Barack Obama's Job Approval Ratings Matter in the 2012 Election

In the grand arena of presidential politics, public perception and approval is everything. The lower the approval rating, the less likely people will show up to vote for that candidate. No matter what the efforts or intentions may be of the incumbent president at the time, if the crowd is against you, nothing else may matter.

President Barack Obama is gearing up for this years’ general election. While attempting to downplay the rumors that his candidacy for reelection will be the first one with a budget of nearly a billion dollars, Obama will no doubt have an arsenal at his command that will give any would-be Republican challenger a few bloody noses before November. However, if Obama’s approval ratings remain under 50%, all the money in the world might not save him.

The strategy for conservatives seems clear: Keep his approval low. To do this, Republicans will not need to release false document in an attempt to smear Obama’s character, similar to what Dan Rather did in 2004 disputing George W. Bush’s military service. All they need to do is to again and again remind the public why the president has lost his popularity.

Approval ratings are everything in an election year. Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush all had approval ratings under 50%. The other thing they all had in common?  They all also lost their bid for a second term. Fifty Percent is the magic mark. If you’re above that heading into an election year, you’re chances remain promising. This precedent is not without exception. President Harry Truman ran and won reelection in 1948, with an approval rating in the high 30’s. However, that is the only exception.

Every other president since polling like this began including Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had an approval rating above 50% throughout their re-election year.


Obama’s poll numbers give Republicans cause for hope. As of January 29th, Gallup shows his approval rating at 45%. And there are other indications of an uphill battle. As of last week, only 18% polled were satisfied with the direction of the country.

The CBO recently released a report stating how unemployment could go above 9% again, a terrible sign for Obama. His approval ratings on the economy are a mere 36%. On top of all of that, his signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare, is still very unpopular.

This would probably be the first and only time that Obama would ever want to be compared to George W. Bush instead of Jimmy Carter.

Approval and disapproval are everything. Being a member of an unpopular party can hurt you even if you’re not the individual that everyone is angry with. Obama won his first term in 2008 in large part by campaigning not against his opponent Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), but by campaigning against the outgoing president George W. Bush.

Towards the end of his presidency, Bush’s approval ratings were barely in the low 30’s. During the 2008 campaign, Obama quipped during a speech that McCain was running for George W. Bush’s “Third Term.” Many didn’t realize it, but by linking the popular senator to the unpopular outgoing president, Obama had put the final nail in McCain’s coffin months before the election ever took place.

Now the tables have turned, and it’s Obama who is struggling with his poll numbers. At the time of the inaugural, Obama’s approval was in the high 60’s. That number has dropped over 20 points. If Obama can’t climb above 50% by mid-summer, the chances of his re-election will dwindle.

Pollsters from both sides of the aisle like Dick Morris and Doug Schoen, have both talked about the difficulty of a candidate winning with approval ratings under 50%. Others, such as DNC Chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, claim that despite any unfavorable ratings the president might have, no Republican is up to the challenge of defeating him.

This year, the GOP nominee may not be the issue. If Republicans want to take back the country and help right the its economic course, all they need to do is constantly remind the public why they turned on the president in the first place. Obama and his surrogates can show all of the Paul Ryan look-alikes pushing granny off the cliff that they want, and it won’t matter. If his approval numbers are low, his support will be as well.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Jesse Merkel

Jesse currently works as a Content Engineer for HubShout, LLC. In the past, he wrote about the political scene in his hometown of Rochester, NY for Examiner.com. Prior to becoming a writer, Jesse worked as a professional guitarist and private music instructor for over seven and a half years, while also volunteering on several local and national political campaigns. These days, Jesse enjoys writing about music, movies and pop culture, and is a die hard Trekker.

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