A Second-Term High
President Obama is having the best year of his entire presidency, in terms of job approval improvement. In the ten months of 2016 so far, Obama's monthly job approval average has risen eight times, and only decreased twice. His job approval number has improved so much that he's now at the second-highest point of his entire second term. The only month he was at a better point was January of 2013, when he was sworn in a second time. On top of this, his daily job approval average hit the highest point of his entire second term last month. All in all, it's looking like Obama will finish his time in office in a pretty comfortable place. After falling back a bit in September, Obama roared back in October. Let's take a look at his new chart for this month.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
After falling back 0.8 points in September, Obama's average monthly job approval rose an impressive 1.2 points in October, to end up at 51.7 percent. He didn't regain all the ground he had lost in his monthly average job disapproval, however, which had risen 1.5 points in September but only fell by 1.0 percent last month, to end at 45.4 percent. This means Obama is now 6.3 percent above water.
This is due in large part to the fact that the entire political world is no longer focused on Obama, but rather on the race to succeed him. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dominated the political news last month, as the frenzy of the presidential election draws to a close. We had multiple debates and multiple October surprises last month, but none of it had anything to do with Barack Obama.
The public is generally feeling better about how Obama's doing his job, probably because "No-Drama Obama" sure looks a lot better than the mudslinging fracas of the current general election cycle. This is the only real conclusion to be drawn, since Obama didn't make any big political news at all last month, with everyone out on the campaign trail instead.
Obama himself has been campaigning for Hillary Clinton, which sounds like a normal activity but actually hasn't happened in a generation's time. The last sitting president who actively campaigned for his successor was in fact Ronald Reagan (more on him in a moment), in 1988. Al Gore didn't want Bill Clinton to campaign for him, and nobody in their right mind would have wanted George W. Bush to campaign for them either. Which means the public hasn't seen a president stumping for his successor in a very long time. This is doubtlessly adding to the improvement in Obama's job approval, as he is not just out there making the case for Hillary Clinton, he's also making the case for his own legacy.
Not all of Obama's improvement is a result of him being more visible (and more political) in the past few months, however. All of 2016 has been a pretty extraordinary year for Obama. Last December, his job approval was at a pretty dismal 43.7 percent, and his job disapproval was at 51.6 percent. He has improved his job approval a whopping 8.0 percent over the course of 2016, to put it another way. Pretty much any way you choose to measure it, Obama is having the best year of his second term. Measured on improvement alone, Obama's having his best year ever, in fact.
Lets take a more-detailed look at his entire second term, to better see how well Obama has been doing.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Although the last five months have been rather up and down (up one month, slightly down the next), the trendline is pretty obvious, and pretty positive overall. None of the setbacks has turned into a real multi-month downturn, and Obama has even managed to defy expectations by not hitting any sort of ceiling (I include my own expectations in that, as just last month I was predicting Obama had hit another plateau).
Partly, this is because elections tend to get everyone both interested in politics and very polarized, as voters line up behind the party of their choice. If you look at the first graph in this column, an interesting thing is happening with the "undecided" line (the black line at the bottom of the graph). Undecided rarely falls below 4.0 percent, and usually hovers one or even two points higher than that. But for the past six months, it has been below 4.0 percent, and in October fell all the way to 2.9 percent. Obama has only seen this number fall below 3.0 percent once during his entire presidency -- exactly four years ago, in October and November of 2012. Elections cause people to focus more on politics, in other words.
This wasn't the only notable data point worth discussing from last month, though. On the 16th of October, Obama's daily rolling average for his job approval hit 52.7 percent. This is a new second-term high for him, beating the 52.5 mark he set on the last day of January, 2013, eleven days after being sworn in for the second time. Obama started the month at 50.3 percent, rose mid-month, and then finished the last week solidly above 52.0 percent. If this trend continues, he could be on track to beat his January monthly average of 52.7 percent, before his second term is over. [Note for the eagle-eyed statisticians among you: Obama's January monthly average in 2013 was higher than his all-time second-term daily average highpoint, because the entire month is counted for the monthly statistic, but his second-term daily stats begin on January 20, when he was sworn in.]
Most presidents who make it through two terms get a nostalgic boost for their last few months in office, in fact. Even George W. Bush managed to slightly improve once the 2008 election was over (although he didn't even make it up to 30 percent job approval). In comparing Obama to other two-term presidents (for whom polling exists), one seems to be the most similar. Here is Barack Obama compared to Ronald Reagan.
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
President Obama is actually higher right now than President Reagan was at the same point in his presidency. Obama is now at 51.7 percent, while Regan was only at 51.0 percent. While their job approval lines diverge somewhat (Reagan doing better, Obama doing worse), they have stayed remarkably similar for the past two years -- the period after Reagan admitted that his White House was indeed responsible for the Iran-Contra fiasco (that's the steep drop in approval in Reagan's graph).
However, Obama probably won't match Reagan's final jump in the polls, as Reagan left office with an impressive 63 percent approval rating. Even if Hillary Clinton wins and Obama's approval goes up in his final months, it likely won't jump that high. Still, barring any unforeseen events, it's looking like Obama's going to -- at the very least -- close out his second term above the 50 percent mark. This is one measure (certainly not the only one) of a successful presidency.
[Program Note: On the off chance we'd see a third Democratic term in the White House, about a year ago I registered two new domain names. I wasn't sure which one I'd use, if the occasion arose, and I'm still unsure which would work better. So I put the question to my readers: If President Hillary Clinton is sworn into office in January, which do you like better -- HillaryPollWatch.com or ClintonPollWatch.com? Let me know, down in the comments, as I just renewed my registration for both domain names. Using "Clinton" might be confusing (because of Bill's presidency), but using "Hillary" seems a little overly familiar, at least to me. So which do you like better? Let me know.]
[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 -- 10/16/16 -- 52.7%
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)
10/16 -- 51.7 / 45.4 / 2.9
09/16 -- 50.5 / 46.4 / 3.1
08/16 -- 51.3 / 44.9 / 3.8
07/16 -- 49.6 / 46.7 / 3.7
06/16 -- 50.0 / 46.2 / 3.8
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 / 43.1 / 5.9
01/13 -- 52.7 / 42.6 / 4.7
Second Term Column Archives
[Sep 16], [Aug 16], [Jul 16], [Jun 16], [May 16], [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