Some surprising good news
Welcome back to our monthly look at how President Obama's doing in the job approval polling. It is election day today, but it's a fairly minor one, and I already did a write-up on the three major races yesterday, so check it out if you're sitting around waiting for returns to come in.
While Obama hit an all-time low in one recent poll which made a few headlines this week, he's actually not had that bad a month, relatively. In fact, his monthly average job approval number rose for only the second time in his second term. Obama had good news and bad news battling it out this month, and his polling reflected this tension. But the news for Obama in October was a lot better than you might think.
First, let's take a look at the chart with October's numbers added in.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
October 2013 had two major political storylines happen. The first: Obama stands strong, House Republicans blink on government shutdown. The second: the Obamacare website rollout was a disaster. If Dan Rather were to choose one of his "jes' folks" sayings to describe the Obamacare website's first month, he might select "screwed the pooch," in fact.
But while that's what's prominent in the news now, what dominated the first half of the month was the idiocy of the Republicans shutting down the federal government and threatening a default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America because they can't seem to figure out that a majority of one house of the legislative branch doesn't equate to "we get everything we want, all the time." Obama, much to the shocked surprise of some doom-and-gloom lefties, actually stood firm throughout the crisis. He didn't cave. He didn't give in. He waited until the Republicans figured out how much damage they were doing not just to the entire country but also to their own party's brand. And during this period, his approval ratings went up. His daily average hit numbers Obama hadn't seen since the beginning of August. This rise would have been more noticeable if it weren't for one outlier poll which put him at 37 percent approval, while most other polls had Obama in the high 40s (at the least) and some were placing his approval in the low 50s.
But then the shutdown ended, and since that point it has been all "Obamacare stinks" headlines for the remainder of the month. His good poll numbers sank back down, and he ended the month on a low, trending downward. So there was a lot of action in the polling in October, which our monthly number won't accurately reflect.
For October, Barack Obama's monthly job approval average was 44.2 percent, which is up 0.3 percent from the previous month. This is notable, since Obama's only had one other month in all of 2013 where he moved in a positive direction (a 0.1 percent gain in April). Obama's job disapproval remained unchanged at 50.8 percent, the first time this year he hasn't lost ground.
Also for the first time in quite a while, Obama did not set new second-term record highs and lows in the monthly numbers. His daily averages, however, still did set a new record for low approval and high disapproval. And that disapproval high was set right at the end of the month. So, all in all, a mixed month for the president.
The immediate trend for Obama is looking bad. He enters November on a low, and he could quite possibly be headed lower. Not only is the Obamacare website a joke, it is the leading joke on all the late-night comedy shows. That, PR-wise, is a very bad place to be in.
November will be "fix the Obamacare site" month. Which all but guarantees that any good news about the website isn't going to be announced until the very end of the month. An interesting thing to note is that the weekend after Thanksgiving would be a really convenient time for the website to start working, because millions of Americans will have the time and inclination to sign up then. So we'll see how it goes.
But Obama's got at least two or three more weeks of "This just in: website still sucks" headlines to get through before then. What that could mean for his polling is pretty obvious -- a downturn which might indeed hit the lowest monthly polling number Obama's ever received (43.4 approval, 51.2 disapproval, in October of 2011). It's going to be a rough month, in other words. If the website finally starts reliably working, then Obama's got a good shot at improving in December, but not before he gets through the rest of this month first.
However, having said all of that, I have to say that those who are predicting absolute disaster for the president's future job approval numbers are getting a little overwrought. I even heard one story circulate this week that Obama "could match Nixon's numbers" in job approval.
This is pretty outlandish, when you check the actual historical record. Let's take a look at the Obama-v-Nixon chart:
Nixon, at this point in his term, had entered a death spiral in job approval polling from which he would never recover. His job approval for October of his second term was a dismal 28.5 percent. This was a fall from January of that month (59.0 percent) of epic proportions. Obama is in nowhere near as bad shape. From this January, Obama has fallen less than 9 points, whereas Nixon's numbers crashed by over 30 points. So "Obama is the new Nixon" is just not going to fly, at this point. I'd be willing to bet that Obama's numbers are not going to match Nixon's at any point, in fact.
Of course, there's another matchup to consider, one that we've included here on and off for the past two years or so. And that is Obama versus his predecessor, George W. Bush. Let's take a look at the chart to see how this one's playing out:
While Obama currently looks better than Bush, the jury could reasonably (unlike with Nixon) be considered to still be out on whether Obama's second term will wind up looking like Bush's. Right now, Obama's doing better, but if the Republican predictions of Obamacare being a complete disaster from beginning to end come true, then it is conceivable it would become an albatross around Obama's job approval numbers for the rest of his term.
I don't think that's going to happen, but it is at least within the bounds of possible outcomes (again, unlike Nixon). There are two reasons I feel pretty comfortable thinking that Obama's going to have a much better second term than Bush, though. The first is that Obama seems to have a floor of around 40-42 percent that will approve of how he's doing his job absent any disastrous news (such as, say, the Hurricane Katrina fiasco). OK, this could change -- Bush, after all, had never slipped below 40 percent before he went into his own death spiral in the polling. But I think Obama's got a more committed base, personally.
The second reason I think Obama will do much better than Bush for the next three years is that I think Obamacare is just not going to turn into the apocalypse Republicans are so sure it will become. If the Obama folks can get the website running well by the end of the month -- and if it can survive the enormous spike in traffic it's going to get in early December -- then the website story will fade and people will start paying more attention to the actual realities of Obamacare. Stories of people "getting kicked off their insurance" will then be easy to counter with stories of how the same people can now shop around and get a much better deal.
Comparing Obama and Bush right now (and predicting the future) hinges on that basic question: do you think Obamacare will be fixed and work out OK, or do you think it'll be a train wreck that just gets worse and worse. I am in the former camp. But if those on the latter are right, it is conceivable that Obama's numbers could follow Bush's down. I don't think it's going to happen (to put it another way), but it could. But for this month, at least, Obama's beating Bush handily. Bush's numbers for October of 2005 were 40.5 percent approval (which sunk to 38.0 percent the following month) and 55.3 percent disapproval.
[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.
Obama's Second Term Statistical Records
Highest Monthly Approval -- 1/13 -- 52.7%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 9/13 -- 43.9%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 9/13, 10/13 -- 50.8%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/13 -- 42.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 1/31/13 -- 52.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 10/15/13 -- 43.3%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 10/29,31/13 -- 51.6%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 2/24/13 -- 42.3%
Obama's Second Term Raw Monthly Data
[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]
Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)
10/13 -- 44.2 / 50.8 / 5.0
09/13 -- 43.9 / 50.8 / 5.3
08/13 -- 44.4 / 50.2 / 5.4
07/13 -- 45.3 / 49.2 / 5.5
06/13 -- 46.5 / 48.5 / 5.0
05/13 -- 48.3 / 46.9 / 4.8
04/13 -- 48.6 / 46.8 / 4.6
03/13 -- 48.5 / 46.3 / 5.2
02/13 -- 51.1 / 43.0 / 5.9
01/13 -- 52.7 / 42.6 / 4.7
Second Term Column Archives
First Term Data
To save space, the only data and statistics listed above are from Obama's second term. If you'd like to see the data and stats from Obama's first term, including a list of links to the full archives of the Obama Poll Watch column for the first term, we've set up an Obama Poll Watch First Term Data page, for those still interested.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant