Monday, November 11, 2013

Historical approval ratings and why Obama's numbers just don't fall

Take a look at Gallup's job approval numbers for President Obama. In recent weeks, there have been all manner of stories out there on these numbers--and those from other polling orgs--with regard to how low they were. In most instances, Obama's approval rating was at an all-time low and/or his disapproval rating was at an all-time high. For Gallup, it is not quite at an all time low (38%), but very close (latest numbers have it at 39%). Still, going by Gallup's three-day rolling average or by the RCP average of multiple sources, Obama's approval numbers remain at or above 40%.

That's not good, of course, but it's hardly catastrophic, as compared to many past Presidents. Reagan, for instance, dropped down to 35% at the start of his second year as President. George Bush (the first one) saw his numbers go down to 29% in his last months in office. In contrast, Clinton's low point was 36%, a low that occured in the early months of his Presidency. George W. Bush, of course, had terrible numbers in the latter part of his second term, 25% being the lowest of these many lows.

Look at the numbers for the above Presidents throughout their time in office, though, and you will see some ebb and flow to the numbers, based on events and situations of the moment. Reagan's approval number went as high as 71% during a period in his second term, largely because the economy was swimming along (earlier lower numbers appeared when the economy was still struggling). The Iran-Contra affair, though, pushed the number down. The first Bush--still riding that economy and further aided by the success of the First Gulf War--actually saw an 89% approval rating, but as the economy began to turn a little, that number fell rapidly.

Clinton came in to office with big ideas and big promises, but the early months of his Presidency led to little improvement on any front and his numbers reflect this. But then--as the economy really began to hum--Clinton's numbers went up. I realize that many on the Right are not fans of Clinton in the least, but the reality is that he largely--and rightly--got out of the way of the economy, a choice that led to consistently strong approval numbers throughout his second term, as there were no truly major incidents to change this dynamic.

George W. Bush's numbers are--to me--the most interesting, as after 9-11 they skied up to 89% (the same level reached by his father), but then began to drop. Consistently. The unpopularity of the Iraq War, the unpopularity of the Patriot Act (and the TSA), and the slowing economy all contributed to this. For the last year of his term, George W. Bush's numbers never topped 40%.

Here are the charts:

One might also notice that with each successive President, the number of points on the graph increases (remember, the first Bush only served one term; the other three served two). This is because Gallup has increased the frequency of these polls. Obama's approval graph has even more points (and includes a running disapproval number:

Looking at this set of charts in the context of the economy alone, I'm immediately struck by just how out of place Obama's seems to be. Really, his ups and downs (which are hardly severe) don't follow the economy's performance much at all, aside from the initial drop after his election. His current lows are quite obviously reactions to the dismal rollout of Obamacare. Prior to that, the Benghazi situation and other foreign policy missteps in the Fall of 2011 explain the dropping numbers in that period. But the economy? It doesn't seem to impact Obama's numbers in the least. Even when the Administration's sycophants in the media were nodding their heads like idiots in response to Obama's claims--at various moments--that the economy was improving or even doing "just fine," there was no accompanying uptick in the polls, for the most part. And when such nonsense was exposed, there was accompanying drop.

Why is that?

As I'm sure most of you have guessed, I have a theory in this regard. There is, I believe, a rather large portion of the population who simply refuse to have a negative opinion about Obama, come hell or high water. Granted, there are always some people like this, just as there are always some people who refuse to have a positive opinion about a given President, come hell or high water. They are--for the most part--simply hard-core partisans and/or ideologues.

But again, they are always there, they are why the approval numbers for Presidents have ceilings and floors, never reaching 100% and never falling to 0%. We can assume that such groups account for around 10% of the population on either "side" of the political spectrum, based on the 89% approval ratings reached by each Bush at moments when the nation was very much of one mind, even in the halls of Congress.

With Obama, there have been moments when we might have expected his numbers to drop severely. But they never really did. Even now, the "all-time lows" he is experiencing are much too high in my opinion, given the confluence of events, like the problems with the ACA, the NSA wiretapping scandals, the Benghazi situation, the sluggish economy, and the not-so-distant IRS scandals.

Yet, there is a very firm 30%+ (maybe even close to 40%) of the population who will simply not be deterred by any of this, who believe the President doing a good job. Compare this to the approval numbers for Congress, which continue to suck (to put it mildly). Those numbers are so low, it is clear that even some of the most hardcore partisans out there--on both sides--are willing to be disapproving of Congress.

So who are these hardcore Obama partisans who cannot be moved?

Before I go there, however, it is only fair to note that there is a group who will never approve of Obama, a group that is--percentage-wise--larger than it was for past Presidents. There's no way around this reality. There remain racists among us. But in my opinion, their numbers are far lower than the Left would have us believe.

Regardless, the group who will support the President no matter what is far larger, as evidenced by the polling data. Taking out all of the traditional partisans and ideologues--the people who would feel the same way about any Democratic or liberal President--there still remains a huge chunk of people here, by my estimates some 20% of the population, whose support of the President is not based on rational thought nor on simple partisanship.

What then is it based on? Simple: race. I don't mean this in the most simplistic sense, i.e. that people approve of Obama simply because of his race, though there are such people, no doubt (the demographics of the last Presidential Election bear this out, with regard to the African-American vote). What I mean is that Obamas is non-white and therefore emblematic of the non-dominant group achieving  a high level of power. As such, Obama represents the realization of a progressive vision: it's enough that he is in power, his performance in the office itself is inconsequential for many, many people.

To put this another way, supporting Obama as President makes some people feel good about themselves. It's an ego-stroking thing; they see themselves as either enlightened (if they are white Americans) or empowered (if they are non-white Americans). And when it comes to criticisms of the President, these are the same people--by and large--who cry "racism" as matter of course. See, their support of Obama is integral to their own self-perception , their own self-worth. To withdraw support from him would not be political in nature, it would be deeply personal. In their minds, it would amount to an act of racism on their part, regardless of the impetus behind it.

Unfortunately--for the rest of this--the need to sustain an aura of superiority among this portion of the population overrides everything else, it leads to the strained rationalization of every action the President takes, every policy he proposes. The President can literally do almost no wrong in their eyes because to allow such a possibility would mean acknowledging their own flaws. And that's just not something they are willing to do. Thus, I expect that these "all-time lows" for Obama's approval numbers represent a real floor; no matter how bad things get, no matter what mistakes Obama makes, he'll never see lower numbers. Good work, if you can get it...

Cheers, all.

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