PRINCETON, N.J. — Barack Obama averaged 46.8% job approval during his 14th quarter in office, marking a slight improvement from quarter 13. His quarterly average approval rating has improved at least slightly in each of the last three quarters after dipping to a low 41.0% in the 11th quarter.
Obama’s 14th quarter approval average ranks in the 32nd percentile of all presidential quarterly approval averages Gallup has compiled since 1945, meaning it is well below the historical average of 54%. For his entire presidency to date, Obama has averaged 49% job approval.
The recent and continuing improvement in his approval rating, though, is a positive sign for his re-election prospects, but it remains below the 50% level that virtually assures a president of a second term in office. Obama appears in much better shape now than the two recently elected presidents who were denied a second term — Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — both of whom averaged below 40% approval their 14th quarters in office.
At the same time, Obama is not as well-positioned as the post-World War II elected presidents who were above 50% during their 14th quarters and who all won re-election easily.
Obama’s 14th quarter average is most similar to that of his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, who won a narrow victory over John Kerry for re-election in 2004.
Obama’s average is also similar to Gerald Ford’s 46.0% from his eighth quarter in office, which occurred in the spring and early summer of 1976. Ford, who became president after Richard Nixon resigned, narrowly lost his attempt to win election in his own right, losing to Carter in the subsequent 1976 election.
Dramatic Improvement in Obama’s Approval Unlikely in Next Quarter
The next quarter, which stretches from late July through Oct. 19, roughly two weeks before Election Day, will give a stronger indication of Obama’s chances of being re-elected.
Based on historical record, it is unlikely that Obama’s approval rating will improve dramatically over the next three months. The biggest improvement any recent president had between the 14th and 15th quarter was slightly more than two percentage points for George W. Bush. In that case, the increase was enough to move Bush’s average to the 50% mark. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan also gained in quarter 15 but were already above 50%.
Carter and the elder Bush both saw decreases in approval at a time when they needed to show dramatic improvement in their public support to win re-election.
Obama’s approval ratings in the mid-to-upper-40s make his re-election prospects uncertain. The two presidents who had approval ratings in that same range roughly four months before the election were George W. Bush in 2004 and Gerald Ford in 1976, one of whom won re-election and the other was defeated.
For the past month, Obama has generally held a slight advantage over his Republican opponent Mitt Romney in Gallup Daily tracking of presidential election preferences. Still the advantage is not large enough to where Obama would appear safe, taking into account usual Republican advantages in turnout.
If Obama’s standing among the public, as measured by his job approval rating, improves in the coming months, he will be in a stronger position for re-election. But if his approval rating declines, a second Obama term would be very much in doubt.
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