At most points in the nearly five years of the Obama presidency, the following statement has been true: People really like the president personally, even if they are not convinced he is doing a good job.
Times have changed. Today, President Obama’s personal popularity simply isn’t what it used to be, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. What’s more, it’s virtually indistinguishable from his job approval rating, which has consistently lagged behind.
Half of Americans hold a favorable view of the president, compared to 48 percent who hold an unfavorable opinion. That’s a departure from most of Obama’s tenure.
For the majority of Obama’s presidency, his favorable rating has stood well above 50 percent. Even during much of his reelection campaign — when Mitt Romney and GOP groups were hammering him — and as recently as March of this year – when the luster of Obama’s reelection was beginning to wear off and political battles were front and center — it was above 50 percent.
When it comes to what the public thinks about Obama’s job performance, the split is remarkably similar to the favorability divide. Americans are divided down the middle over the job Obama is doing as president. Forty-eight percent approve, 49 percent disapprove.
Why is that notable? Because for years, Obama has been able to lean on his personal popularity even when Americans have not been not happy about the job he’s done. The following chart tells the story.
The latest drop in Obama’s favorablity comes as the president has been embroiled in intense partisan standoffs against congressional Republicans. At times, he’s adopted a more confrontational tone than he used early in his presidency. Does that explain it? Not necessarily, but it’s one plausible theory for his diminishing popularity.
Another is that time has simply taken its toll. Obama’s popularity consistently waned throughout his first term only to jump back up when he was reelected, which was no surprise considering the country just had just decided to give him four more years in office.
It’s possible that Obama’s image will recover. Indeed, his numbers bounced back after the last debt ceiling standoff in 2011. But the 2013 trend line doesn’t look good for him. And when it comes to job approval ratings, presidents have tended to fare worse in their second terms than their first terms.
It’s too early to say that Obama’s days as Mr. Popular are over. But it’s beginning to look like they may be numbered.
Scott Clement contributed to this post. Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.