Obama consolidates his gains
In January, President Obama had the biggest improvement in his public approval rating of his entire presidency. In February, Obama consolidated and built on his January "bump," by posting his second-most-improved month ever. This turnaround has set the clock back for Obama over a full year (in terms of his overall polling numbers), to roughly where he was in December, 2009. All in all, not a bad month for the president.
But that does come with a caveat -- Obama started the month strong, but then leveled off for the rest of February. His bump may well have "crested" this month, but even if this proves to be true, Obama looks most likely to plateau at the higher rate rather than falling back. In other words, he has successfully consolidated the gains in his approval rate over the past two months or so, rather than watching them bounce right back down.
Let's get right to this month's chart, so you can see what I'm talking about:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Obama entered February still riding the wave of public goodwill from his State Of The Union speech. This was further aided by an unexpectedly large drop in the unemployment numbers announced at the beginning of the month. In two months, the official unemployment rate has plunged from 9.8 percent to 9.0 percent -- the biggest drop seen in decades. The media downplayed this, but it likely had a lot to do with Obama consolidating gains rather than seeing them melt away.
A few big stories dominated the news this month, beginning with the falling dominoes in the Middle East and North Africa. President Obama has had to walk several tightropes during this period, but so far seems to have kept public opinion on his side during the series of crises.
The biggest domestic political story was the upcoming budget battles in Congress. While the media has been feeding public anxiety by drooling over the prospects for a government shutdown, so far this seems to have been averted (much to the media's dismay, it should be noted). Speaker John Boehner is having problems dealing with the Tea Party Republican faction within his caucus, and these rifts will likely only get worse -- and more public -- as the budget battles move forward. Obama, for the most part, has kept his head down in the opening skirmishes in this fight.
The other big domestic political news was the standoff in Madison, Wisconsin. President Obama horrified Republicans by actually standing up for a core tenet of the Democratic Party -- unions -- but the public didn't seem to mind, since public support for the labor position is quite strong. The Wisconsin situation has certainly fired up the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen what the outcome will be, so this could ultimately lead to demoralization (it could also just as easily lead to reinvigoration).
Throughout all of this, Obama's approval rating stayed fairly steady. There were less polls put in the field in February than in a normal month, which may have had something to do with this (less outliers, in other words). Such steadiness in the polls for Obama has historically meant he enters into a plateau for a few months, but since this is the first time he's hit such a plateau while moving upwards instead of downwards, it is impossible to say whether this will prove true or not.
For the month of February, Obama wound up with an approval rate of 49.4 percent -- up almost a full point (0.9) from last month's impressive gain. Obama's disapproval rate sank even faster, down to 44.5 percent, falling 1.2 percent for the month. By both measures, February was the second-best month (in terms of month-to-month change) that Obama has ever posted. Obama's "undecided" number was up slightly, from 5.8 percent in January to 6.1 percent last month.
In other words, in terms of shifts in public opinion, January and February were the best two months President Obama has yet had during his entire presidency.
[Continue reading the full article at ObamaPollWatch.com, where we examine the overall trends from last month in more detail, take a look at an expanded chart of Obama's post-honeymoon period, and attempt to make some predictions.]
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