Why aren’t Obama’s numbers lower?

at 04:17 PM ET, 07/21/2011

I tend to believe elections are decided by economic and foreign-policy fundamentals, not campaigns or personalities. But I should also admit that Obama’s peculiarly stable approval ratings don’t line up with that view, which suggests I might be wrong in how I’m assessing this election.

As you can see in the table atop this post (source: Gallup), Obama is doing about as well in the polls as Clinton, Reagan, Carter and Nixon were at this point in their presidencies. But Obama’s economy is in much, much worse shape. Evan McMorris-Santoro attended a breakfast where Gallup’s Frank Newport expanded on this:

Newport says he’s crunched the numbers as far back as they go in Gallup’s polling archive and found that no one’s done as well as Obama when the public is as unhappy with the economy. “Based on where every president has been, his approval rating now is higher than we would predict it would be based on satisfaction [with how the country is doing],” Newport said ...
The number of Americans who think things are overall going well in the country is extremely low -- just 16% were satisfied in the last Gallup survey -- and history dictates that number is tied to the way people feel about the economy ... That means Obama’s numbers should be extremely low, too. But they’re not.
“He is overperforming,” Newport said. He pointed out that both the Democrat Bill Clinton and the Republican Reagan dipped into the 30s in their approval ratings during their first terms in office. Both men, like Obama, were facing a tough economy and the low level of voter satisfaction with the overall state of the country that goes with that. And yet: “So far, despite similarly bad economic perceptions, Obama has not fallen into the 30% range.”

There are a variety of possible explanations for this. One is that a majority of Americans still blame Bush for the state of the economy. They don’t think Obama has fixed it, but they’re not sure that fixing it is something he could have done, either. Another is that the Republican Party is extremely unpopular, and if you assume that’s because the Republican Party is further to the right than it usually is, then it’s plausible that Obama is being made to look better than he would against a more traditional opposition party.

Or maybe it’s something else. The truth is no one really knows what’s holding Obama’s approval ratings up, and so no one really knows how long they’ll stay there.

 
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