Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Low Approval Ratings: Does it Matter?

Gallup’s latest three-day polling finds Obama’s steadily sinking approval ratings have hit 38 percent, a record low for him. The last three presidents who have won reelection all had approval ratings above 45 percent at this point in office. But what does this mean for Obama’s chances?

This early, it’s hard to say. The last two presidents who lost reelection took very different paths. The first President Bush had approval ratings at 74 percent around this time in his presidency, and went on to lose reelection to Bill Clinton. But President Carter’s polling numbers were already down to 30 percent at this point, before rebounding to the above-50 percent range during the winter of 1980, and then bottoming back down to the 30s until he lost reelection.

One trend seems steady, though: by November before their reelection year, the last three two-term presidents all maintained approval at around 50 percent for the remainder of the term, and didn’t drop below that range for longer than a few weeks.

But for Clinton and Reagan, their record low points came earlier in their first terms. Clinton’s worst rating was around 37 percent in June, 1993, when his reelection was more than three years away. Reagan’s low was 35 percent in January, 1983, giving him almost two years to rebound. George W. Bush’s worst polling was only six months before his reelection, but at 46 percent it wasn’t as low as his predecessors.

If this is Obama’s low point, there’s still plenty of time for him to bounce back. But if his numbers don’t start inching back up toward 50 percent by mid-October, recent history shows he might have a problem.