Barack Obama is likely to achieve another nice re-election marker this weekend: his approval rating is about to catch up with where George W. Bush’s Gallup approval sat at this point in his first term. Bush, of course, won reelection by a narrow margin.
During his first year in office, Obama frequenly had approval ratings topping those of Bush during his first year. But he hasn’t been on even terms with his predecessor since September 2009. This was partly because Bush received a huge bump in September of 2001, after the terror attacks, and partly because the sluggish recovery continued to drag Obama down for two years after that.
But now Obama is on even terms with his predecessor. At this point in Bush’s first term, he had come very much down to earth, with his Gallup approval at 52 percent in mid-April of 2004 — and at 49 percent in polling taken May 2-4. Meanwhile, Obama has now moved up to 51 percent approval in the most recent Gallup tracking (April 30 to May 2). So he’s basically now at Bush’s level.
To be sure: the odds are that Obama’s 51% is a bit misleading; it may be the result of a temporary bin Laden anniversary bump, and it’s a few points higher than the Pollster approval average. On the other hand, Obama could well keep pace with Bush, because he stayed in a tight range of 46% to 49% approval up until early August 2004. That’s perhaps just a bit higher than Obama has been over the last few months, so as long as Obama’s support stays the same it’s safe to call them basically even.
What does that tell us? Obama is still well behind where landslide re-election winners Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and (somewhat less so) Ronald Reagan were at this point in their first terms. But Obama’s pattern is similar to theirs, albeit at a lower level. All of them, like Obama, slumped at midterm but were recovering during their election year. Obama so far is doing the same, though he has further to go. If he continues to track with their pattern, he’ll certainly end the year happy. And he’s now opened up a real lead over reelection losers George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
Of course, there’s absolutely no way of knowing what comes next. But it must be some comfort to the White House that the logical comparisons for Obama now are either at best to the easy reelection winners, or at worst to a marginal winner — and not to the presidents who failed to hold the White House.