Obama Poll Watch -- May, 2016

[ Posted Thursday, June 2nd, 2016 – 16:14 UTC ]

A Remarkably Stable Month

Barack Obama's job approval polling in May stayed remarkably stable. His job approval rating improved slightly, and his job disapproval rating very slightly got worse. In other words, he stayed almost exactly where he was in April. Though boring (nothing is more boring on a graph than a flat line), this was important because it reinforced and solidified the large gains Obama made since the start of the year. His improvement was no blip, in other words. Take a look at the new chart to see this.

Obama Approval -- May 2016

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

May, 2016

In May, Obama improved 0.2 percent in monthly average job approval, to wind up at 48.8 percent. As a side note (on a subject I discussed last month), this puts his approval almost exactly where Ronald Reagan's was at this point in his second term (49.0 percent). But while Obama may get above 50 percent during the rest of the year, matching Reagan's last few months in office may be tough to do (in the lame duck period, Reagan rose sharply to end his term at a whopping 63.0 percent). Comparisons aside, Obama's monthly average job disapproval number notched up 0.1 percent, to end up at 47.3 percent.

Once again, last month was all but consumed with the presidential race. On the Republican side, Donald Trump wrapped up the nomination. This ended all the rampant speculation about floor fights at the GOP convention, and Republicans (some quite reluctantly) began boarding the Trump train in earnest. By the end of the month, Trump's support among the base voters reached new highs, since the prospect now is either Trump or a Democrat in the White House next January. Oh, sure there are a few holdouts who still mutter "Never Trump!" darkly, but the anti-Trump movement within the Republican Party is pretty dead in the water. Paul Ryan spent all month refusing to endorse Trump, but today he announced he would indeed be voting for Donald Trump in November. His was really the last card to fall, so look for Republicans to be increasingly united.

On the Democratic side, things weren't as clear. Bernie Sanders is still giving Hillary Clinton a real contest, which will continue at least until next Tuesday, when the final state primaries are held. As a result, the Democratic Party is still divided and has yet to present a unified front against Trump (no matter how many times Clinton tries to make that pivot). In fact, it's looking a lot like 2008 all over again. But in the end, the party will indeed rally around the nominee, so for all the angst some are now expressing over the long primary race things will quite likely get better over the next month.

Of course, little of this had anything to do with Barack Obama, or how the public thinks he's doing his job. Obama made a historic visit to Hiroshima this month, but (like everyone else in politics these days) only really made news when he was quoted slamming Trump. Obama appears to be chomping at the bit, ready to begin his own campaign efforts for the Democratic nominee, so we may see more of him out on the campaign trail over the next few months.


Overall Trends

In terms of job approval, May was the most stable month of Barack Obama's entire presidency. That's pretty amazing, considering how many months his job approval has stayed steady (there are a lot of flat spots on his graph, in other words). His daily job approval averages fluctuated in a range only 0.9 percent wide last month, from a low of 48.2 to a high of 49.1 percent. But if you toss out two days of data from the beginning of the month, Obama's job approval was even more steady, only shifting from 48.6 to 49.1 percent -- a range of only a half a point. Day-to-day rolling averages are usually a lot more volatile than this, obviously. May was the only month since Obama took office that his job approval shifted less than one percent.

In fact, the changes were so subtle last month that a detail chart is necessary even to see them. Here is an expanded view of the past year for Obama:

Obama (detail)

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

May was also the first month since Obama's "second honeymoon" period where he stayed above water for the entire month. Unlike March and April, there wasn't a single day where Obama's job disapproval was higher than his job approval. This is a milestone Obama hasn't hit since March of 2013, right after he was sworn in for the second time.

The easy prediction would be that Obama's numbers stay stable for the next few months. After all, the past two months have been incredibly stable, so this would seem like the safest bet. However, I'm just a bit more optimistic than that, and instead see a gradual upward rise in Obama's poll numbers all summer long. I say this because Obama is about to become a lot more prominent in the presidential race. And I think the public is going to look a lot more favorably on Obama because of the contrasts between him and Donald Trump. Put plainly, Obama looks presidential. Trump doesn't.

This will be Obama's last campaign. He's not even going to be on the ballot, but his legacy definitely will be. He could either see his legacy largely overturned by the next president or strengthened and built upon. So he has a vested interest in doing everything he can to help elect a Democratic successor. And, please remember, Obama is at his best when he's campaigning.

There will need to a be a serious effort to unify Democratic voters, from all three people intimately involved in the race -- Obama, Clinton, and Sanders. But as time goes by, I think this unification will indeed happen to a large extent and the hurt feelings will fade. I certainly hope I'm right about that, but I could easily be mistaken, I'll fully admit.

Obama won't be just a spokesperson for the Democratic nominee, however -- he'll instead be reminding people why they voted for him in the first place as he touts his own record in office. Obama didn't get everything on his initial agenda done, but then no president ever does. But what he did accomplish was pretty transformational in nature, and a lot of people have forgotten that. Obama will be out there reminding everyone what shape the country was in when he won his first term, and what it looks like now. It is absolutely undeniable that America is in a better place now than it was back in 2008.

So I expect to see Obama's numbers climb slowly, all summer long. The trajectory won't be anywhere near as steep as he managed in the first three months of the year, but it will inch ever upwards. I could even see him topping the significant 50 percent barrier within a few months, although this likely won't happen next month (maybe in July or August, after the convention). Once again, I could be wrong and Obama's numbers might hit one of those seemingly-endless flat plateaus that have dogged him throughout his presidency. But I prefer to remain guardedly optimistic, for now.


[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)
05/16 -- 48.8 / 47.3 / 3.9
04/16 -- 48.6 / 47.2 / 4.2
03/16 -- 48.4 / 47.4 / 4.2
02/16 -- 46.3 / 49.6 / 4.1
01/16 -- 45.5 / 50.2 / 4.3
12/15 -- 43.7 / 51.6 / 4.7
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

[Apr 16], [Mar 16], [Feb 16], [Jan 16], [Dec 15], [Nov 15], [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


4 Comments on “Obama Poll Watch -- May, 2016”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    honestly most of the fluctuations we've seen are small enough to be attributable to measurement error. i've long maintained that obama has had an average presidency and has garnered average ratings to go with it, never deviating too far from 47.5% in favor, 47.5% against and 5% undecided. the rest is mostly hype, in one direction or another.


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    The elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about is the Comey recommendation..

    That's going to affect Obama's Poll Numbers as much as it's going to affect Hillary's campaign...

    Depending on what Obama does, his approval numbers will shoot sky high or drop to the depths of hell for a sit down with Crowley...


  3. [3] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Reagan's lame-duck polling jump was really the result of HW Bush's victory. It was basically a third honeymoon period for Reagan.

  4. [4] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    While it's a good bet that Obama's numbers will inch up throughout the year, we will see a bit of a drop during and right after the Republican Convention followed by the numbers going right back up with the Dem Convention.

    That's my guess, at least.

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