Obama Poll Watch -- January, 2016

US President Barack Obama speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, in Windsor Mill, Maryland on February 3, 2016. / AFP /
US President Barack Obama speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, in Windsor Mill, Maryland on February 3, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama Bounces Back

President Obama just had a very good month in the polls. Not spectacular, mind you, but still better than any month since January of 2015. Essentially, Obama regained the job approval polling ground he lost over the previous two or three months, and he is now positioned to continue improving in February as well. For the first time in a year, this movement is so noticeable it is easily visible on the big chart.

[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]

January, 2016

The month of January is usually a good one for Barack Obama. January of 2016 was no exception. Other than a standoff with some anti-government yahoos up in Oregon, once again the main political news revolved around the presidential race -- which tends to push presidential news aside. Also, the end of last year had no knock-down drag-out budget battles, and Congress mostly slumbered throughout January.

The biggest January news for the president was (as always) the State Of The Union speech -- the last such speech Obama will give. Obama took the opportunity not to tout a whole bunch of policy proposals (that would then go nowhere in the current Congress), but instead chose to speak to his own legacy. He reminded America that he has indeed been a substantive president and gotten a lot of good things done.

In most years, this produces an upward bump in presidential job approval polling. But this year Obama's improvement seems more of a lasting nature than just a temporary spike upwards. We'll have to wait until the February numbers are in to see if this is true or not, but either way Obama had a good month in January.

I have a suspicion (this is based on no actual data, I should add) that one of the things helping to buoy Obama's ratings was the renewed focus on the Democratic nomination race. For a long period the focus was mostly on the Republican side (and mostly on Donald Trump), but Bernie Sanders finally got some attention towards the end of January. The media also focused some attention on Hillary Clinton's campaign, who seems to be fighting hard to talk up Barack Obama's legacy. Her campaign now centers around how she would continue (and improve) Obama's policies, and she's out there touting his successes on the stump. Her close embrace of the president (essentially arguing she'd be a third Obama term) may be reminding some of the public why they liked him so much in the first place. That's just a theory, but I do think it's probably having an effect, especially among Democrats.

For the month, Obama improved his job approval rating by a whopping 1.8 points, to wind up at 45.5 percent. His disapproval fell by 1.4 points and ended up at 50.2 percent. Compare this to last September (before his numbers started turning down), when Obama was at 45.6 percent approval and 50.3 percent disapproval. In one month, Obama regained almost all the ground he lost over the last three months of 2015, to put this another way.


Overall Trends

It's when you examine the overall trends, though, that things look even better for Obama. Here is an updated chart that shows the past year's movement in greater detail.

[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]

Obama not only regained all the ground he lost, he wound up at a higher point than he hit in 10 out of the previous 12 months. But what's even better news for Obama fans is that the trend throughout January was clearly headed in the right direction, all month long.

Obama's rolling daily average job approval and job disapproval numbers showed more absolute change within the month than they have in two years. His job approval started the month at 43.6 percent, and then rose over three points to end up the month at 46.9 percent. This is a daily high Obama hasn't seen since the summer of 2013, which is pretty notable. His job disapproval also shifted dramatically, starting at 52.0 percent which then fell steadily to end up the month at 48.6 percent. Again, Obama hasn't seen this number lower than 49.0 percent since August of 2013.

The trendline was clearly rising all month long, which bodes well for Obama in February. He starts the month off with a daily job approval average roughly one-and-a-half points higher than his monthly January average, which is an excellent way to start any month. If he just maintains where he is now, he'll add almost as much in February as he managed in January. Of course, this all could be illusory -- it may just be an extended bump from the State Of The Union, and his numbers could head right back down again. But the safer bet is that the trend is a real one with some staying power to it. Historically, when Obama has a good January he has always followed it up with a good February.

In fact, Obama is now within reach of breaking through to being "above water" again in the polling -- the first time that's really been a possibility since the summer of 2013. Since that point, his approval number has been lower than his disapproval rating (or "below water"). Throughout most of last year, this gap hovered between four and six percent. It got worse at the end of the year, hitting 6.9 percent in November and 7.9 percent in December. This was better than 2014, when it was in double-digits for most of the year (hitting a high of 12 percent underwater). In January, Obama shrunk this gap from 7.9 percent down to 4.7 percent. In February, he could easily gain more ground. If his numbers do keep improving (perhaps as Hillary Clinton continues to remind Democrats why they voted for him), by March Obama could easily be within reach of turning that into a positive gap for the first time since 2013.

So far, the media hasn't noticed that Obama is doing better in the polls. They've been consumed with the election news, and will likely continue to be. Barring any unexpected events, most two-term presidents usually improve in job approval throughout their final year, usually with a big spike upwards right after the election is over. If this pattern holds true for Obama, then perhaps January is just the start of a final upward trend. It's much too early to tell if this will turn out to be the case, but Obama enters February in better shape than he's seen since his second-term "honeymoon" period wore off.


[Obama Poll Watch Data:]

Sources And Methodology

ObamaPollWatch.com is an admittedly amateur effort, but we do try to stay professional when it comes to revealing our sources and methodology. All our source data comes from RealClearPolitics.com; specifically from their daily presidential approval ratings "poll of polls" graphic page. We take their daily numbers, log them, and then average each month's data into a single number -- which is then shown on our monthly charts here (a "poll of polls of polls," if you will...). You can read a much-more detailed explanation of our source data and methodology on our "About Obama Poll Watch" page, if you're interested.

Questions or comments? Use the Email Chris page to drop me a private note.


Obama's Second Term Statistical Records


Highest Monthly Approval -- 1/13 -- 52.7%

Lowest Monthly Approval -- 11/13 -- 41.4%

Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 12/13 -- 54.0%

Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/13 -- 42.6%


Highest Daily Approval -- 1/31/13 -- 52.5%

Lowest Daily Approval -- 12/2/13 -- 39.8%

Highest Daily Disapproval -- 12/2/13 -- 55.9%

Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 2/24/13 -- 42.3%


Obama's Second Term Raw Monthly Data

[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]

Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)

01/16 -- 45.5 / 50.2 / 4.3

12/15 -- 43.7 / 51.6 / 4.7

11/15 -- 44.4 / 51.3 / 4.3

10/15 -- 45.3 / 50.0 / 4.7

09/15 -- 45.6 / 50.3 / 4.1

08/15 -- 44.7 / 50.4 / 4.9

07/15 -- 45.7 / 50.0 / 4.3

06/15 -- 44.6 / 50.7 / 4.7

05/15 -- 45.4 / 50.0 / 4.6

04/15 -- 45.2 / 49.9 / 4.9

03/15 -- 44.9 / 50.8 / 4.3

02/15 -- 45.4 / 50.1 / 4.5

01/15 -- 44.8 / 50.5 / 4.7

12/14 -- 42.4 / 52.8 / 4.8

11/14 -- 42.0 / 53.4 / 4.6

10/14 -- 42.1 / 53.4 / 4.5

09/14 -- 41.5 / 53.5 / 5.0

08/14 -- 41.6 / 53.0 / 5.4

07/14 -- 41.8 / 53.6 / 4.6

06/14 -- 42.4 / 53.4 / 4.2

05/14 -- 44.0 / 51.7 / 4.3

04/14 -- 43.4 / 52.1 / 4.5

03/14 -- 42.9 / 52.8 / 4.3

02/14 -- 43.3 / 52.3 / 4.4

01/14 -- 42.7 / 52.7 / 4.6

12/13 -- 41.9 / 54.0 / 4.1

11/13 -- 41.4 / 53.9 / 4.7

10/13 -- 44.2 / 50.8 / 5.0

09/13 -- 43.9 / 50.8 / 5.3

08/13 -- 44.4 / 50.2 / 5.4

07/13 -- 45.3 / 49.2 / 5.5

06/13 -- 46.5 / 48.5 / 5.0

05/13 -- 48.3 / 46.9 / 4.8

04/13 -- 48.6 / 46.8 / 4.6

03/13 -- 48.5 / 46.3 / 5.2

02/13 -- 51.1 / 43.0 / 5.9

01/13 -- 52.7 / 42.6 / 4.7


Second Term Column Archives


First Term Data

To save space, the only data and statistics listed above are from Obama's second term. If you'd like to see the data and stats from Obama's first term, including a list of links to the full archives of the Obama Poll Watch column for the first term, we've set up an Obama Poll Watch First Term Data page, for those still interested.


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Full archives of OPW columns: ObamaPollWatch.com