The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Barack Obama is no longer underwater on his approval, ending the longest stretch in over 30 years

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Something remarkable just happened to Barack Obama's poll numbers: For the first time since September 2013 -- over 450 days ago -- as many people approve of his job performance as disapprove.

Politicians generally hope to be "above water,"  having more people approve of your work than disapprove. The converse, naturally, is to be "under water," flailing and gasping for breath and, more often than not, sinking. Since September 2013, Obama has been underwater in Gallup polling, with more people saying he's doing a bad job than saying he's doing a good one. Until Gallup's most recent data, out on Tuesday (and aggregating responses from the last three days of polling). At this point, 48 percent of Americans approve and 48 percent disapprove of Obama -- not exactly fantastic, but better than he's been.

Since he took office, here's when Obama has been above water.

You'll notice that he emerged from beneath the surface once before, shortly before Christmas in 2011. He dipped below a few times but then was in very strong above-water territory thanks to his 2012 campaign. Then, over the course of 2013, he slipped back beneath the waves. (The larger, bolder dots on these charts mark moments in which a president was right at the surface; that is, had the same approval as disapproval.)

If Obama does manage to get back into positive territory, it will be the longest stretch any recent two-term president has been underwater and recovered. According to weekly Gallup data, Ronald Reagan spent about 340 days underwater from June 1982 to May 1983, also rebounding robustly in time for his reelection.

Bill Clinton spent more time above water than any of the other three recent two-term presidents: in nearly 88 percent of Gallup polls he saw greater approval than disapproval.

Contrast that with President Bush, who was above water in only 56 percent of Gallup weekly polls. He saw that huge spike following the attacks of September 11, but by July 2005 was under water for good.

President Obama has actually been under water more often than Bush. He's only been above water 52 percent of the time in his daily polls. Gallup credits Obama's post-election energy for the recent rise, including a spike in support from Hispanics following his action on immigration, favorable responses to his decision on Cuba, and the improving economy.

But who knows what the future holds. Obama has been dead-even in approval almost 100 times. On several occasions, he immediately dropped right back down.