New Low For The Year
President Barack Obama's job approval rating took a dip downwards in November, to hit a new low point for the entire calendar year. Most of this was due to the panicky reaction the political world had to the Paris terrorist attack. President Obama's reaction to the attacks was fairly muted, spread out over an overseas trip which was followed up by a terse statement (rather than, say, a prime-time Oval Office speech) to America on his strategy for fighting terrorism and the Islamic State.
What this all added up to was a pretty bad month for Obama in the polls. First, let's take a look at the new chart.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
The only silver lining here (and it's a thin one) for Obama fans is that his job approval number, while lower than any other point during the year, is still only down to 44.4 percent (his previous low was 44.6 percent, for comparison). This is still roughly two full percentage points higher than he spent all of 2014, which is why it qualifies as a silver lining. His poll numbers fell, but did not collapse back to where he spent all of last year, in other words. In November, Obama's monthly average job approval number fell from 45.3 to 44.4 percent, a drop of 0.9 points. His monthly average disapproval rose 1.3 percent to wind up at 51.3 percent.
November was mostly a month of bad news for Obama. At the start of the month were the off-off-year elections, where Republicans made gains in state races across the country. There was some good news for Democrats in the election results, but not much of it compared to the good news for Republicans. The presidential campaigns rolled on through the month, and both Republican and Democrat candidates held another televised debate.
The worst news of the month, of course, came from Paris. The terrorist attacks in Paris gave way to a tsunami of fear within America, which quickly became centered on the perceived threat of the Islamic State infiltrating Syrian refugees coming to this country. This was a rather bizarre tangent for the debate to head off in, but it was directed mostly by the Republicans running for president, who grasped onto the issue as one where they actually clearly differed in strategy from President Obama. Or maybe it was just naked fear-mongering, who knows?
In any case, for a few weeks the subject was front and center, and Obama didn't do himself much good by how he responded. As mentioned, he was traveling overseas, which means a lot of little press conferences in each country he visited. So the soundbites about what to do about the Paris attacks, the Islamic State, Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane, and the Syrian refugee question were all off-the-cuff and disconnected. Obama returned home and gave a live press statement (no questions allowed) on the subject, but this had a very limited reach since the speech was very short and was not given in primetime. Not many people saw it, in other words, outside of one or two more soundbites on the news.
Obviously, Obama doesn't do "swagger" as well as our last president. He never has, and he never has even wanted to. However, this hurt his public standing this month, because Americans might have reacted a bit more favorably to a little tough talk (as they almost always do in times of fear). The irony is that Obama's war strategy for the Islamic State may not be the best or most effective one, but even all the presidential candidates (of both parties) can't seem to come up with anything that sounds a whole lot better. To a person, they all tinker around the edges of what Obama is already doing, incrementally adjusting it but not fundamentally altering much of anything. There simply are no easy answers, but the American public rarely wants to hear that sort of thing from any politician.
At the end of the month, there was a terrorist attack within America, although one of a decidedly different type. A Planned Parenthood facility came under attack by a religious terrorist, which also horrified the nation. However, Obama knows full well the limits of the political will to do anything about such attacks, so what we got was yet another in a long string of frustrated post-mass-shooting statements from the president. More in sorrow than in anger, because Obama knows full well nothing's going to change any time soon.
All around, November was a month full of bad news, and Obama's polling reflected it.
The overall trends in November might be best described as "bad, but not catastrophic." By the measure of absolute values, Obama's monthly poll averages were the worst of the year for him. By the measure of total change month-to-month, Obama also had the worst month of the year. He dropped 0.9 points on job approval and rose 1.3 points on job disapproval, adding up to a shift of 2.2 points. The highest total in this category previously (during 2015) was losing a total of 1.5 points back in June.
Obama's approval number isn't as concerning as the shift in disapproval, however. Here's a blown-up chart of the past year, where this can be more plainly seen:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
As I already mentioned, Obama's monthly approval rate is only 0.2 points below the previous low point of the year (also from June). But his job disapproval is a half-percent higher than his previous high (in March), and shows a much sharper slope than his approval does.
Even so, some perspective is necessary. Obama started the month off with a daily approval average of 45.9, which fell back a bit then rose just before the Paris news hit. This caused a sharp downward movement until he hit a daily low of 42.9 percent. But in the final week of the month, his poll numbers started to climb back a bit, and he ended up the month at 44.0 percent. The question is whether he can continue to improve or merely get stuck at a lower plateau.
December is going to see a lot of news about Congress and Obama, since there are several large bills which must pass before the end of the year. Granted, some of these may be punted (with short-term funding extensions), but so far it looks like a political struggle which might even briefly overshadow the presidential race in the political headlines. This will all be a test of wills between Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, President Obama, and the rank-and-file Republicans in Congress. Once again, the Republicans have set the bar impossibly high among their own voting base, all but promising to defund Planned Parenthood, kill Obamacare off, and bar all refugees from Syria (and these are just the most prominent of the unrealistic promises they've made -- there are many others as well). Ryan seems determined not to begin his tenure with another government showdown, which doesn't exactly bode well for the Tea Partiers in the House. He's already negotiating with Nancy Pelosi over the bill with the biggest deadline, a budget measure that's supposed to be passed by the end of next week. What is likely to happen this time around is that there will be some Republican bill that is passed in the Senate under reconciliation rules (no filibusters possible) that gets sent to President Obama for a veto. After this dog-and-pony show, a compromise budget bill will be quickly hammered out and signed into law. The scheduling of this series of events is anyone's guess (will it all happen before, at, or just after the deadline?), but the outcome is pretty clear already.
This may actually boost Obama's job approval rating. The Republicans can pat themselves on the back for finally achieving the meaningless milestone of passing something for Obama to veto, but the public will likely be more impressed at the end of the process when a realistic budget (without all the poison-pill amendments) actually passes. All this year-end budget haggling is a yearly event, but if history is any guide Obama usually comes out with more public support than he had going into it. For the past four years, Obama has charted polling gains in December, meaning next month could be a lot better for him than November turned out to be.
[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)
11/15 -- 44.4 / 51.3 / 4.3
10/15 -- 45.3 / 50.0 / 4.7
09/15 -- 45.6 / 50.3 / 4.1
08/15 -- 44.7 / 50.4 / 4.9
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
[Oct 15], [Sep 15], [Aug 15], [Jul 15], [Jun 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