Obama Outpaces Clinton, Both Bushes In Approval

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President Obama's approval ratings are higher than those of Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush in may of their first terms, according to a report released today by Gallup:

gallup presidents may.gifAs the graph shows, Obama is on par with Carter, and since WWII only Reagan, Kennedy, and Eisenhower enjoyed higher ratings four months into their presidencies. Clinton was the only president to have an approval rating below 50 percent.

So, with this in mind, here are a few questions associated with President Obama's approval rating these days, and how this study relates to them:

1. When will the economy start hurting Obama? None of the presidents in our recent past have confronted an economic crisis of this magnitude right out of the box, with unemployment still on the rise. Unemployment was around 8 percent when Carter took office, and then continued to rise (up to 9 percent--around where it is now), but peaked early that year and declined for the rest of 1975. Carter remained popular despite the early rise, and then things started to turn around. (Clinton, meanwhile, encountered a recession at the outset of his term, but unemployment was already dropping when he came into office.) Obama may not need a turnaround right now, but it's unclear what will happen to his approval if the economy continues to lag for a long time.

2. Does Obama's election signify a political sea change? Analysts have likened Obama's '08 victory and massive popularity to Ronald Reagan's--saying Obama has ushered in an era of Democratic dominance akin to what Reagan did for the GOP. Given the relatively low ratings of presidents since Reagan, Gallup's data seem to support that--but we have to remember, it's only May of his first term.

3. When will the "honeymoon" end? If anything, the data remind us that new presidents are usually popular in their first few months in office. Aside from Clinton, George H.W. Bush's 55 percent--a solid rating--was the lowest of those studied by Gallup. While conservatives talk about Obama's honeymoon, his is on par with presidents in our recent past.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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