Will Obama Ever Be Popular Again?
History suggests it’s a losing battle.
By RHODES COOK
June 08, 2014
Barack Obama has had an unusual presidency, winning election twice with a majority of the vote, yet frequently saddled with a job approval rating below 50 percent. In fact, only during his “honeymoon” period in 2009 and around his reelection in 2012 has a majority of the population approved of his performance for more than mere days at a time.
So, midway through his sixth year in office and with fewer and fewer opportunities to realize his goals for the presidency, does Obama stand a chance of getting his numbers back above 50 percent? An upswing would surely help struggling Democratic congressional candidates in elections this fall, not to mention that it could give a boost to Obama’s policy initiatives in Congress and might even add a bit of gloss to his presidential legacy. And he has signaled he intends to “go down to the wire fighting,” as political adviser David Plouffe recently told Politico.
History, though, says don’t bet on a revival. The norm since World War II is for presidents to score their highest job approval ratings in their first term, then slump dramatically in their second. From Harry Truman immediately after World War II to George W. Bush in the opening years of the 21st century, this has been the trend in the Gallup poll, the long-running chronicler of presidential job approval ratings: In numerical terms, the 11 presidents from Truman to Bush II entered office with an average job approval rating of 65 percent and left with an average of 48 percent.
If Obama wants a model of how to finish strong, it’s Bill Clinton. After a choppy first term that saw Democrats lose control of both houses of Congress in 1994, Clinton rebounded strongly to post approval scores well above 50 percent throughout much of his second term. A prosperous economy helped. So, it appeared, did Republican overreach in pushing for his impeachment as an outgrowth of the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Who knows—the economy could take off again, boosting Obama along with it. The Republicans could overreach on some matter of major import. Or a sudden “rally around the president” event, such as (God forbid) a major terrorist attack, could propel the president’s approval rating dramatically upward.