Why it’s too soon to declare the end of Obama’s post-election honeymoon

March 8, 2013

Polling data released in recent days suggested that President Obama's post-election honeymoon may well have come to an end. But a review of a wide cross-section of polling conducted over the last few months suggests it's too early to declare Obama the honeymoon over just yet.


It's too soon to declare the end of Obama's political honeymoon. (Photo by Jess Righthand/for The Washington Post)

Here's the bottom line: There are data points that should worry the president and his top advisers. But across the board, his numbers haven't exactly dive-bombed.

There are two polls that that have shown signs of trouble for the president:

* Obama's approval rating  (45 percent) in a Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday was virtually unchanged from his approval rating a month ago (46 percent). But it is down from early December, when 53 percent of voters approved of the job the president was doing, a month after his re-election win.

* According to Gallup, which tracks Obama's approval rating among Americans based on a three-day rolling average, Obama's number is now hovering around the high 40s, down from the low 50s where it stood in the months leading up to last week's failure to avert the deep federal spending cuts known as sequestration.

How do those numbers stack up against the rest of the post-election polling that has been conducted? Obama's job approval rating hasn't dropped as severely in other surveys:

So what does this all suggest? A couple of things. For starters, we need to see more post-sequestration polling numbers (the cuts kicked into effect last weekend) to get a better sense of what the cuts ultimately mean for Obama's political standing.Second, Obama's hasn't lost all of the momentum he picked up post-election. While the president has been embroiled in high-profile fiscal standoffs with Congressional Republicans, the fights haven't done serious damage to his brand.

It's important to note that the outcome of the first fiscal battle, over the fiscal cliff, turned out much better for Obama than the second one, over sequestration. He largely got what he wanted in the deal to avert the cliff, as Republicans agreed to tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans. But on sequestration, Republicans didn't cave into his demands for a mix of new tax revenues and alternate spending cuts -- and much of the post-sequester coverage has focused on how Obama's warnings haven't come true.

Aside from Obama's approval rating, there is some data that suggest signs of trouble for Obama coming out of the sequestration standoff. A CBS News poll showed nearly as many Americans blamed him (33 percent) as blamed Congressional Republicans (38 percent) for failure to avert the cuts. And last month's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found only 32 percent said the country is headed in right direction, down from 41 percent in December.

As the Fix boss wrote in this space about a month ago, the lengths of post-reelection political honeymoons have grown shorter and shorter in recent years (Gallup has a comprehensive study here). Obama, who has a very ambitious legislative agenda right now, is hoping to be the exception to that trend. We'll find out in the coming months if he can pull that off or not.

Jon Cohen, the polling director of Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media, contributed to this report. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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