Obama Poll Watch -- July 2013

There was plenty of political news in July, but little of it was directly attributable to President Obama. What this means is that it's really anyone's guess why the polling continued downwards.
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More bad news for Obama

President Barack Obama's job approval polling numbers continued a rather dramatic slide in July, resulting in the lowest public approval yet of his second term. He hasn't quite hit the low point of his first term, but he is getting dangerously close. Whether he can turn this trend around in August remains to be seen, but he's certainly got his work cut out for him. A quick look at this month's chart shows the size of the problem Obama's going to have to overcome, to do so.

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

July, 2013

There was plenty of political news in July, but little of it was directly attributable to President Obama. What this means is that it's really anyone's guess why the polling continued downwards. It may just be the extended end of Obama's "second honeymoon" period with the public after his re-election, or it could just be fatigue with nothing much getting done in Congress (which is the least-productive Congress in the last six decades, by just about any measure).

July began with no movement in the unemployment rate, which obviously didn't help Obama's approval numbers. The media went into overdrive for the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case, and have been having a field day over two Democratic politicians who refuse to realize their effective time on the stage is over (Anthony Weiner and Bob Filner) after the exposure of their sex scandals. The media lost interest in the Eric Snowden story (since "he's still in the airport" isn't really "news"), but amazingly the politicians began taking the N.S.A. matter seriously, leading to a bizarre coalition between Tea Partiers and civil libertarians on the Left, but they couldn't quite manage to pass a bill (this issue is likely to come up again at some point in the next year, however).

In the Senate, Harry Reid got John McCain on board (since Mitch McConnell is so obviously useless) with an agreement to avoid the "nuclear option" and actually confirm a bunch of Obama's appointees. This was big news in the world of political punditry, but my guess is it was little-noticed outside the Beltway, being the sort of "inside baseball" story that it is. In the background, all month long, was the House's refusal to move anything forward on immigration reform, which has led to a lot of people issuing grim predictions that the issue's dead at least until after the 2014 election. At the end of the month, Republicans began setting up another battle royale over the budget, but what this story really exposed is the intra-party donnybrook currently under way among Republicans.

The one bright piece of news for Obama is that he has decided not to ignore August this year. Instead of leaving the field wide open (which results in the only political stories being people yelling during town hall meetings), Obama has launched an offensive on jobs and the economy, to prepare the ground for his own positioning in the upcoming September budget battles. This could reap Obama some solid benefits with the public in August, since he will be shown to be "the adult in the room" still seeking compromise and common ground while Republicans continue to reject anything but complete surrender by Democrats.

But that's for the future. Looking at the past month, Obama posted some pretty dismal numbers. His monthly average job approval fell to 45.3 percent, and his monthly disapproval average rose to 49.2 percent -- both of which set new records for his second term. The movement in his numbers was less dramatic than it was the previous month, as his approval dropped 1.2 points (as opposed to June's 1.8 percent drop), and his disapproval only rose 0.7 points (compared to June's 1.6 points). The difference between the two is that 0.5 percent moved to the "undecided" category, which finished at 5.5 percent for the month. About the only good thing that can be said is that these numbers are still above the low points of his first term, but only by about two percentage points for each category (Obama's all-time low was in October of 2011, where he was at 43.4 percent approval and 51.2 percent disapproval).

Overall Trends

One interesting thing to note when looking at the data for July is that while the daily averages didn't change much at all, staying remarkably stable all month long, there was a much wider disparity in the individual polls themselves. Obama's daily approval average stayed within a 1.2 percent range of movement all month long, and his disapproval stayed within a 2.3 percent range -- the smallest total movement of any month in his second term, in fact. But these ranges were at the extreme for both numbers, resulting in Obama posting both a second-term daily low in approval (44.6 percent) and a daily high in disapproval (50.8 percent). Both of these entered dangerous ranges for any politician's numbers -- below 45 percent approval, and above 50 percent disapproval -- which Obama had managed to avoid so far in his second term.

But when you examine the actual data points, even though the daily averages didn't change much, there was wild disparity between different polls. Obama hit a low of 40 or 41 percent in three different polls during the month, but at exactly the same time he was charting 48 or 49 percent in multiple other polls. That's a pretty wide range, much wider than is normally seen. Were there just outliers posted at both ends of the spectrum? Possibly so. But because we average these numbers twice, it didn't affect the results all that much. The daily averages were balanced out by the two extremes, and the monthly averages (as noted) stayed remarkably stable for such wildly differing poll numbers. So your guess is as good as mine as to what is really going on. Interestingly, it seems that two of the polling organizations with the low-end numbers seem to have moved into weekly polling (Reuters/Ipsos and The Economist/YouGov), rather than monthly polling (most pollsters only do polling roughly once a month, although two -- Gallup and Rasmussen -- perform "rolling daily" polling).

Overall, the trendlines for Obama look pretty bad, at least at first glance. His approval rate is almost four full points "underwater" compared to his disapproval, which puts him about where he was at the end of 2011. But while the slope of his decline in July isn't good, it was better than it was in June. The one bit of good news for Obama is that he'll be starting out August at roughly the same place he started out in July. This could mean that Obama "bottomed out" in July, and so the most-likely trend for the next month would be a continuing plateau at this level.

Of course, there is both an optimistic and a pessimistic prediction that could be made here, as well. Obama could continue his slide downwards in the polls, which would put him in a pretty weak position going into the budget bargaining season. He's dropped for two straight months in a big way, so this trend could just continue. Optimistically, the unemployment rate went down at the start of August, and Obama is going to be attempting to put his economic agenda front and center all month long. If this effort actually bears fruit, it is conceivable that Obama could turn things around and actually improve during the month.

Personally, I think I'd put my money on the plateau option -- either a very slight (less than 0.5 points) rise or fall in Obama's numbers next month, but nothing as dramatic as the last two months. I think Obama has bottomed out for now, but will also struggle to get his numbers back up. But then, of course, I could be wrong about that.

[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 -- 7/13 -- 45.3%

Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 7/13 -- 49.2%

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


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

Lowest Daily Approval -- 7/10/13 -- 44.6%

Highest Daily Disapproval -- 7/9/13 -- 50.8%

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)

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

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