In Obama we trust? Americans don’t see it that way anymore — in two charts

November 13, 2013

President Obama has a trust problem.

New polling data released this week show that one of Obama's long-held political assets is looking more like a liability these days. Americans' trust in the president has eroded to record low levels amid a torrent of criticism about the rollout of the federal health-care law, including the revelation that his long-standing refrain that all Americans can keep their health plans if they want isn't accurate.

No matter his policies or job performance, a majority of Americans have always trusted President Obama. That has now changed. (The Washington Post)

Two charts tell the story.

The first is from Gallup, which found Americans are now split over whether the label "is honest and trustworthy" applies to Obama or not. Fifty percent say it does, while 47 percent say it doesn't.

It wasn't always this way. Throughout most of his presidency, Obama had no trust problem to speak of. In fact, for much of his first term, Obama had a surplus of trust. From 2009-2012, the percentage of Americans saying "honest and trustworthy" applied to Obama hovered around 60 percent. The dissenters, meanwhile, mostly stayed below 40 percent.

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The Gallup findings are mirrored by a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows by 52-44 percent margin, voters say Obama is not honest and trustworthy. The poll also shows Obama declining along another key metric: job approval rating. He's reached a record low 39 percent/54 percent approve/disapprove split.

During his first term, the level of trust in Obama outpaced his approval rating on average by a much wider margin than it has this year, according to Quinnipiac's polls. Gallup's trend, meanwhile, shows that Obama's trust has continued to outpace his approval rating by double-digits. Below is a chart that tracks how Obama's trust numbers have stacked up against his approval rating dating back to 2009.

2013-11-13 Obama approval and trust

The latest numbers come on the heels of Obama apologizing to Americans who are losing their health insurance plans as Obamacare is implemented despite his assurances they would not have to give them up. It also comes as the health-care law's rollout continues to be plagued by technical problems related to HealthCare.gov.

But health-care doesn't appear to be to sole cause of the dip in trust for the president. The percentage of Americans who told Gallup "honest and trustworthy" doesn't apply to Obama  climbed to 44 percent in June, as the president dealt with revelations about the broad scope of government surveillance programs. And even before that time, trust in him was already starting to fade.

Generally speaking, presidents have experienced a drop in popularity in modern era. So Obama's declining numbers may also be symptomatic of a broader and expected decline in the way the public perceives him overall.

Still, it's striking that yet another of Obama's former strengths is not anywhere near what is used to be. His personal likability -- once a reliably buoyant -- has also taken a hit in recent months.

If Obama's decline continues, there will be little incentive for the president's allies to come to his defense on various policy fronts. And heading into the 2014 midterm elections, he will be handing fodder to Republicans eager to tie vulnerable Democrats to him as a campaign tactic.

Obama may have run his last campaign, but there is still a lot riding for his agenda on the way he is perceived. And right now, the way he is perceived isn't good.

Scott Clement contributed to this post

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · November 13, 2013