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5 myths about a president's first year

But the first 100 days can also matter in ways no one anticipates: Although Obama seemed to defy political gravity in his first few months, the actions he took during that period led to a rallying of the Republican base and an erosion of support among independents.

After the high of winning the election, your approval ratings have nowhere to go but down.

5. Most presidents arrive in office with approval ratings in the 60s, as the American public -- an optimistic bunch -- proves itself willing to give the newly elected leader the benefit of the doubt.

Where the numbers go from there depends on what the president does. Bush, who came into office on the shakiest of electoral grounds, pursued a decidedly conservative agenda on the home front and a go-it-alone approach to foreign policy that (understatement alert!) didn't sit well with the American people. Except for an extended bounce after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, his public support steadily declined over the years, from 57 percent when he entered office to 34 percent when he left.

Clinton, on the other hand, encountered some ups and downs at the start of his presidency, but because of centrist policies and a thriving economy, he managed to end his presidency with two-thirds of the country approving of the job he had done.

Reagan followed an arc similar to Clinton's. He took office with the lowest approval rating (51 percent) of any U.S. president in the modern era. Eight years later, because of a popular foreign policy, tax cuts and a sunny leadership style, he left office with a sky-high approval rating second only to Clinton's among post-World War II presidents.

Chris Cillizza is a national politics reporter and author of "The Fix," a politics blog. Researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this article.

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