Poll Numbers: Bush v Obama

Poll Numbers: Bush v Obama


President Obama’s “approval rating” fell below 50% for the first time in the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll on Tuesday. A dust up between press secretary Robert Gibbs and Fox News’ Major Garrett resulted in this comment from Gibbs:

“If I was a heart patient and Gallup was my EKG, I’d visit my doctor,” Gibbs said in the morning, off-camera briefing with reporters. “Five days ago there was an eleven-point spread. Now there is a one-point spread. I’m sure a six-year-old with a Crayon could do something not unlike that.

Gibbs’ sensitivity is probably not helped by similar numbers from other polling organizations, which may not have crayons: Quinnipiac has Obama’s approval rating at 46% today. And there is no evidence that Obama’s approval rating slid 11 points in five days; certainly not in Gallup’s numbers.

But Gibbs can take comfort that today’s approval rating in the Gallup daily tracking poll is back up to 50%. Such is the nature of a daily tracking poll.

The reason the 50% number is significant is that most presidents don’t fall under that number in their first year in office. One notable exception: President Ronald Reagan. The most apparent similarity between the two is that both started their presidencies in the midst of a deep recession. (President Clinton’s approval rating was a similar 53% during his first year in office under similar economic conditions).

Presidential Approval during First Year

Historically, most presidents dip below 50% approval rating at some point in their presidency (JFK did not). What may be more surprising is the confidence expressed by a new poll by Public Policy Polling:

Perhaps the greatest measure of Obama’s declining support is that just 50% of voters now say they prefer having him as President to George W. Bush, with 44% saying they’d rather have his predecessor. Given the horrendous approval ratings Bush showed during his final term that’s somewhat of a surprise and an indication that voters are increasingly placing the blame on Obama for the country’s difficulties instead of giving him space because of the tough situation he inherited.

I was unable to find similar polling data for past presidents; during Reagan’s unpopular first year, did people pine for the old days of the Carter administration?

The slippage in poll numbers is down three points among Democrats and seven points among independents:

In the new Dec. 4-6 Gallup Daily results, Obama’s approval rating is 14% among Republicans, 42% among independents, and 83% among Democrats. Compared to his ratings in early November, when he averaged 53% job approval overall, his ratings are down three points among Democrats, seven points among independents, and four points among Republicans.

Cross posted to FrankHagan.com

  • Alistair

    Well at least his a 1% ahead of Ronald Regan!

  • http://detroitskeptic.com/blogs Nick Benjamin

    50% say they’d prefer Bush? That I do not believe. With the crappy economy and controversial health care plans I’d believe 50% don’t care whether it’s Bush or Obama, but prefer Bush? Unless they’re talking about likely voters. In that case the enthusiasm gap could be enough to get Dubya to 50.

    Regardless these polls are irrelevant. Obama’s not up for re-election until 2012. And by 2012 the economy will have recovered, his Afghanistan plan will have worked (or not), and most Americans will have forgotten the debates about health reform.

  • http://detroitskeptic.com/blogs Nick Benjamin

    Well I feel smart. I had it backwards. 50% prefer Obama to Dubya, not the other way around. 44% prefer Bush. Those numbers I believe.

    Regardless the polls are irrelevant. 2012. Economy improving. Yada-yada.

  • http://www.frankhagan.com/blog/ Frank Hagan

    The Reagan reference is important because it shows that a poll result at this stage of the game probably doesn’t say anything about the President’s chances of re-election. President Clinton was in about the same position, and both won reelection handily. It may be an indication of what will happen to the congressional elections in 2010, however.

    Nick, I was very surprised at the “44% would prefer Bush” stat. It is probably made up of the 1/3 of people who are Republican who would be expected to say that, and a segment of the independents who are disillusioned with Obama (he has been losing independents faster than any other group). But its still surprising. It may be that people’s memories are simply too short!

  • Tully

    **I was very surprised at the “44% would prefer Bush” stat.**

    Hey, I’m starting to miss Jimmy. He’d be an improvement.

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner

    Frank, he fell below 50% in mid November. :-)

  • http://frankhagan.com Frank Hagan

    Justin – yeah, he did … for two weeks in late November the Gallup poll had him at 48 and 49% (it looks like Gallup has smoothed the results into weekly totals at the link given). So maybe he bottomed out early, before even Reagan did! +1 for the Gipper.

  • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

    Ever notice how people make a big deal about polls when their guy is thriving?And then when their guy is tanking, those same people explain why the polls don’t matter?

    These polls sound about right (even pretty good) for a president whose country is in as much shit as ours is. If healthcare passes and the troughing of the economy tweaks into a legitimate sustained uptick, even a slight upward trend, then Obama’s numbers will firm and bounce back.

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    “The Reagan reference is important because it shows that a poll result at this stage of the game probably doesn’t say anything about the President’s chances of re-election. President Clinton was in about the same position, and both won reelection handily.” – FH

    Going into the reelection campaign both Reagan and Clinton had the advantage of divided government and the opposition party in control of at least one legislative branch. This kept their more extreme impulses in check and reinforced a public perception that they were centrist.

    It does not seem likely that the GOP can dig out of the hole they made for themselves in one cycle. If by some miracle the GOP was able to retake either the Senate or House in 2010, I think it would counter-intuitively enhance Obama’s reelection prospects. If the Dems retain narrow majorities in 2010, I expect there is a real possibility of another “throw the bums out” sea change in 2012 – and we will again trade the disaster of one party Democratic rule for the disaster of one party Republican rule.

  • http://frankhagan.com Frank Hagan

    mw – I suspect the GOP will pick up between 5 to 10 House seats and up to three Senate seats if unemployment remains above 8%. Not much difference in the House, but the Dems will suffer; they can’t get all their agenda items passed with a filibuster proof majority.

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    I agree on the Senate and will take the over on your House prediction (regardless of the unemployment stats). I only really care that the GOP has a net pickup in both houses. That way I can sip on the very expensive scotch that M. Reynolds will be buying me, while I watch One Party Democratic Rule spend, borrow, and tax our country into oblivion.

  • http://detroitskeptic.com/blogs Nick Benjamin

    What will they need to pass in 2011 that will be difficult without a filibuster-proof majority?

    Health care will be done. If Cap-and-trade hasn’t passed by then Obama will impose strict regulations on Carbon all by himself. His war policies should fly through regardless of majority — if the GOP filibusters those policies they’ll ge torn to shreds by the electorate.

    That’ll leave things like screwing the dug companies, and finance regulation. Both of those are popular enough that it’s difficult to see how every Republican filibusters them. And if the GOP tries they’ll have hell to pay in 2012.

    I’m not saying we’ll pick up house seats in 2010. We’re bound to lose some. I’m not so sure about the Senate. Many of the places where the GOP is optimistic are places it shouldn’t be optimistic. Dodd, for example, is unpopular but during the last Senate election in CT the GOP came in third. Whoever they nominate will get his ass kicked if he’s not moderate to left-wing, and I sincerely doubt any GOP candidate in the country will get elected without the anti-moderate tea party’s backing.

    The rest really depend on how primaries play out. Charlie Christ is probably a shoe-in in Florida, but his opponent (Marc Rubio) is much beloved by the tea-party crown, but is only a 50-50 proposition in a red state during a peiod when the polls are kind to the GOP.

  • http://frankhagan.com Frank Hagan

    Nick, I’m ready to stipulate that the Dems have no more ideas, and will not need to pass anything after 2010. They could, however, start trying to govern!

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner

    Come on Frank…they’re not governing? Forgive me, but what a lazy thing to say.

    Here’s just a few things they’ve done so far. This was taken from a list of Obama’s achievements and plans that are in motion, but a lot of this is being done with the Dem Congress.

    – New federal funding for science and research labs

    – Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants) after years of neglect

    – Funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access to K-12 schools

    – New funds for school construction

    – US Auto industry rescue plan

    – Housing rescue plan

    – $789 billion economic stimulus plan

    – US financial and banking rescue plan

    – The missile defense program is being cut by $1.4 billion in 2010

    – Tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles

    – Cash for clunkers program offers vouchers to trade in fuel inefficient, polluting old cars for new cars; stimulated auto sales

    – Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children

    – Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program

    – Expanding vaccination programs

    – Closed offshore tax safe havens

    – Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy is to promote in-sourcing to bring jobs back

    – Ended the previous practice of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from credit card industry’s predatory practices

    – Energy producing plants must begin preparing to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources

    – Lower drug costs for seniors

    – Ended the previous practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper drugs; the federal government is now realizing hundreds of millions in savings

    – Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel

    – Improved housing for military personnel

    – Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses

    – Improved conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other military hospitals

    – Increasing student loans

    – Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program

    – Established a new cyber security office

    – Students struggling to make college loan payments can have their loans refinanced

    – Improving benefits for veterans

    – Making more loans available to small businesses

    – Attempting to reform the nation’s healthcare system which is the most expensive in the world yet leaves almost 50 million without health insurance and millions more under insured

    – Passed sweeping financial regulations

    …in under 11 months.

    But no, they’re not doing anything. Not at all.

    Give me a break.

  • http://detroitskeptic.com/blogs Nick Benjamin

    They are trying to govern.

    If you look at the numbers right now the jobs problem is most politically pressing. Has been since Obama took office. But in the long-term healthcare costs are a much bigger problem. So we’ve spent most of this year debating health reform, and will almost certainly get something passed real soon.

    BTW, I did think of one thing that Obama probably has to push for that needs strong Congressional support. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a law, so changing it needs Congressional approval. Including 60 Senators.

    He may get that change, but I doubt it. But going for it in the current political environment doesn’t seem very risky, and will ensure that the gay community and their friends keep voting Dem.

  • http://frankhagan.com Frank Hagan

    Hmmm … you guys are a little sensitive about your turn at the wheel, aren’t you?

    And Justin … lazy? Really? I made a quip. I research my articles, but in comments I expect the ability to make quips and discuss things without footnotes.

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner


    Sorry. I didn’t read it that way.

    And your articles are great. But you know I think that. :-)

  • blackoutyears

    I think quips are, by definition, lazy, Frank.

  • http://frankhagan.com Frank Hagan

    OK. Point taken, guys.

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw


    They are governing. They are just governing badly.


  • http://www.frankhagan.com/blog/ Frank Hagan

    Quit that, mw. You’re just being lazy. Please provide a 10,000 word dissertation explaining your criticism of the Democrats.

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner

    Hey, I’ll concede that they haven’t done a great job, but I do think they’ve done a good one. The TARP is getting paid back and the jobs situation is turning around. Still, I’d like to see some more movement on the jobs front sooner rather than later (which, apparently, is happening currently) and I wish health care would have been put on the back burner. Also, I think passing health care via reconciliation would be massively stupid.

    But Frank, mw does write 10,000 word dissertations. And I’d love to see another sometime soon!

    @blackoutyears He can quip. I just didn’t think it read like one. But these things are hard to tell.

  • http://www.frankhagan.com/blog/ Frank Hagan

    Uh, Justin, TARP was a Bush program, not an Obama program (although both President Bush and President-elect Obama supported it).

    We are ignoring the Democratic control of Congress for the last two years of the Bush presidency to blame the GOP for the deficit of those years, so we have to ignore the fact that TARP was passed by a Democratic congress as well. Bush gets “credit” for TARP and any “profits” the government makes from it.

  • http://detroitskeptic.com/blogs Nick Benjamin

    In terms of justice you may have a point.

    But IMO Justice is irrelevant to politics. The public thinks the buck stops at the President’s desk, and is not really sophisticated enough to tell the difference between talking about a program and implementing it*. Thus Obama will get political credit for TARP even tho it was proposed by his predecessor, approved by Congress largely because it was clear we needed to do something or Really Bad Shit would happen, and implemented by that predecessor.

    But in the political world all that reality isn’t relevant because during the few months where Bush was doing all the TARP stuff it was below most people’s RADAR. In the year since it’s been a major issue off and on, so Obama’s future poll numbers are partly tied to whether the public thinks TARP worked.

    *This is not a criticism of the public. Policy takes awhile to take effect, and even if youy know a lot about it it’s frequently difficult to figure out precisely what caused a particular outcome. Politicians know this, so they play the blame-game. To figure out whose right in the blame game the public would have to become PhDs in public policy and spend all their time researching policy issues, which would leave little time for important things like making sure America’s kids do their homework. The most sensible way to get around this problem is blame everything on the most powerful guy, and in the US that’s the President.

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    ” mw does write 10,000 word dissertations. And I’d love to see another sometime soon!” – jg

    C’mon Justin. Lets be fair. All of my screeds are well under 9,000 words.

    I will, of course, be posting more here soon. But, by way of explanation, and in the FWIW category, it’s not just Donk. I have also been neglecting DWSUWF in recent weeks.

    The reason is that I have become obsessed with a local issue in SF, and it has been consuming my blogging energies. My “other” blog, which I used primarily to document golf scores and fishing expeditions, is now given over to my undisciplined wordy screeds on this issue, which I’ve dubbed “The Golf War”. I just don’t think it would be of interest to readers outside of the San Francisco bay area. One post touched on a national issue – specifically McCain/Coburns Wasteful Stimulus Spending list. Believe it or not, I am defending a stimulus spending project. I know. Anyway, I considered cross posting this one at the Donk, but determined that explaining all the context around the post would take me over the 10,000 word limit.

  • blackout

    Yes, Justin, quip does imply humorous intent, and that’s a crapshoot. Sadly, Frank and mw seem to have missed the fact that my comment was, wait for it, a quip as well. And boy, no one would ever accuse either of them of taking themselves too seriously. hardy har.