Obama Poll Watch -- May 2014

In five out of the last six months, in fact, Obama's numbers have gotten better. He is now roughly where he was right before the impact of the Obamacare website rollout hit his approval rating.
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President Barack Obama waves as he walks from the Marine One helicopter to the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014, as he returns from delivering the commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama waves as he walks from the Marine One helicopter to the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014, as he returns from delivering the commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Slow recovery continues

President Obama's job approval ratings continued to improve, slowly, in the month of May. In five out of the last six months, in fact, Obama's numbers have gotten better. He is now roughly where he was right before the impact of the Obamacare website rollout hit his approval rating. This is still not fantastic territory for any president's approval rating to be in, but it does represent a steady increase as Obama has won back people he lost in the Obamacare website disaster. However, this trend may now be flattening out, meaning June's numbers may not be as positive. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's start with a look at last month's chart:

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

May 2014

May started with some very positive economic news, as the unemployment rate fell sharply, from 6.7 to 6.3 percent. Primary season got under way in May, but the news was mostly on the Republican side and didn't affect Obama's numbers much. Republicans seemed to realize last month that their election campaign strategy (which consisted solely of "Obamacare stinks!") was no longer going to be enough, and they tried to shift attention to old scandals instead, announcing the eighth investigation (to date) over Benghazi. Republicans also seem to have pivoted somewhat towards directing their wrath at Hillary Clinton rather than the president, as an early preview of what the 2016 contest will be like.

Obama suffered a serious political setback in May, as he was forced to essentially fire one of his cabinet members -- something no president ever enjoys doing. But whatever you think of Eric Shinseki's culpability in the Veterans Administration scandal, politically he had to go. The V.A. hospital story loomed all month long, until a scathing interim report came out which hastened Shinseki's exit. While Republicans were attempting to focus on Benghazi, Obama provided them with a new scandal instead. This, so far, hasn't hurt Obama much in the polls, but it may do so next month as the details of how bad the situation is trickle out.

Obama, toward the end of the month, exhibited a burst of activity which is still continuing. He announced the end of America's longest war, giving a timetable for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan (which is a wildly popular idea with the general public, it's worth noting). He gave a foreign policy speech to a graduating military academy. Last week, the White House leaked some of the particulars of the new E.P.A. pollution rules Obama unveiled formally today, which amounts to a major policy shift on greenhouse gas emissions -- possibly the most significant since Richard Nixon created the E.P.A., in fact. And on the last days of the month, Obama announced the prisoner-of-war swap which gained the release of the only American soldier held by the Taliban. These last two will affect Obama's poll numbers in June, perhaps, but came so late in May that the polling really didn't have time to react. So it's anyone's guess how the public will ultimately see them.

Obama's average monthly job approval rating rose 0.6 percent in May, hitting 44.0 percent. Job disapproval fell to 51.7 percent in May, a drop of 0.4 percent. In five of the last six months, Obama has managed to improve his job approval rating. One thing worth noting in this time period is that Obama's "undecided" numbers have been about one percent lower than normal. During his first term, the undecided stat spent most months in the 5-to-6 percent range, while for most of his second term he's been more in the 4-to-5.5 percent range. In May, his undecided number was at 4.3 percent, and it hasn't been as high as 5.0 percent since October. Some good news for Obama in his "underwater" number (disapproval minus approval), as he is down from a high of a 12.5 percent gap last November to only a 7.7 percent difference in May. That shows marked improvement (a full percent last month alone), and this number is now within the range of Obama's first term. But, a note of caution, this only means that Obama's polling now is slightly better than the worst polling he saw during his entire first term.

Overall Trends

Obama's job approval monthly average is now back to where it was before October of last year, when the Obamacare website appeared. His disapproval average still lags about a point from where he was back then, though, so he hasn't completely climbed out of this hole yet. Here's a magnified view of Obama's past year, to better show this movement:

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

In September of 2013, Obama's average monthly job approval was 43.9 percent. It now stands at 44.0 percent, up from a low of 41.4 percent in November. However, his disapproval average stood at 50.8 percent in September, and now stands at 51.7 percent -- almost a full point higher (this is where the movement has been from the undecideds, to put it another way). So he hasn't fully recovered all the damage the Obamacare website rollout did, although his approval rate has indeed recovered fully.

Obama's numbers each improved roughly half a percent in May, continuing the trend which began after Obama announced the website was working (at the beginning of December). His approval rate has improved 2.6 percent over the last six months, while his disapproval improved 2.2 percent. However, this trend may be slowing or even coming to an end.

Within May, Obama stayed remarkably steady, as both his daily job approval and disapproval averages (from RealClearPolitics.com's daily "poll of polls") only fluctuated 1.2 percentage points each. This is historically very low, as these numbers usually bounce around quite a bit more. He started the month at a low of 43.4 percent daily approval, rose within a week or so to a high of 44.6 percent, and then stayed within that range for the rest of the month. His disapproval averages showed a slower improvement, from 52.1 percent early in the month to 50.9 percent towards the end.

But the last week of May showed a downturn, which may be significant and may not. Obama finished the month at 43.6 percent daily approval and 52.0 percent daily disapproval -- both numbers worse than what he charted overall for May. One recent poll (Reuters) only gave Obama 38 percent approval, which is currently bringing his average down. But it may be just an outlier poll -- all the others show Obama in much better position, roughly in the 43-44 percent range. If it is just one bad poll, then Obama's numbers will recover in June, but if it is the indication of a new downward trend, then Obama's positive trend may come to an end this month.

This could take the form of a leveling out of Obama's numbers, roughly where they were before the Obamacare rollout. Or it could even signal a new downturn, as the V.A. scandal unfolds and Republicans rake over Benghazi once again. The unemployment numbers come out at the end of the week, which could help Obama's public approval, if the news is positive. But the safe money, at this point, is that Obama's approval levels out in June and ends the slow improvement he's shown for the last six months, at least for now.

[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)

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

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