Breaking the July curse
Barack Obama doesn't usually have very good summers, as measured by his public opinion job approval numbers. Last month, he finally broke this curse and posted some solid gains -- the first time he's ever done so in July. The daily polling was a bit of a rollercoaster, though, so he could just as easily go back down in August, but let's focus on the good news for Obama fans first. Take a look at the new chart, for starters.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
As mentioned last month, President Obama's monthly average job ratings have gone down in each and every June he's been in office. This year was no different. He lost roughly three-quarters of a point on both average job approval and average job disapproval.
His July record was no better, before last month's numbers got crunched. Each and every July he's been in office, Obama's numbers have gone down. From his first year, which was also his worst (he lost a whopping 3.4 percent in job approval), through more-modest losses like last year (when he only lost 0.6 percent job approval), July has been a pretty savage month for the president. Obama doesn't do much better in Augusts, either, since he's gone down in four out of his six years.
But maybe he's finally broken this summertime-blahs curse. Last month, President Obama's monthly average job approval rating gained a respectable 1.1 percent, to finish at 45.7 percent. His monthly average job disapproval fell 0.7 percent, to finish at a round 50.0 percent. In both cases, he gained back what he lost last month (and more, in the job approval category). All-around, a pretty solid month for Obama -- the only such positive July he's yet seen as president.
This year, of course, the presidential race is beginning to edge out most other political news, especially since the media noticed that Donald Trump is running. So are, as of last count, 16 other Republicans and five Democrats. July started off well for Obama, perhaps benefiting from both the annual Independence Day "feel good about America" public reaction, and also from announcing a historic deal with Iran over the subject of their nuclear program. This deal was a bit late, and reactions to it have been mixed among the public, but it certainly did put both Obama and John Kerry in the headlines, breaking through all the election news.
The influence of the election news might seem to be unrelated to the current president's job approval rating, and in a normal year it might not have much influence this early in the race (we are still over a year away from the general election, after all). But this is not a normal year, what with Donald Trump not only leading the Republican polls but actually becoming the face of the Republican Party. It's a pretty stark contrast between seeing Trump do his thing and watching Obama appear presidential, which might have something to do with Obama's daily approval numbers improving in late July (details on this in a moment). Hillary Clinton has mostly been keeping her head down in all of this, slowly grinding out speeches and position papers on what her agenda will consist of. Bernie Sanders is exciting progressives, but again, this probably doesn't have much influence on Obama's numbers at this point.
In some years, very contentious legislation passes in Congress right before they take their big summer break. This year, no such thing happened, because the Republicans in Congress have spent the last six months doing basically nothing with their majorities in both houses. They can't even get their act together among themselves, so they have proven incapable of passing anything at all -- contentious or not. This breakdown might be the best explanation for why Obama managed to defeat his usual summertime polling blues, in fact.
Whatever the reason, Obama had the best July he's ever had as president. Perhaps he'll be able to carry this boost into August and beat his own odds there, too. Since Congress will be away, there's nothing really looming large on the political calendar except more fun and games over on the Republican side of the presidential contest. We'll see whether Obama can keep his bounce alive next month or not.
Let's take a closer look at this month's chart. Normally, I zoom in on only the past year or so, in order to see the vertical movement better, but this month I'd like to present a chart of Obama's entire second term in office.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
As you can see, President Obama has hit the highest approval ratings he's seen since his "second honeymoon" wore off, at the very beginning of his term. This was borne out in the daily average data as well, as early in the month Obama charted a one-day 46.7 approval rating -- higher than he's seen in two years. Obama regained the ground he lost in June, and then some (at least, on job approval -- on job disapproval, he only matched his May score).
No matter how you measure things, Obama is doing much better than he's done since the summer of 2013. The gap between approval and disapproval (how far he's "underwater") has shrunk to 4.3 points -- down from 12.0 points last September, and down from 6.1 points last month). He's had five net positive months this calendar year, and only two net negative months. He's up 3.3 percent in job approval since last December, and his job disapproval rating is down 2.8 points.
For Obama fans, this is all good news. However, the data should instill some caution. When you look at the daily rolling averages chart (on RealClearPolitics.com), you can see that Obama's approval rating went through a real rollercoaster ride last month. They started high, went a bit higher (to 46.7 percent), and then the wave crested and they plummeted down a pretty steep slope. His approval bottomed out (at 44.7 percent), and then Obama made a pretty decent recovery, climbing back up the hill to end the month at 46.0 percent. His disapproval ratings generally followed a mirror-image course during the same period, although not quite as volatile.
What this means for August is anyone's guess, at this point. August is the "silly season" of American politics, when Congress is off on vacation and little happens in Washington. The political media generally pick one subject to obsess over, which we hear about all month long. This year, of course, there is the shiny, shiny object of the Republican presidential race to distract them. So perhaps Obama won't be as front-and-center as he has been in years past. This good be either a good thing or a bad thing, I should point out. Barring some outside event grabbing the headlines, it's hard to tell whether Obama has truly broken the summertime curse or whether his numbers will drop back a bit in August.
The safe money, at this point, would be on Obama's numbers at least flattening out this month. Perhaps small gains or losses, but generally staying about the same is the most likely outcome. Obama seems to have successfully broken through the barrier of at least 45.0 percent approval, but the 46.0 barrier seems tougher, at this point. So my best guess is for Obama to stay pretty flat in August.
[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 -- 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)
07/15 -- 45.7 / 50.0 / 4.3
06/15 -- 44.6 / 50.7 / 4.7
05/15 -- 45.4 / 50.0 / 4.6
04/15 -- 45.2 / 49.9 / 4.9
03/15 -- 44.9 / 50.8 / 4.3
02/15 -- 45.4 / 50.1 / 4.5
01/15 -- 44.8 / 50.5 / 4.7
12/14 -- 42.4 / 52.8 / 4.8
11/14 -- 42.0 / 53.4 / 4.6
10/14 -- 42.1 / 53.4 / 4.5
09/14 -- 41.5 / 53.5 / 5.0
08/14 -- 41.6 / 53.0 / 5.4
07/14 -- 41.8 / 53.6 / 4.6
06/14 -- 42.4 / 53.4 / 4.2
05/14 -- 44.0 / 51.7 / 4.3
04/14 -- 43.4 / 52.1 / 4.5
03/14 -- 42.9 / 52.8 / 4.3
02/14 -- 43.3 / 52.3 / 4.4
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
[June 15], [May 15], [Apr 15], [Mar 15], [Feb 15], [Jan 15], [Dec 14], [Nov 14], [Oct 14], [Sep 14], [Aug 14], [Jul 14], [Jun 14], [May 14], [Apr 14], [Mar 14], [Feb 14], [Jan 14], 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
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant