Nearly every President experiences a “honeymoon” immediately following their inauguration followed by a decline in approval ratings as voters become disenchanted in the first year. The important question is not if a President’s poll numbers will decline but rather how far they fall and whether the President has an ability to recover. The most recent set of Rasmussen polls have some encouraging news for the Obama administration on these questions.
Rasmussen has the President’s current approval rating at 49%. Looking at the longer term trends the President has consistently stayed within a range of 45%-49% approval rating for the last six months among likely voters. The likely voter model actually tends to favor Republicans more than Democrats. Following a particularly bad news cycle (i.e. Scott Brown’s election) the President’s overall number may fall to 45% or 44%. Following a good news cycle he will get up to 49% or 50%. Following the State of the Union address the President’s approval rating spiked but that bounce quickly faded back to the 45%-49% range.
So what does this mean for the President? There are certainly some contingencies involved (i.e. a possible terrorist attack on U.S. soil) but as long as the President can stay above 40% he is in good position for re-election in 2012. Incumbent President have a number of significant advantages in a presidential race. Generally voters tend to come back to the sitting President who they consider the “safer” choice even if they do not particularly like his policies. The re-election of George Bush over John Kerry in 2008 illustrated this principle better than anything else.
In addition the incumbent tends to gain some voters in his own party once they realize what the alternative is from the other party. For example if Sarah Palin was able to win the Republican nomination a number of Democrats who may be upset with Obama would still vote for him just to avoid a Palin presidency.
If the President approval ratings start to consistently go below the “floor” of 40% the administration has reason to start pushing the panic button. At that point the President will be near a danger zone from which no recovery will be possible in 2012. Approval rating numbers below 40% would also invite a challenge from the President’s own party which could get ugly.
Right now the President seems to be able to rely on about 45% of the population who still approve of the way he is performing despite the struggles of the first year. If the unemployment rate continues to decline that number is likely to stay the same or possibly even increase. On the other hand if the economy continues to shed jobs and the President suffers more legislative failures like that of health care reform even this loyal 45% could start abandoning him.
For more info: President’s approval rating spikes following State of the Union address, President Obama still leading generic GOP candidate despite low approval ratings.