Obama Poll Watch -- January, 2014

[ Posted Monday, February 3rd, 2014 – 16:23 UTC ]

Obama has a good month

President Obama just had -- relatively -- the best month in job approval polling he's had for his entire second term. The reason for the qualifier in that previous sentence is that in absolute terms, Obama's poll numbers are still pretty bad, but when measured by month-to-month change, January was the best month Obama's had since the afterglow of his re-election. But then a picture is clearer than all these words, so let's take a look at the chart:

Obama Approval -- January 2014

[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]

January, 2014

As I accurately predicted last month, Obama was set to have a pretty good January -- and he did. He's also set to have a pretty good February, too, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In January, for the first time since he's been sworn in for his second term, President Obama saw both his monthly average job approval rise and his monthly average disapproval fall. His job approval number rose to 42.7 percent, up a significant 0.8 points from December. This is the second month in a row his approval rate has risen, from his all-time low of 41.4 in November (in the depths of the Obamacare website disaster). Obama's disapproval fell for the first time since last January, to 52.7 percent -- down a full 1.3 points from the previous month.

To be fair, in absolute terms, this still is pretty dismal territory for Obama's polling. If you don't count the previous two months, Obama's January numbers would be the worst of his entire presidency -- lower than where they were at before the Obamacare website problems (44.2 approval / 50.8 disapproval), and lower than his worst numbers in his first term (43.4 / 51.2 in October of 2011). So there is no denying that Obama's still got a long way to go to get back to the popularity he once enjoyed.

But at least now he's moving in the right direction. January started with a drop in the unemployment rate, and saw other good economic news all month long. The Obamacare signup numbers keep getting better and better, and the steam seems to have gone out of the Republican demonization efforts (at least, for now). A budget agreement was reached mid-month, and it was notable for the low level of histrionics which accompanied it in Congress. The big political scandal was about a Republican, for a change (Chris Christie). Then Obama ended the month with an adequate and workable State Of The Union address. All around, a pretty good month.


Overall Trends

The overall trendlines for Obama are pretty positive right now. For the first month since he started his second term, Obama did not hit a single "all-time" record -- no daily or monthly all-time highs or lows. While his numbers held remarkably steady for the first half of January, they moved more positively later in the month, which sets up February to also be a good month for Obama's polling.

In his daily job approval average in December and January, Obama stayed in the 42-percent range for 42 days out of a 43-day stretch (he fell to 41.9 for one day during the period, but all other approval numbers were between 42.0 and 42.8). This meant he held onto the gains he made in early December, and in the last week or so of January, Obama's daily average approval has climbed to over 43.0 percent. His daily average disapproval hit a high point early in January (53.8 percent) and then fell all month long, to hit a low of 51.5 percent on the last two days of the month. Which, as I said, sets Obama up in February already ahead of his January monthly average.

The most dramatic change in metric happened in Obama's overwater/underwater rating. This is the measure of the difference between approval and disapproval. After his initial "honeymoon" period wore off, Obama has always struggled to keep his job approval number above his disapproval level. The gap widened enormously during the Obamacare website crisis, where Obama was a whopping 12.5 percent underwater in November (41.4 to 53.9) -- the worst of his entire presidency. Obama improved this to only a 12.1 percent gap in December, but in January it fell all the way to 10.0 percent. In February, this will likely fall back into single digits, at the least.

February is looking fairly good for Obama, at this point. He may receive a slight bump from the State Of The Union, but this is likely to be negligible. But he still may well complete the journey of regaining all the ground he lost in the Obamacare website disaster period. If the economic news continues to be good (unemployment numbers come out this Friday), this will also help Obama. As for Republican opposition, we're going to have another showdown on the debt ceiling this month, but so far Republicans seem awfully disorganized (they can't agree on which hostage to attempt to take, which is probably a good sign) and Obama seems pretty firm on his "send me a clean bill" stance. Republicans are also teeing up a gigantic intraparty battle over immigration, which could get quite ugly indeed, and will do nothing to hurt the president (since it'll likely be a solely Republican-on-Republican cage match). So I would predict Obama's positive trendlines will continue in February and match what he just posted in January.

OK, that's it for the monthly wrap-up. But I did want to take a little time here at the end to make a wild prediction, just for fun. For approximately the past two years, I've been pointing out the similarity between Obama's poll numbers and George W. Bush's. Both men got re-elected during this period, but both had a hard time of it, too. You can see what I mean in this zoomed-in comparison chart (the vertical line is when the election happened):

Obama v. Bush detail

In December of their fifth years in office, Bush and Obama were only 0.2 percent apart in the polls (Obama 41.9 / 54.0, Bush 41.9 / 54.2). That is amazingly close. But this month, Obama began pulling away from Bush, and it's my guess that this is only going to continue. I think Obama's hit bottom (for the moment) while Bush was about to experience free-fall. This can be seen a lot clearer when you examine the entire picture:

Obama v. Bush

Bush was enjoying a momentary blip upwards on a severely downward slope. Bush would only enjoy one more last gasp above 40 percent for the rest of his term. Obama, by comparison, seems poised to move upwards again (or, at the very least, stay above 40 percent). Meaning that this is the last month the two men's numbers may be anywhere near each other.

Which begs the question, of course: which other president will Obama come closest to for the remainder of his term?

Well, that's a tough one because there just aren't all that many comparisons to make. Modern opinion polling goes back to F.D.R.'s time in office, but the data gets less and less complete the further you go back. And there have only been five post-F.D.R. presidents who have served a full two terms in office, one of which (Truman) doesn't even have solid-enough monthly data for a fair comparison.

But only one of these shows anything like what Obama's been managing for his presidency. Obama is quite likely going to have his final three years in office with a lot less public support than Eisenhower and Clinton, both of which regularly topped 60 percent approval (and even 70 percent, at times) in their second terms. And Obama is, as mentioned, likely going to be a lot better than Bush and (to add in a partial-second-term president) Nixon, both of whom sank below 30 percent approval in their second terms.

This leaves only one man. Here is the comparison chart for Obama and Ronald Reagan:

Obama v. Reagan

Now, to buy into this theory -- which I fully admit is going way out on a limb -- you have to believe that Obama has essentially already weathered the worst of his "second-term curse" scandals. Ronald Reagan's gigantic drop in approval came when he was forced to admit that he lied about that whole Iran/Contra thing, after all. This did enormous damage to his public reputation, and it hurt him throughout his final two years in office. Barack Obama survived a lot of smaller scandals throughout 2013. This doesn't mean they'll be the last scandals to hit the Obama administration, as any others which pop up may do his approval severe damage in the future, of course.

But if they don't -- if Obama remains relatively scandal-free from now on -- it's pretty easy to see that the final two years of his term could indeed come very close to Ronald Reagan's numbers. While all presidents get a boost at the very end of their terms (that spike up at the right-hand edge of the chart), Reagan spent a long time in the high-40s in his final years in office.

Which is right where Obama has spent a lot of time, you'll notice. If Obama continues to poll around the same range, his last two years in office could match up a lot closer to the Gipper's than any other modern president.

We'll all just have to wait and see, won't we? But if it comes to pass, remember you heard it here first.


[Obama Poll Watch Data:]

Sources And Methodology 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; 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 -- 11/13 -- 41.4%

Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 12/13 -- 54.0%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/13 -- 42.6%

Highest Daily Approval -- 1/31/13 -- 52.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 12/2/13 -- 39.8%

Highest Daily Disapproval -- 12/2/13 -- 55.9%
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)
01/14 -- 42.7 / 52.7 / 4.6
12/13 -- 41.9 / 54.0 / 4.1
11/13 -- 41.4 / 53.9 / 4.7
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

[Dec 13], [Nov 13], [Oct 13], Sep 13], [Aug 13], [Jul 13], [Jun 13], [May 13], [Apr 13], [Mar 13], [Feb 13], [Jan 13]


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


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


26 Comments on “Obama Poll Watch -- January, 2014”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    Chris: In the near-term I think Keystone is going to be really significant. (I'm hearing different estimates about when that decision will finally be made.) There's a lot of protest activity happening and this one is going to land on Obama.

    Rejecting Keystone, I think, will create a lot of energy towards midterms on the part of environmentalist/progressives. Accepting it won't necessarily derail that, but, I know I will react very strongly and feel pretty negative about the President if he makes that choice. It will totally destroy any desire from me to "hear" from the President about why I need to go out and vote for other Dems and all that. Every email I would get from OFA or other lists I'm on with his name on it, or "Help the President do A.B.C." messages will be rendered entirely ineffective for me.

    I think the wrong decision on Keystone will damage his numbers and they won't ever recapture the progressive block. The right choice will cause a surge of enthusiasm for him by a lot of us and will make no difference to the pubs who would still hate him even if he approves it. I really hope he doesn't blow this one.

  2. [2] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:


    Keystone isn't an issue for really because I see that the president is caught in a Catch-22 there. That oil is already being pumped out the ground, as we speak even, the only option he has is how is it going to be transported to the refineries. We (he) have two options, one the oil gets transported by rail, and as we've seen in the past few months, train accidents are a distinct possibility. The other option is to approve the pipeline, and that carries the risk of leaks up and down the line. Either way, the oil is coming out the ground, the environmental damage is going to happen, all we get is two bad options that will probably fail at some point causing even more damage. Hooray!

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Paula -

    I've heard it'll happen in early summer (June?). It's a long process.

    I've also just heard that Keystone may be the hostage the GOP decides to take on the debt ceiling fight. So that'll probably delay things for at least 2-3 months, if it happens.

    I've always thought Obama is going to OK it, but that he wants to delay the decision for as long as possible. I still think this.

    Maybe it'll give Dems a chance to "run away" from Obama in the midterms, though. Just because it may hurt Obama, it doesn't mean that will spill over to others, in other words.

    We'll see... but I don't think anything's going to happen for months, at least.

    YoYo -

    This is close to how I see it. Either the oil goes to the Gulf for refining, or maybe Canada builds a pipeline to the West Coast, and they ship it to China to refine. Either way, the oil still comes out of the ground. So it's not as clear-cut as some would like to paint the decision.

    But I still think Obama's going to delay for as long as he can get away with. Hey, he pushed it successfully beyond the 2012 election, when it really could have hurt him.


  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Mea Culpa -

    Whoops! Fixed one data number in the text, but also: my categorization of Truman as a full 2-termer was incorrect, as he took over at the start of FDR's 4th term.

    My mistake... sorry...


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Oh, and for easy reference, view this page at to see all the charts for Clinton, Nixon, Reagan, and all the others...


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    With the tenacity of the Right, assuming that the rest of Obama's term is going to be scandal free is going way way WAY out on a limb.. :D


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:


    I have always thought that the OKing the Keystone was, for all intents and purposes, a done deal and the Left has resigned themselves to that..

    Are you saying that, in your opinion, Obama actually WILL pay a real and tangible price from the Left for OKing Keystone??


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Sounds like Obama OKing the Keystone IS a done deal. He's just waiting for the State Dept report..


  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Keystone has taken over the discussion, but I don't see it as the dominant or even major factor determining Obama's approval fate. Development of Canadian tar sands oil is tied to economic factors that are difficult to predict, so it's not obvious to me how quickly Keystone will move forward, even if it wins US approval.

    Presidential approval numbers are a crude measure of public sense of well being, filtered through a political lens. If the US economy improves, and the US military withdraws from Afghanistan, then Obama's run out numbers will tend to the Reagan-esque. If the economy remains weak, and we stay in the military mire, than his numbers will look like Dubya's. There is lots of room between these extremes.

    I really think it's (mostly) that simple....but that means it's highly unpredictable.

  10. [10] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Another thing:

    Comparative tea leaf reading is greatly complicated by the fact that the five post FDR two-term presidencies occur during (at least) five major media revolutions.

    Eisenhower is basically in the newspaper,radio,newsreel era. Television is gaining ground (held back a decade by WWII), but it was still operating with the techniques and style, and even the talent pool of print media, radio and newsreels. National TV news is 15 minutes each evening. The news is pretty easy for a president to manage.

    Johnson and Nixon are creatures of broadcast TV, centralized and highly professionalized, with a distinct TV style. The news is still pretty easy to manage, but news cycles are much shorter, images much more important.

    Clinton is in the cable news network/talk radio era, not quite in the internet age. Broadcast news is fragmenting into niches, the talent pool is being diluted. The news is harder to manage. Infotainment is beginning to break out in a big way.

    Bush II is firmly in the internet era. Anybody can be a reporter, who needs an editor? The news cycle gets even shorter, and presidential news management is much harder.

    Obama is in the social media era. News is completely tribal, and the tribes are always restless for breaking news. Opinion is constantly conflated with fact, news is constantly conflated with entertainment. It's a kind of mythology - "ideology in a narrative form" (Bruce Lincoln).

  11. [11] 
    Paula wrote:

    YoYo (2) writes basically that it doesn't much matter either -- which is kind of the resigned position a lot of people are taking, but to me, that's exactly why he should say NO. This is both a REAL issue, and a deeply symbolic issue for many people. It is also something that lands squarely in Obama's lap -- it will be seen as his decision. All this buildup will make it more significant when it happens.

    I think, as Chris notes, Obama's been procrastinating as long as possible. But the bottom line is that all these rationalizations attempt to obscure the fact that Keystone is a bow to fossil fuel dependance; it is a bow to 1% interests; it comes with significant environmental risks and we have no reason to assume the worst won't happen.

    Michale: will he pay a price on the left? He most certainly will with environmentalists and progressives and people focused on Climate Change. The flip is that he would really energize these same folks if he makes the right call. And these are people who are marching and protesting all over the country. They are activated. On a political/strategic level it's just appallingly stupid to deliberately alienate your most potentially active supporters.

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    On a political/strategic level it's just appallingly stupid to deliberately alienate your most potentially active supporters.

    On the other hand, if he appeases those active supporters who are the most vocal, he runs the risk of alienating the less vocal yet more powerful people who express their dissatisfaction, not with loud and boisterous protests (See CW's STAR TREK TOS example) but rather at the ballot box.

    And THOSE people outnumber the loud and boisterous by a considerable margin..


  13. [13] 
    Paula wrote:


    Keystone is bigger than elections. The fact that his yea or nay decision could have electoral consequences can be noted, but needs to be placed below the significance of the issue itself.

    This is one of those times where we are literally dependent on our leader to make a consequential decision that will have powerful repercussions to the health of the planet and to the trajectory of the future.

    It's an ultimate question of leadership; I hope Obama rises to it.

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's an ultimate question of leadership; I hope Obama rises to it.

    With the utmost and sincere respect to you...

    Don't hold yer breath.. :D


  15. [15] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I don't disagree with you, but I note that elections frequently fail to address vital issues. Especially long term issues. Nothing new about governments failing to cope with environmental risks. The list of extinct civilizations brought down by overtaxing their environment is a long one.

    If you think Keystone poses serious environmental risks to the US, fracking may well prove to be worse. There are energy alternatives, but no alternatives to drinking/irrigation water.

  16. [16] 
    Paula wrote:

    TheStig (15):

    I completely agree with you re: failure to address vital issues and I think fracking needs to be addressed too.

    The thing about Keystone -- the reason it is so especially important for Obama, is because it is in his hands. This is one time when the President can stop something bad from happening by himself. Does it stop everything else that is bad from happening? No. But it stops one big bad thing. He has the power to do it. Therefore he will be held responsible for the decision.

  17. [17] 
    Paula wrote:

    Michale (14): I hear you -

  18. [18] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale [6] -

    Assuming scandal won't happen to any politician is always going out on a limb! But then, that's why I said so in the article...


    [7] -

    The environmental portion of the Left has definitely not resigned itself to KXL's OK. They are going to howl loudly when it happens. Obama has been toying with them, dangling the prospect that he might turn KXL down, but he's mostly just been stalling (assuming KXL does get approved). But though they've been sort of quiet, the environmentalists are still going to be mighty upset when (if) it happens.

    TheStig [9] -

    KXL is going to be a blip in the record, if that, you're right. Obama will lose support from a certain portion of Dems, who may or may not ever return to the fold. In other words, the support lost may or may not eventually come back.

    But you're right, bigger things are at play, and thank you for addressing the big picture of the next three years. I know I'm being premature looking that far out, but I couldn't resist when I was making up the presidential comparison charts this month.

    You're also right that the biggest factor in these approval polls is the economy. What the economy looks like in 2015 and 2016 is really going to be the determining factor, that's what I believe too.

    [10] -

    That is a fascinating take on things. Some peripheral thoughts:

    Johnson and Nixon had TV news that was far more bold in some respects than today, and far more timid in others. The boldness came from the images -- Vietnam was on screen, in full bloody painful view, in a way no war has ever since been portrayed. The people back home didn't just get heavily-edited newsreel footage of smiling soldiers, they got raw truth and maimed bodies. That simply would not be allowed on screen today.

    But they were more timid, too, in exposing the human nature side of politicians. JFK's legendary hounddoggery would never have been hidden in today's atmosphere.

    I've long thought about media and politics, so your comments were interesting indeed. Just wanted to say that.


  19. [19] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    What leaves me incredulous about all this pahlaver about Obama's poll numbers is that why should anyone care about Mr.O.'s numbers? The last time I looked Mr.O. is prevented by the Constitution from running again.From my point here the foothills of the Sierra's I'd say that pretty much what we on the left should be concentrating on is taking back the House,and keeping the Senate. We all know we face an uphill battle overturning Gerry Mander in all his guises but I think it is an error not to try.I know I'm getting a little long winded so I'll just leave this as grist for the resident rightist Michale.

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    What leaves me incredulous about all this pahlaver about Obama's poll numbers is that why should anyone care about Mr.O.'s numbers?

    It's simple..

    The Democratic Party has invested so much political capital and clout into Obama..

    As he goes down, so does the rest of the Party.

    It's what happens when you infuse god-hood into your leader..

    The GOP faced a similar, albeit less intense, form of this with Saint Ronnie, the patron saint of kicking ass and taking names.. :D

    I'm getting a little long winded so I'll just leave this as grist for the resident rightist Michale.

    For the record, I am as much of a "rightest" as you are... :D


  21. [21] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    I was hoping for more ooph in your analysis.We Democrats are on the rise,interesting that our Michale didn't jump on the Gerry Mander issue. For the past two years I've calling out the dreadful excuse we have for a Fourth Estate with their entirely corporate ignoring the true plight in this really wonderful country of ours. We have been fed nothing but negativity from the nabobs of such. I now worry that the sheep will believe the nonsense and ignore 2014.Regardless of anything I believe we Dems can win in 2016 without the fake liberal Hillary. In closing apropos of nothing,between 1968 and 2000 I had a perfect record at handicapping the presidential elections.This time around I may have to have a divining rod to find gold.

  22. [22] 
    Paula wrote:

    Americulchie (19): I agree absolutely that Obama is not on the ballot in 2014 and energy needs to be focused on the House and Senate races. My fear re: the Keystone decision, in addition to the potentially catastrophic environmental impact, lies also in the degree it could depress enthusiasm by activists who could be instrumental in GOTV for 2014.

    I also think it would cause Obama himself to be as much a hindrance as an asset if he tries to help because he will no longer be viewed favorably by a key block of the Dem party. I realize it's only percentage, but it's an active, vocal percentage. Basically, people who care passionately about Keystone are the people who've done the homework. On the Dem side I don't think you'd find many people who would hold it against Obama if he votes it down. Repubs will try to make hay with it but they hate him anyway.

    (21) The dreadful excuse we have for the Fourth Estate -- yep!

  23. [23] 
    Michale wrote:

    We Democrats are on the rise,

    What planet are YOU on??? :D

    If Democrats have proven ANYTHING the last 5 years, it's that they can't lead anyone out of a paper sack..

    Ask ANY American if they are better off now than they were 5 years ago...

    Guess what they will answer?

    I agree absolutely that Obama is not on the ballot in 2014

    Oh, how wrong you are...

    Obama will be there in spirit..

    As Obama's fortune falls, so falls the Democrats..


    Because, as I said, the Democrats have done NOTHING but tie themselves to Obama the last 5 years..

    They did so because Obama was rising so high, so high, even higher..

    What they DIDN'T realize is that eternal law of gravity..

    What goes up, MUST come down...

    And because Dems have cemented themselves to Obama, they are finding it harder and harder to extricate themselves from the bonds..

    Why do you think so many Dems are "retiring"??? Because they know they don't stand a snowballs chance in hell..

    BECAUSE of Obama...

    So, don't kid yourself for ONE moment that Obama is not on the ballot in 2014..

    ANY DEM who spoke favorably about Obama is tarnished...

    Hoisted by their own Picard :D

    It's THAT simple...


  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    Because, as I said, the Democrats have done NOTHING but tie themselves to Obama the last 5 years..

    Need proof??

    WHO saved the NSA???

    Was it Republicans??


    It was NANCY PELOSI...

    If THAT ain't a clue and a half, NOTHING is...


  25. [25] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Americulchie [19] -

    There's an easy answer to that: it keeps me busy and off the streets, once a month, like clockwork.

    Heh. But seriously, I think checking on the public's job approval numbers is still important. During the reelection campaign, I had to remind people constantly that this wasn't a measure of the campaign (Obama v. Romney) but just job approval.

    Michale [20] -

    I don't buy the "if Obama falls the Dems fall" argument. I mean, you may have a point, but it's a limited one at best. As Americulchie pointed out, from now on it'll be more about Congress and about the next Dem to run for pres.

    Americulchie [21] -

    Well, I'm always cautious when trendlines shift. Don't want to get too far ahead of reality, in other words. If Obama's numbers recover to the 47-48 percent approval range, I'll get a lot more confident in these analyses.

    Paula -

    Good point about the GOTV thing. Anything which depresses the base vote is important in a midterm year.


  26. [26] 
    Michale wrote:

    I don't buy the "if Obama falls the Dems fall" argument.

    It's a fact, nonetheless..

    Why do you think so many Democrats are retiring and the ones that are actually going to fight for their seats are running from Obama as fast as they can??

    Because they know that, as Obama falls, so shall they fall..


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