Obama Poll Watch -- February, 2010

The president's approval and disapproval numbers are within kissing distance. When will Obama turn this around?he turn this around?
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Sinking Slowly

That's a pretty negative subtitle, but unfortunately it is true. February's poll numbers for Barack Obama showed a continuation of a slow slide downwards in approval, and a slow rise upwards in disapproval. His approval and disapproval numbers have not actually crossed yet, but they are within kissing distance of doing so.

The only good news in this situation is the "slowly" part. Obama's approval numbers, for the past six months, have dropped just under five percent. To put this in perspective, plenty of other presidents have had such a drop within a single month. But that's about the most positive thing that can be said, since the trajectory is so inexorably downward.

When will Obama turn this around? Will Obama turn this around? Well, there is a little good news recently, and Obama's numbers have gotten a bounce from his health reform "summit," but as this was at the end of February, it doesn't show up yet in the monthly figures, and it remains to be seen whether he will sustain it or not throughout March. But we'll all have to wait until next month to see the outcome.

For now, let's take a look at Obama's numbers for last month, and then continue our march back through the history of other presidential polling, with a peek at Lyndon Johnson's numbers.

Data for every president from the present back to L.B.J. is available, as always, at the ObamaPollWatch.com website, including up-to-date comparison charts with Obama's numbers so far.

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

February 2010

February, for both Obama and Democrats in general, was a month of regrouping, after the stunning upset victory of a Republican in a special election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat. This ended the brief 60-vote supermajority Democrats held in the Senate (which wasn't as long as some in the media have been portraying it, because it didn't even exist until Al Franken was finally seated). Democrats, being Democrats, spent a full month of handwringing and swooning over this turn of events.

Obama got practically no "bump" in the polls from his State Of The Union address at the end of January, and while he has shown some signs of leadership since, they have largely passed unnoticed by the public at large. This, of course, is due to the endless health reform debate still dominating the political news. Obama did show some initiative when he announced an unprecedented meeting -- live on television -- with the congressional leadership over the issue, and while the jury's not in yet in the polls fully, it does seem to have done him some good with the public (if not with Republicans who attended).

But all of this took its tolls in Obama's poll numbers. For the month, his approval was down 1.3 percent, to 47.9 percent, another new low in all-time monthly approval for Obama. His disapproval rate rose to another all-time high of 46.1 percent, up 0.8 percent from the previous month.

Overall Trends

Overall, the trends continue to worsen for Obama. His approval numbers slide downward, and his disapproval climbs upward. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there it is.

When you look at the daily graphs, Obama's poll numbers came as close to meeting each other as is statistically possible without actually doing so on the next-to-last day of the month, when his disapproval spiked to 47.1 percent and his approval barely stayed above water at 47.2 percent. Obama's approval rate fell pretty consistently throughout most of February, but then rallied a bit at the end, possibly gaining a "bump" from his health "summit" meeting. His daily approval numbers started the month on a high point at 49.8 percent, then fell to a low of 47.1 percent on the twentieth. This rose a bit, to 47.8 as the month ended. Ominously, though, this is the first month yet that Obama's daily rating never topped 50 percent.

The good news, such as it is this month, is that while Obama's approval fell almost a point and a half, his disapproval moved upwards more slowly. His disapproval rate bounced around a bit day-to-day, but when averaged out, stayed fairly consistent throughout the entire month, rather than showing much of an increase over time. This average was eight-tenths of a point higher than last month's average, but really didn't move much the entire month, as it had been doing previously. Obama's disapproval started in the middle at 46.0 percent, fell to 45.3 percent mid-month, and then rose to 47.2 percent at the end.

But that's not much in the way of good news, I realize. The question at this point is will Obama actually turn this slide around next month, or will his poll numbers actually cross each other (where more people disapprove of his handling of his job than approve)? Well, Obama is entering the month of March on a bit of an upswing, but the real answer to this question is likely the same as the answer as to whether Congress passes health reform or not this month. At this point, the public is not giving Obama (or much of anyone in Washington, for that matter) the benefit of any doubt. The only thing which will change things is action. Whether this action (assuming a bill gets signed) proves to help Democrats or hurt them is still an open question, depending on which polls you believe on the subject, but one thing is painfully certain -- not passing anything will likely mean Obama's downward slide will continue.

Obama v. Lyndon Johnson

As I mentioned last month, while I'm going to continue creating charts for past presidents on a monthly basis (until we get to F.D.R., the first president with any real opinion polling data available), the further we go back in time, the harder it gets to draw any parallels between the past and the present.

This month, we move back to the turbulent 1960s, by taking a look at Lyndon Baines Johnson. L.B.J. finished Kennedy's term out, then was elected to a full term in 1964, before dramatically deciding not to run in 1968 (since he had served less than half a term after J.F.K. was assassinated, he was still eligible to serve a second full term from 1969-1973, had he run).

First, a quick look at L.B.J.'s first term (what there was of it):

[Click on graphs to see larger-scale versions.]

[I apologize for the gap during the election season, as the site I use for data has gaps for certain election years. If anyone knows a site with more complete data, please point me to it.]

Johnson began his term immediately after the death of John F. Kennedy, and as a result had pretty high poll numbers for his entire first term, which only lasted a little over a year. Johnson rode these high numbers into the 1964 election. When L.B.J. took over, the first poll taken in early December, 1963, showed him with a 2.0 percent disapproval rating. This has got to be a low point in the entire history of public opinion polls. Other presidents (both Bushes, for instance) got higher approval ratings at times (immediately after we went to war), but nobody has ever had a lower disapproval rate than 2.0 percent, I believe. Johnson's approval started in the high 70s and ended up in the low 70s.

[Click on graphs to see larger-scale versions.]

L.B.J.'s second term, however, was a lot more contentious. As the Vietnam War dragged on, Johnson's popularity suffered. He started off with extremely high approval (71) and extremely low disapproval (15), but these numbers got worse slowly, until they finally crossed about two years into his term. From about the middle of 1966 through the end of his term, L.B.J.'s approval and disapproval numbers bounced back and forth chaotically between about the high 30s and low 50s.

[Click on graphs to see larger-scale versions.]

For completeness' sake, here is the comparison between Obama's and L.B.J.'s poll numbers, so far. Not much in the way of conclusions can be drawn, however, since Obama doesn't face anything like the backlash Johnson faced over the military draft and the Vietnam quagmire.

Next month, we'll take a look at J.F.K.'s short time in office. Until next time, this column sinks slowly in the West....

[Obama Poll Watch Data:]

Column Archives

Obama's All-Time Statistics


Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%

Lowest Monthly Approval -- 2/10 -- 47.9%

Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 2/10 -- 46.1%

Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%


Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%

Lowest Daily Approval -- 2/20/10 -- 47.1%

Highest Daily Disapproval -- 2/27/10 -- 47.2%

Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 1/29/09 -- 19.3%

Obama's Raw Monthly Data

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

Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)

02/10 -- 47.9 / 46.1 / 6.0

01/10 -- 49.2 / 45.3 / 5.5

12/09 -- 49.4 / 44.9 / 5.7

11/09 -- 51.1 / 43.5 / 5.4

10/09 -- 52.2 / 41.9 / 5.9

09/09 -- 52.7 / 42.0 / 5.3

08/09 -- 52.8 / 40.8 / 6.4

07/09 -- 56.4 / 38.1 / 5.5

06/09 -- 59.8 / 33.6 / 6.6

05/09 -- 61.4 / 31.6 / 7.0

04/09 -- 61.0 / 30.8 / 8.2

03/09 -- 60.9 / 29.9 / 9.2

02/09 -- 63.4 / 24.4 / 12.2

01/09 -- 63.1 / 19.6 / 17.3

ObamaPollWatch site:

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