by Jonathan Bernstein
Barack Obama's approval rating today, according to Gallup, is 50%.
Obama first hit 50% in Gallup's August 24-26 poll. He bounced up against 50% several times, finally falling below that mark on November 20. But instead of continuing to fall, he's just stuck. Right around 50%. Since the first time he hit 50% in August, his high is 56%; his low is 47%. He has, as Pollster's invaluable chart makes clear, dropped a couple of points or so since mid-August, but that's about it, and it looks as if he's been just flat since around Thanksgiving. Three months flat.
This seems fairly unusual to me: over three months with a total seven point range (47-53), and over six months with a ten point range (47-56). Let's see: OK. Bill Clinton spent almost all of 1998, over ten months, between 60 and 66 on the Gallup scale. George W. Bush had one long period of stability, ranging from 46 to 55 over about 12 months beginning in January 2004. And then another from October 2006 through April 2008, he had a low of 29% and a peak of 38%. On the other hand, that was before Gallup started their daily tracking poll; it's fairly likely that with more polling that Bush or Clinton would have had a few outliers and the observed range would have been larger. Going back in time only makes the frequency problem worse. Gallup is now reporting more or less thirty polls a month, or the same number in a month now as it reported for all of 2006, and a bit more than all of 1996. In 1986, Gallup only released thirteen presidential approval polls, all year. So one can't really compare Obama's narrow range this year to, say, Reagan's plateau from fall 1985 through fall 1986, at least not well.
Overall, however, and looking at these graphs as well, it does seem to me that this is a fairly unusual period of stability. I shall conclude by making absolutely no prediction whatsoever about how long it will last, which direction he'll head next, or what will cause the eventual change, except for one thing: if Congress does pass health care reform, it will not cause his approval rating to plummet -- and if Congress abandons health care reform, it will not cause his approval ratings to surge.
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