Obama Poll Watch -- March, 2011

Obama slips back

President Obama's poll numbers slipped back a bit in March, bringing an end to his recent "bump." This was Obama's first bad month in a while, ending the positive trends Obama had set for the past two months in approval rating, and for the past five months in disapproval rating. In March, Obama lost all the ground he had gained in February, but still finished the month up from where he started the year. In a statistical twist, Obama's approval and disapproval numbers for March, 2011 exactly matched his numbers for March, 2010.

Obama's actual peak in his daily numbers came around the beginning of February. Since then, he hit a plateau until the beginning of March, and then sank, rose, and sank again. Last month was a busy one, and this month proves to be just as eventful, but as Obama enters April, the trendlines have turned decidedly negative. This could lead to Obama losing all the ground he gained in his first-ever sustained chart bounce, which began around last December. Of course, because April will be eventful, Obama's numbers could also recover, depending on what happens in the next few weeks.

Let's take a look at Obama's monthly averages:

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

March, 2011

Obama began March weaker than he began February, but not by much. The month opened with the announcement that the unemployment rate had ticked downwards for the third straight month, to 8.9 percent. But this good economic news was quickly overshadowed by world events.

The situation in Libya deteriorated quickly, and many in Congress called upon Obama to immediately institute a no-fly zone over the country (the Senate even passed a resolution calling upon him to do so). Obama worked the international diplomacy circuit hard, and got a very strong resolution out of the United Nations, as well as approval from the Arab League and buy-in from the two European countries pushing the hardest for action (France and Britain). In the midst of all of this, Japan experienced the worst earthquake they've ever measured, complete with a tsunami that was filmed live from multiple angles. The world watched in horror, but even this monumental tragedy was soon overshadowed by one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history as reactors began blowing up in the wake of the tsunami (also, amazingly, filmed live).

But while catastrophic world events dominated the news for most of the month, Obama was being hit with a creeping domestic problem -- the price of gasoline spiking. Americans love cheap gas. We love it so much, in fact, that we routinely blame our politicians when we are denied cheap gas. This is one of those political facts which cuts across party lines, because we don't care who is in the White House at the time, we still blame the president when we start paying more at the pump. And this trend started before we began bombing Libya.

Obama actually got somewhat of a bump when he began our limited war on Libya, due most likely to the "rally 'round the president" effect which happens whenever America goes to war. But this was a tiny bump, seen historically with other recent wars we've entered. Perhaps this was due to the seemingly-casual way Obama handled explaining the war to the public (Obama did not cancel his trip to South and Central America, and waited over a full week after the war began to address the American public -- something which may be unprecedented in modern American history). Or perhaps it was due to the humanitarian nature of the mission, rather than selling the whole operation as "defending America," as is usually done. Either way, this war bump in the polls for Obama dissolved quickly, as it became apparent that the whole operation wasn't going to be over in days, and would drag on into weeks (if not months). The war also pretty much insures that the price of gas isn't going down until the situation is resolved one way or another, which could be continuing bad news for Obama in the polls.

Obama's job approval rating average had gained 3.9 percentage points in the past two months, but this month he fell back 1.3 points, to chart a monthly approval average of 48.1 percent. His disapproval rate had fallen 5.2 points since September of last year (3.6 percent in the last two months alone), but this month his disapproval rate rose almost two full points to finish at 46.4 points. Obama's "undecided" number fell a little more than half a point, to 5.5 percent. As I mentioned, this puts Obama exactly where he was in March of last year (more on this later).


[Continue reading the full article at ObamaPollWatch.com, where we examine the overall trends from last month in more detail, show an expanded chart of Obama's past year, and then attempt to make some predictions. Bonus chart this month: a quick comparison of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.]

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