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Judging Obama's Approval Rating: Let's Go to the (History) Books

4 years ago
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Among the things campaign-watchers have been following in looking towards what will happen on Election Day is the impact of President Obama's sagging job approval ratings and the historical fact that the party in control of the White House usually loses seat in an election year.

The latest Gallup survey says Obama averaged a 45 percent job approval rating in September. That puts him in the company of Ronald Reagan whose approval rating was 42 percent in 1982 when the Republicans went on to lose 28 House seats and Bill Clinton whose rating was 46 percent at this point in 1994 and saw his party lose 53 seats and control of the House (as well as the Senate). Gallup has a chart of presidential approval ratings and how their parties fared in midterms that you can see here.

There appears to be little question that Obama's unpopularity among many voters is hurting some Democrats. A Quinnipiac poll in the key swing state of Ohio found that to be the case, setting up the prospect of Republicans taking both the Senate and governor races. Obama's ratings in other state polls tell a similar story.

Richard Nixon
The President who headed into the midterms with a positive approval numbers was Richard Nixon in 1972, whose rating rose from 51 percent to 58 percent in the final weeks before the election, according to Gallup. Aside from Nixon's positive standing, the Republicans were making inroads into Democratic territory with his "Southern strategy" which sought to cash in on changes in the region and the backlash to the political and social upheavals of the 60s and 70s. That helped cushion the midterm effect, and the GOP lost only 12 seats.

Nixon, of course, wasn't around very long to enjoy that relatively good off-year showing since he was impeached in 1974 on charges stemming from the Watergate burglary and cover-up and resigned that August.

The two presidents who were faring worse than Obama in opinion polls on the eve of the midterms were George W. Bush who stood at 38 percent in 2006 when his party lost 30 seats, and Harry Truman whose rating was 33 percent in 1946 when Democrats lost 55 seats.

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There is a problem: BO has a more polarized base than anyone else in the history of this country. You can say it does not matter, but 12% of the Americans that support him at record 90% levels consistently are concentrated *exactly* where they will do the Democrats the least good. In other words, African American voters are in highly Democrat leaning districts or even in districts where *they* are the minority majority that almost always gives a Democrat a seat. Those seats would probably not change even if Obama had only the 11% popularity that his most blind (or maybe not so blind -- especially not *color* blind) supporters give him. In other words, those votes really mean *nothing* in this election cycle. They are just part of a rubber stamp and worthless in testing the political temperature. Take that 11% out of the 45% and you are left with 34% *legitimate* support to make projections based upon, and frankly, that is low enough to think that he may go lower than Harry's 33% approval nationwide among everyone who is *not* African American! There was also another poll that was done about the turn of the century that was grossly wrong because they did not pay attention and adjust for current trends in technology, or more accurately, the human factors response to that technology. The majority of polling is currently done by phone. However, there is another group that consistently calls at about the same time polsters do: Bill collectors. If you are tired of talking to bill collectors, you probably do not answer the phone if you don't know who is calling. So you are likely *not* included in any poll that was trying to include you in their *random* sample. There is the rub. If the people who *don't* answer the phone are distributed randomly with respect to the answers you expect them to give to your questions, the effect is minimal. But is that the case here? I don't think so! If you are suffering that badly in this economy, do you think your attitude is going to be positive? I doubt it, and usually that translates *very* badly with a high degree of correlation against the party that controls the White House. To me, that sounds like there is a serious risk that these polls are greatly undercounting the negative outlook in the population at large. I think a *lot* of people are suffering in an economy often compared to the "Great Depresssion" and that leads me to believe the chance of skewed data is *extremely* high! My prediction? Democrats loose 10 in the Senate and 70 in the House, which *is* record breaking, I know! But the incompetence in Congress and the White House has some people thinking *that* might also be record breaking, and they may want a *real* change this time! ;'{P~~~

October 04 2010 at 1:29 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lylemelford's comment

Another technology glitch that *could* make a difference is this: Cell Phones. Although most polls do *include* cell phones, should they? Land lines are on the decline. Despite increased population, residential (traditional) land lines are being reduced by 15% per year, Nationwide. A lot of those are being replaced by VoIP, as a cheaper version of the land line, and Cable phones, etc., but many are opting to go completely to their cell phone as their *only* phone. Are those people being picked up properly? Most people with both still tend to be more affluent. Is their a skewing (the other way -- since you can tell by the Demographics Breakout from Gallup that as income goes up, the Conservative Tendancy does as well, at least that holds true for Obama) caused by these phones allowing some of them to be over-represetnting their group by being more likely to be included in the Poll? I'd say that where-ever the poll says a margin of error is 3%, it really is 9% for those uncontrolled variables that are doing who knows what to the numbers!

October 04 2010 at 3:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nixon wasn't impleached. The only president impeached in the twentieth century was Bill Clinton.

October 04 2010 at 12:58 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Colleen's comment

21st Century. At the end of this Century, the Date will be 2100, if we live that long. Only a Technicallity. I knew what you meant.

October 04 2010 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Correction, 20th Century *was* Correct. Man, was it *that* long ago? It seemed like only yesterday. "The Senate concluded a twenty-one day trial on February 12, 1999, with the vote on both counts falling short of the Constitutional two-thirds majority requirement to convict and remove an office holder. The final vote was generally along party lines, with no Democrats voting guilty. Some Republicans voted not guilty for both charges. On the perjury charge, fifty-five senators voted to acquit, including ten Republicans, and forty-five voted to convict; on the obstruction charge the Senate voted 50-50."

October 04 2010 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In other words, if history repeat itself, Obama will lose the House and the Senate, not because Americans dislike him but because of his Government poor performance in jobs and the economy in general.

October 04 2010 at 12:27 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Nixon wasn't impeached.

October 04 2010 at 12:25 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lueth2048's comment

You are correct, the only Presidents impeached were Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton and both of them were acquitted by the Senate. A lot of Libs like to include Nixon in that group but he resigned rather than face the prospect of impeachment. Impeachment is more akin to an indictment before the trial by the Senate.

October 04 2010 at 1:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Nice spin, Bruce. You are forgetting the overall number of registared Dem/Rep voters in your calculations

October 04 2010 at 12:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


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