A new ABC WashPost poll out this a.m. (it’s mostly about the health care bill, and the public doesn’t like it) shows Pres. Obama with an overall approval rating of 50 percent. Although that’s not good news for him considering where he started the year, and it’s the lowest rating yet in an ABC/Post poll, it’s actually a titch higher than most other recent polls have measured.
Both Pollster.com and Real Clear Politics, which publish averages of many polls, show Obama approval averaging in the 48’s. Most (but not all) polls still show slightly more approvers than disapprovers, but the difference begins to border on negligible.
Those, like me, who cling to the audacity of hope for Obama’s term, don’t need to panic over these polls. It’s extremely normal for a president’s approval to drift down during the first year (absent an event like the 9/11 attacks) and far from unprecedented for a president to fall below 50 during that year. Bill Clinton hit his all-time Gallup approval rating low of 37 percent during his first year (and was nonetheless reelected in a near-landslide). This wikipedia piece has a cool collection of graphs tracking the rise and falls of approval for all recent presidents.
“The strongest predictor of presidential approval is time in office,” Larry Jacobs just told me. “Time goes by, things build up, problems develop.”
But these ratings ain’t good. In these polarized times, the key to any politicians approval rating is their standing with independents. The new ABC/WashPost poll is the first time those pollsters Obama with more disapprovers than approvers among independents.
On specific issues, disapprovers outnumbered approvers on Obama’s handling of health care, the economy, the deficit and (just barely) unemployment. Approvers outnumbered disapprovers on Obama’s performance as commander-in-chief and his handling of Afghanistan. (I call particular attention to this last, since in my piece after Obama’s Afghanistan escalation speech, I implied that support for the war would not hold up. We’ll see.)
Perhaps the best news in the poll for Obama and for Dems in general was the series of questions on those same issues that asked whether the public had more confidence in Obama or in Congressional Republicans to handle the economy, health care, Afghanistan or energy policy. A plurality of respondents prefers Obama by about 10 percentage points on each. Certainly this suggests that Obama’s struggles on overall approval does not reflect a public that likes the alternative better, but a public that isn’t excited about any of the alternatives.
Said Jacobs, when I asked him about those Obama-versus-the-Repubs questions: “That one thing about politics. It’s not absolute. It’s always comparative shopping.” The Repubs have done a great job, so far, of opposing all things Obamian and blocking health care legislation, but they don’t offer a real alternative. Jacobs said that in their current just-say-no posture Republicans run the risk of not being taken seriously as a potential governing party.