The remarkable similarities between the first terms of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — in 5 charts

January 22, 2013

President Obama's first term is now history.

Which raises the question: How did the public view his first four years in office? A lot like they way they viewed Bill Clinton, according to one metric.

Obama's first-term average approval rating was just over 49 percent, according to data from Gallup. Compared to all post-World War II presidents Gallup tracked, Obama's 49.1 percent average most closely resembled Bill Clinton's 49.6 percent number.

Obama’s average puts him on the low end of presidents since World War II, with only Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter sporting worst first-term numbers:

Gallup7

But the news isn't all bad for Obama. His numbers are headed in the right direction, as the following two charts show. Since hitting a low point a in 2011, the president's approval rating has steadily climbed, and is above 50 percent as he kicks off his second term:

Gallupchart2

Gallupchart3

As the following Gallup chart shows, Clinton’s numbers took a dive early in his first term, only to recover late in 1996, the year he was reelected:

Gallupchart4

If Obama's second term average mirrors Clinton’s as closely as his first term numbers did, the president will likely be pretty pleased. That’s because Clinton and Ronald Reagan were the only two presidents reelected after World War II whose second four years yielded a better average approval rating. The following Gallup chart shows the decline all the others suffered:

Gallupchart5

As Gallup notes, both Clinton and Reagan saw the economy improve during their second terms. It's a reminder of how consequential the nation's economic condition will be in the way Obama is viewed during the next four years.

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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Sean Sullivan | January 22, 2013