent, and a disapproval rating of 46.0 percent. Both of these numbers changed (for the worse, for Obama) by the same amount -- 2.9 percent. This is the highest month-to-month drop for Obama since July/August of 2009. However, as mentioned, the past two months will likely be seen as a standalone bounce when looking back, so this isn't as alarming as it sounds. Obama gained some short-term appeal after the Osama Bin Laden news, and then most of it slipped away again as the memory faded.
Obama could retain some of this bounce in July, but the current month will be dominated by the debt ceiling debate, so barring unforeseen events it appears this will be the driving factor behind how Obama does next month.
Some of the overall trends are worse then they appear, and some are better than they appear. Obama started June with his numbers at a peak -- the highest numbers he would reach all month. On June second, Obama hit 52.0 percent in the daily average approval rating, and his disapproval sank to the lowest number it would hit all month -- 43.3 percent. That's a net 8.7 percent difference between approval and disapproval, one of the largest Obama's seen in the past year and a half. However, by the tenth of the month, Obama's OBL bounce had completely dissipated, and he only charted a 47.5 percent approval, to a 46.8 percent disapproval -- a difference of less than a point (0.7 percent). His approval rating, however, steadied at this point, and for the rest of the month stayed in the range of 47.2 to 48.1 percent -- which is not much fluctuation at all. His disapproval rate also stayed fairly stable, although it fluctuated by slightly more.
Although likely a statistical anomaly, Obama did score a single day (June 23) where his polling numbers were "underwater" -- at 47.3 percent approval to 47.5 percent disapproval. This was likely due to an outlier poll charting higher than normal disapproval, as the very next day it was back to 47.7/47.0 in Obama's favor. By month's end, Obama had plateau-ed out at 47.2 percent approval, and 46.5 percent disapproval.
This means, however, that next month Obama's numbers will start approximately one point below the June monthly average on approval that he just charted, and a half a point above his June monthly average for disapproval.
Looking at the past year of polling in more detail shows these fractional point trends more clearly:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
As you can see, Obama ended June approximately where he was in January of this year. But he starts off July with his approval number approximately one point worse than the chart shows, and his disapproval around a half-point worse. To be sure, this is still better shape than Obama was in before the OBL bounce. If July held perfectly steady from the point it entered the month, then Obama would retain a small sliver of his bounce -- to the tune of about one point better on approval, and just under two points better on disapproval. To put it another way, the OBL bounce stopped a pretty steep slide for Obama, and his numbers have not gotten as bad as they were before the OBL bounce. But this is likely due to the price of gas receding, which was what was driving the previous bad trend for Obama.
While Obama enters July worse off than his June monthly average (due mostly to Obama enjoying a full week of the OBL bounce's tail end at the beginning of the month), his numbers have steadied down considerably. The day-to-day trend right now is pretty flat, in other words.
This may not hold true for the rest of this month, however. The political world in July is going to focus on the huge struggle over raising the debt ceiling, a face-off between Obama and the Republicans in Congress which must be resolved by the beginning of August. The next few weeks of this contest are going to be key in the way the public reads the whole battle. Obama has positioned himself as the reasonable adult in the room, willing to make concessions, but also requiring concessions on both sides. The Republicans have positioned themselves as Tea Party absolutists on anything they call a "tax," and show absolutely no signs of backing down. Meaning that whatever happens, the positioning is going to be key in the month of July. If Congress does actually push it past the deadline and economic catastrophe happens worldwide, it'll happen in August and not in July, so the more dire consequences of this political battle likely won't show up next month.
Obama, for now, has ended his slide in the polls. But he's not making any progress upwards, either. Obama signaled in his press conference that he's ready to draw some lines in the sand with Republicans, but the Republicans haven't just drawn a line in that sand, they've dug a moat. It's going to be a month of posturing on both sides, and it remains to be seen who will come out of it in better favor with the public at large. If Obama is seen as the better negotiator, he might actually improve his numbers. But if he is seen as weaker than the Republicans, then his poll numbers could just as easily slip back underwater again.
[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.
[May 11], [Apr 11], [Mar 11], [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)
06/11 -- 48.5 / 46.0 / 5.5
05/11 -- 51.4 / 43.1 / 5.5
04/11 -- 46.4 / 48.2 / 5.4
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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